From Threat To Joke: How Are Your Cops Treating Weed?

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By Bailey Hirschburg

My old spectrum for judging cops on pot ranged from “Officer I’m still cool” to “Sheriff Buzzkill.” But I’m wondering if it’s out of date.

“Officer I’m still cool” was typically a local cop at protests or public events. He would always remind you he didn’t MAKE pot laws, he was just ENFORCING them. ‘I’m still cool’ knows it’s a drag, but he’s only trying to bust big, dangerous dealers. He just wants you to be safe, and think he’s relatable and cool.

“Sheriff Buzzkill” is a sheriff because he’s typically a law enforcement commander whose years of experience tells him that pot prohibition is either

a.) a grave moral imperative he must solemnly and strictly enforce, or

b.) a tool giving him discretion to bust hardened criminals that would otherwise slip away.

Buzzkill cops show up in their dress uniforms to government meetings across the country and explain that prohibition is the last, best hope their jurisdiction has to control weed.

Generalizations? Absolutely! But I’m reminded because of some of the recent generalizations cops had about marijuana give the impression mine are out of date.:

Former Minnesota Officer Jeronimo Yanez told investigators after shooting Philando Castile during a traffic stop last year “I thought, I was gonna die and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me,” 

But when you see the graphic dash cam footage of the brief stop, and hear the complete lack of discussion about any odors, its shocking the man would argue that afterwards, let alone be justified to kill. Nor was there anything done to determine if Castile was the suspect in another crime. (A different excuse Yanez offered for the shooting.)

We have a pattern (with or without pot) of trained officers being allowed to perpetually assume the worst case scenario as they blunder into lethal force, with civilians expected to anticipate exactly the cop’s feared reactions, and, obviously, not be allowed to carry weapons.

People are rightfully outraged because Castile’s race and legal gun possession contributed to his being shot. I am too, but I’m also furious that Castile’s “high crimes” of a scent and traces of pot that were the driver’s, not his, makes homicide excusable. Yanez’s story sounds like crocodile tears as he rationalizes the killing. I’m less stunned that Yanez did that, so much as I am that investigators, prosecutors, and a jury, decided that a $200 misdemeanor under Minnesota law authorizes lethal force.

Yanez is the updated “Sheriff Buzzkill” (emphasis on kill).  Suspecting Castile was a criminal because of his race, the smell of pot was all that was needed to identify him as a dangerous menace, and the presence of a gun justified his immediate, jittery discharge of seven rounds into a car with a woman and child.

Pot, when added to race or firearms, provides the new “Sheriff Audacious Rationalization” — where it’s not about the presence of marijuana per se, as much as the “totality of the circumstances.”   This leans away from the “moral imperative” of past buzzkills and stops being a tool used to identify hardened criminals. Neither moral, nor practical, enforcement of pot prohibition is at the complete discretion of the officer involved.

The 2.0 version of “Officer I’m still cool” also comes from Minnesota, by way of the Wyoming, MN, police department’s twitter account. Posted last April 20th, cops shared a photo of a uniformed cop waiting with a net lurking by some junk food and video games. “Undercover #420 operations are in place. Discreet traps have been set up throughout the city today. #Happy420” the tweet read. It was widely liked and shared.

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And stoners, including yours truly, had a momentary laugh as we remembered that cops like these cover up for their trigger happy buddies. The meme got large support, despite how messed up it was. The department would later tweet “All jokes aside, substance abuse is a real issue. We use tongue in cheek humor to bring attention to those issues.”

No, you employ the audacious rationalization used to defend killing people when called out by the public for discriminatory and failed laws. And that’s the new “Officer 420lolz.” They do nothing to different than “I’m still cool” except from using pot cliches to prove they’re not part of a policy enriching criminals and endanger the public. And feigning a concern for addiction when called on it Sure, “420lolz” wouldn’t mind catching some kingpins, but community relations points scored from pothead memes are enough.

No, not every cop you meet is a “Sheriff Audacious Rationalization” or “Officer 420lolz.” There are current and former police committed to ending prohibition, namely the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) which has lobbied for years against discriminatory policies that get innocent people killed. But sadly, these officers are a minority in most every agency in which they serve.

I don’t know if updated generalizations about police and pot make them easier to deal with in a benign encounter. The training and tradition of cops treatment of cannabis consumers won’t be undone overnight. Nor will their knee-jerk reactions to race. Cops should be taken seriously only so far as their judgements/policies merit it. Neither officers or the public are served by coddling outdated policies.

So long as the law enforcement community treat simple cannabis use as either an imminent threat or total joke they should expect the public to treat their opinions on pot laws similarly.

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