Seattle Cops Frown Beneath Their Mustaches at Pot Legalization

By Tony O'Neill 11/18/11

A police debate about legalization precedes next year's anticipated popular vote in Washington State.

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A funny Seattle Times piece details ex-prosecutor John McKay’s futile attempt to convince a room full of police chiefs that marijuana prohibition's failure. There are few less-likely pot advocates than John McKay. Appointed by George W. Bush, he was Seattle's top federal prosecutor for five years, filing charges against so-called "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery, and famously leading a case on helicopter smuggling of British Columbian grass. McKay said in his speech that he doesn’t smoke pot, and "doesn't like people very much who smoke pot." But he's still joined a long line of people who've spent years fighting the drug war, only to denounce it on leaving office. Few serving politicians or police chiefs have the guts to speak out. The assembled cops predictably voted against endorsing I-502—a measure heading to the legislature or to voters next year, that would legalize, tax and regulate small marijuana sales in Washington State.

The Seattle Times’ rendering of police attitudes is droll. Describing the reaction as “one of frowns beneath mustaches,” the piece gives us some choice quotes. Reacting to McKay’s statement that "Our criminalization of marijuana for the last 70 years as a vehicle to reduce its use is a failure," Police Chief Ed Holmes wondered why we'd want to legalize a substance whose “only use” is for “impairment.” "With marijuana, there's only one reason you smoke it,” said Holmes, to widespread guffaws. “It's not like it tastes good. You don't smoke it with your burger." Another cop, asking to remain anonymous—presumably so nobody will surprise him with a “Father of the Year” award—boasted of having his own son arrested for pot use. Claiming the kid's now “straightened out,” he added, "I thank goodness it carries the stigma of having to be arrested." Gee, thanks dad!

Despite such attitudes, I-502 has already collected more than 230,000 signatures and will likely qualify for the November 2012 ballot. Based on state Liquor Control Board estimates, I-502's acceptance would make weed a top-five agricultural product in Washington, smoked by 10% of adults, grossing nearly $582 million and generating $215 million in taxes a year. Almost two-thirds of this money would be earmarked for research and addiction prevention. But try selling that to the cops. 

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.

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