A Pew Research survey released on Tuesday combined the results of two surveys that questioned nearly 8,000 police officers across 54 police departments and over 4,500 private citizens. According to Pew’s findings, “about two-thirds of police (68%) and a larger share of the public (84%) believe the country’s marijuana laws should be relaxed, and a larger share of the public than the police support legalizing marijuana for both private and medical use (49% vs. 32%).”
The survey also found an age disparity when it comes to views on weed:
“As with younger adults generally, officers younger than 35 are more likely than those ages 50 to 60 to favor permitting personal and medical use of marijuana (37% vs. 27%). Among the public, a majority of adults (63%) under the age of 45 favor legalization.”
In a country where police have conducted an increasing number of SWAT raids to search for illegal drugs, these new figures are surprising, though ultimately expected considering the public’s overall acceptance of cannabis.
The DEA’s annual Drug Threat Assessment report has shown a decline in police concerns over marijuana over the last several years. In 2015, just 6 percent of cops believed cannabis posed the “greatest drug threat.” In 2016, that figure dropped to 4.9 percent. In contrast, 44% percent of cops believed heroin was the biggest danger last year.
Though two-thirds of law enforcement still hesitate to advocate full-on legalization, one-third who embrace it join other anti-prohibition police advocates. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, known as LEAP, campaigns to scale back the war on drugs and educate the public and policymakers about its failures. Diane Goldstein, a retired Lieutenant Commander for the Redondo Beach Police Department, now serves as a LEAP board member and is not surprised that a majority of officers still oppose recreational legalization.
“Law enforcement continues to represent an outlier view on this issue because police are trained with outdated, unscientific, drug war-oriented materials,” she said. Unsurprisingly, for example, George Hofstetter, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, likened marijuana to alcohol last year, claiming it impairs driving. However, a recent federal study found not only that cannabis users were less likely to crash than alcohol users, but also that the former were no more likely to get into accidents than sober drivers.
Regardless of some officers’ outdated knowledge on the plant, Goldstein believes the recent poll “reflects a positive attitude shift when you see that it’s only 1 in 3 police officers who believe marijuana should remain illegal.”
Though a majority of police still believe the plant should not be legalized for recreational use, a majority are increasingly questioning the laws they are tasked with enforcing. Some are even experiencing the benefits of marijuana themselves, including one former officer who has found relief from advanced Parkinson’s disease through cannabidiol (CBD) oil.
After the oil soothed his debilitating symptoms in a matter of minutes, he expressed his frustration with current laws:
“A person like me could really use marijuana. And it makes me pretty angry that I can’t get it in my home state.”