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PHOTO SOURCE: Seattle.gov
With the upcoming cannabis holiday on 4/20, its time for me to ask everyone to help me celebrate by publicly thanking the many criminal justice professionals that are working to implement the will of the voters. Can we give them all a collective “high-five” and a hallelujah? Let’s start with the City of Seattle. In 2003 58% of the voters in Seattle supported Initiative 75, which classified the enforcement of adult marijuana possession as the lowest priority in the city. This resulted in the Seattle City Council drafting and adopting an ordinance that established a Sensible Marijuana policy as a guide for law enforcement. This law established marijuana arrests and prosecutions as the lowest public safety priority for the police and the City Attorney’s office. The introduction of the ordinance cited the inevitable consequences of prohibition clearly as the reasons for what many considered a long overdue approach to public policy.
(a) no evident increase in marijuana use among young people, (b) no evident increase in crime, and (c) no adverse impact on public health.
I believe Seattle’s support for recognizing the failure of the War on Cannabis can be attributed to its experience with “Seattle Hempfest.” In the 21 year history of one of the largest cannabis celebrations in the world I have been unable to find any significant arrests or incidents worth reporting.
From my professional experience, most cops will tell you they would rather deal with someone that is a cannabis consumer than an enraged drunk. I try not to fall into the false media portrayal of the typical marijuana user (so no stupid stoner jokes from me) as it degenerates the importance of the public policy discussion. Yet, my unscientific experience tells me that the cannabis consumer is much more “peace loving,” and less violent than the thousands of intoxicated men and women that I had to contend with during my career.
It was in this weed-friendly world City Attorney Peter Holmes was elected in 2010. Holmes amended city policy to effectively stop prosecuting marijuana-possession cases, while calling for a system of regulation that supports taxation and legalization for adults. The experience of both the City Attorney’s office and the Seattle Police Department (SPD) sparked them both to become stakeholders in supporting I-502, the ballot initiative that legalized recreational use of marijuana last November.
Public support of Washington’s legalization initiative by criminal justice professionals led to interesting political moment, partifularly a debate between King County Sheriff’s candidates on who supported legalization more. The cliché of “politics makes strange bedfellows” was for me a highlight of last year’s election both in Washington and in Colorado. It gave me hope that my profession does have the ability to evolve, to support our constituents and the communities we serve by respecting their role in the political process. But what is most important to me is that by demanding change from our law enforcement officials it allows them to clarify what the proper role of law enforcement should be in their communities.
So on this most notable 4/20 in Washington and Colorado I ask you to go up to every law enforcement officer you see and give them a “high five” for me and from you. Thank them for supporting, not undermining, your vote and allowing me to anticipate the day in California where we will be able to do the same. So this Saturday, Happy 4/20 and remember even cops like me have a sense of humor, even the SPD noted “that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a Lord of the Rings marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to.”