The minimal evidence we have of marijuana usage harms keeps withering away under more careful study, but the very real harms of police enforcement go on. I’ve really stopped paying attention to this stuff because it never ends; one month of stories look like any other. I just pop in once in awhile to see the latest abuses. Yep, young women cavity searched on the side of the road; kids shot; tons of no-knock drug raids putting everyone in unnecessary danger…
America’s criminal justice system is so brutal and resistant to reform that the only way to reduce harm is to lessen people’s contact with it: move regulation strategies away from criminal law. Thankfully, state referendums to get cops out of the pot business are all over and even nation candidates are being forced to take the issue seriously.
To think how much harm could’ve been avoided if the country hadn’t wrapped up marijuana with the war on crack in the 80s. Hard drugs truly were devastating some communities then and now, but the “smell of marijuana” gave the police practically unlimited power and financial resources to forcibly invade and ruin the lives of people, particularly in neighborhoods unlikely to afford decent lawyers. Very few upper class families receive the Cheye Calvo experience, but lots of the little people still do.
Opponents of cannabis decriminalization often state we should keep it criminalized in order to help law enforcement catch bad guys, and indeed it serves as an important tool for justifying searches on individuals and premises. After all, these searches may turn up more harmful criminal activities or individuals with warrants. LEO’s will often admit that in many cases they are not really after the pot and may even ignore the offense if no other offenses are found.
From a public safety standpoint, allowing “I smelled marijuana” to serve as probable cause for search may on net improve safety, but we should reject this notion because these searches are basically unconstitutional. Cannabis use, after all, is not what most officers are really after; it’s a justification.
The Fourth Amendment was not created by accident; the power to search without cause can and often is abused by LEOs, and the especially militarized flavor of drug raids in the U.S. is often needlessly violent and deadly.
When cannabis is no longer criminalized, yes, searching individuals based on a hunch (without real cause) will be harder—the goal of the Bill of Rights was not to make policing easy—but consider if we had never criminalized cannabis and it had at least as many users as it currently does. Knowing what we now know about the mild harms of the drug, would we really choose to turn at least several million people into regular criminals in order to give LE the power to search them without cause and occasionally using violent SWAT raids?
No we would not and should not. If anything this “LE tool” argument is a reason to decriminalize.
Another year it still deserves saying… It’s long been clear the risks and harms of cannabis use are mild, and with that knowledge it should sicken us that people are regularly pulled into our criminal justice system because of cannabis use, sales, production, or political speech (see the example made of Marc Emery). Shame on us for keeping these unjustifiable laws on the books due to ignorance and inertia; each year they harm individuals far more than use of the drug, further erode our Fourth Amendment protections, and place otherwise law-abiding citizens at odds with the police.