This excellent piece by one of my colleagues at LEAP is in The Wilmington News Journal of 6/6/19.

 

Excerpts from the Article:

As the Delaware General Assembly once again considers a bill to legalize and control marijuana (House Bill 110), we should call upon state lawmakers to consider the latest evidence. Having served as a lieutenant with the Wilmington Police Department, I support regulating marijuana from a public health perspective and removing it from the purview of the criminal justice system.

Like many in law enforcement, I have struggled over the prospect of marijuana legalization. I had been conditioned to think that marijuana has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. I have also worried that ending prohibition might send young people the wrong message that marijuana is harmless, causing more youth use and abuse.

However, my firsthand experiences as a Wilmington police officer and my police research as a sociologist have taught me that marijuana prohibition causes much more damage than the use of the drug. Our marijuana laws brew deep distrust of police and the criminal justice system, breaking community relationships and increasing violence.

James Nolan is a former Wilmington Police lieutenant and current sociology professor at West Virginia University. (Photo: James Nolan)

We must remember that marijuana was made illegal in the first place not to benefit public health but to establish social control, particularly over minorities. The political leaders at the time of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act called for marijuana prohibition because it was a drug associated with Mexicans. President Nixon created the Shafer Commission to study marijuana policy and then criminalized marijuana use — against the commission’s recommendation. According to top aide John Ehrlichman, he did this because because he wanted to control the black population and anti-war movement.

Marijuana prohibition continues to target minority populations. Most research shows that white and black Americans use marijuana at about the same rate. But African Americans in Delaware are three times more likely to be arrested for possessing the substance. Arrest records from Wilmington police indicate that African Americans comprise nearly 90 percent of the more than 1,000 arrests for marijuana possession that occurred in the city between 2010-2014.

Unjust enforcement reduces the legitimacy of the police and the criminal justice system in minority neighborhoods. Broken trust in the police and criminal justice system is a source of increased violence, low crime clearance rates, ineffective prosecutions, and poor corrections and prisoner reentry outcomes.

With no trust in the civil authorities or legal system to help settle disputes or administer justice, many residents of minority communities take matters into their own hands and rely on a violent “code of the street.”

The damage done by marijuana prohibition is made even worse by the heavy reliance on informants in drug investigations. This law enforcement strategy destroys trust between friends and neighbors, especially in communities of color. Strong relationships are a community’s immune system. In my own research, I have found that trusting relations among neighbors and trust in the police are key conditions that reduce the risk of crime and drug abuse. Police reform should aim at achieving strong, cohesive community outcomes rather than law enforcement outputs, such as arrests and drug seizures.

Finally, marijuana prohibition adds to violence in communities because it creates illegal markets. When a drug is illegal, we have no control over it. Anyone can sell it, meaning it can easily be sold to young people. Anyone can sell a substandard product that puts consumers’ lives in danger.

Consumers can be exposed to lethal drugs through their dealer, who possibly sells more than just marijuana. Millions of dollars in drug profits reward people for living outside the law and winning new turf through violence.

My colleagues at the Law Enforcement Action Partnership and I have been supporting legalization for more than a decade. The latest numbers out of Colorado and Washington have satisfied many of my concerns about legalization.

I am grateful that my former home state of Delaware is working on this issue and pushing HB 110 forward. This bill rights the wrongs of the past by dedicating a percentage of the marijuana tax revenues to help restore the individuals and communities most harmed by prohibition. I hope that the legislature and governor will help build a solid foundation for police-community trust by legalizing and regulating marijuana.

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