Organized law enforcement has some problems with Attorney General Holder’s announcement last week that the Justice Department would not seek to block Colorado and Washington from implementing their marijuana legalization laws. In a joint letter last Friday, the leaders of seven major law enforcement groups expressed “extreme disappointment” with the move.
Those law enforcement groups are the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major County Sheriff’s Association, the National Sheriff’s Association, the Major Cities Chief’s Association, the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, the National Narcotics Officers’ Associations Coalition, and the Police Executive Review Foundation.
While law enforcement has long argued that its role is to enforce the law, not set policy, the police associations clearly felt they should have had input in the Justice Department’s decision-making process.
“It is unacceptable that the Department of Justice did not consult our organizations — whose members will be directly impacted — for meaningful input ahead of this important decision,” the cops wrote. “Our organizations were given notice just thirty minutes before the official announcement was made public and were not given the adequate forum ahead of time to express our concerns with the Department’s conclusion on this matter. Simply ‘checking the box’ by alerting law enforcement officials right before a decision is announced is not enough and certainly does not show an understanding of the value the Federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partnerships bring to the Department of Justice and the public safety discussion.”
Beyond their issues with process, the law enforcement groups made it clear that they did not agree with the policy decision. The sky would fall if people could buy and smoke pot legally, the cops warned.
“The decision by the Department ignores the connections between marijuana use and violent crime, the potential trafficking problems that could be created across state and local boundaries as a result of legalization, and the potential economic and social costs that could be incurred,” they wrote. “Communities have been crippled by drug abuse and addiction, stifling economic productivity. Specifically, marijuana’s harmful effects can include episodes of depression, suicidal thoughts, attention deficit issues, and marijuana has also been documented as a gateway to other drugs of abuse.”
As if that were not enough, the cops also warned of “grave unintended consequences, including a reversal of the declining crime rates” of the past decades. But they didn’t explain how allowing for legal marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington would cause crime to increase.
For the cops, though, the bottom line was not enforcing the law, but setting policy.
“Marijuana is illegal under Federal law and should remain that way,” they wrote. “While we certainly understand that discretion plays a role in decisions to prosecute individual cases, the failure of the Department of Justice to challenge state policies that clearly contradict Federal law is both unacceptable and unprecedented. The failure of the Federal government to act in this matter is an open invitation to other states to legalize marijuana in defiance of federal law.”
Maybe law enforcement should just go back to enforcing the laws, not trying to write them.