What Would Elliot Think?
When I was a Sergeant in Narcotics, I was sitting in my Lieutenant’s office one day talking with him and another Sergeant. The conversation turned to the latest attempts to legalize Marijuana and we were debating if we would see it happen in our lifetimes. It turned into a discussion about what would happen if the weed were legalized.
Personally, I think of Marijuana as the Stupefying Weed – because every regular user I’ve ever come across acts as if half of their brain were turned off. I suspect it might also deserve to be called the Apathy Herb, because chronic users seem to have as much ambition as a dead goldfish. In a rough-sketch, broad-strokes, cop-on-the-street kind of way, I generally equate Marijuana with alcohol, and for that reason alone I don’t think we should legalize it.
Considering the pain and loss that Demon Rum already causes us, can you imagine what it would be like once we tossed Yerba out there? No thanks, society is already fucked up enough as it is.
Our discussion turned to the topic of cops who might choose to smoke a legal Marijuana. While SCPD had rules about what amount of pre-employment drug use was experimentation and how much too much, the Narcotics Division had more restrictive policies. When the Briar Patch is full of untold millions of dollars in dope and cash, you don’t throw Brer Rabbit in there without knowing his feelings on the subject of Briar Patches in general.
Our boss made the statement that, if he had anything to say about it, no officer who smoked legal Marijuana would ever work in Narcotics. My fellow Sergeant and I took him to task over that, and my co-worker made a great statement in support of our position:
Wait a minute. Are you saying it’s okay for a cop to go home and drink legal beer, wine or booze, but it wouldn’t be right for him to smoke legal Marijuana? That’s just crazy. Imagine how many cops go home and turn on their television while sipping a cocktail to watch The Untouchables. There they are with a nice scotch in one hand and remote in the other, watching Kevin Costner fight a war against the very substance they are holding in their hands, all while thinking “That Elliott Ness was one bad motherfucker.”
The conversation went to hell once we discovered that we were hitting a couple of his buttons pretty hard. We sank into total malarkey when we announced that we would have a huge weed smoking party on the day it was legalized, and he was invited. He kicked us out of his office.
So, everybody knows that while Marijuana is illegal in Amsterdam there is a policy of non-enforcement for users that extends to other so-called “soft drugs” like Hashish and Psyilocybin mushrooms. Amsterdam, which also has a long history of tolerance toward prostitution before the Netherlands legalized it, may be discovering that too much tolerance can lead to undesirable and unintended consequences. Decriminalization does not equal to the absence of criminal behavior. Corinne Dettmeijer-Vermeulen is the Netherlands’ National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings, she works independently and reports to the Dutch government:
“We have tried to decriminalize the prostitution sector by legalising it, by making it liable for permits and we have seen that it really doesn’t work that way. Many of these women in the legalized sector are being forced and violently treated so the Dutch government is now thinking are we on the right track?”
The city is trying to come to grips with some of the undesirable effects resulting when legalizing and tolerating go a little too far. It’s going to clean up the Red Light District and replace the famous prostitutes in the windows with upscale stores. Amsterdam’s Mayor, Job Cohen said recently,
“The romantic picture of the area is outdated if you see the abuses in the sex industry and that is why the council has to act,” he said. “We don’t want to get rid of prostitution but we do want to cut crime significantly.” While legalization was supposed to turn prostitutes into self-employed taxpayers who did not need pimps for protection, the city said the industry is still dominated by criminals attracted by the 370 euros each woman can earn a day.
He has also announced efforts to close coffee shops and so-called smart shops, which sell other “soft drugs” drugs such as magic mushrooms.
Deputy mayor Lodewijk Asscher said the city wants to restore a number of historic buildings and reverse the decline of a large central area where brothels, sex clubs and the coffee shops that sell marijuana line the city’s canals. “It will always be an exciting city with more freedom and more tolerance than elsewhere in the world,” Asscher said. “There will be other tourists and maybe more tourists but if you go here as a tourist you don’t have to feel embarrassed or ashamed about what you see.”
Among the announced reforms is a new code of conduct for police officers in Amsterdam – the same cops who have operated under a policy that fostered the situation that has now apparently gotten out of hand. Unlike every other citizen, and tourist, who can go into the local smokery and light up, they are being forbidden from smoking Marijuana in their off duty time. They are not happy with the new code that requires them to abstain when they are off duty.
It has been their duty for years to operate a policy of nonenforcement over the coffee shop culture. Now the police union will back its members in defying the cannabis ban. The union has vowed to bring a test case in court against the first officer to fall foul of the new rules, claiming that they amount to an unjustified intrusion into personal life.
People who support legalization of “minor” offenses such as Marijuana and prostitution have, at the very base of their positions, the belief that they can partake of such things and not be harmed or hurt society. The truth is that there are some percentage of the population that can do all manner of things and be responsible about it. However, society has all these other people who are not responsible and can’t handle it, and they are also the targets of even less-responsible criminals looking to take advantage. Go to Amsterdam and see the results when the irresponsible many are given privileges that only a responsible few can handle appropriately.
I am a vehement opponent of what I see as a trend in government to over protect people from themselves. The Nanny State goes too far sometimes, but there is a difference between protecting people against themselves and protecting an entire society. There are some privileges that we restrict – the right to vote, drink alcohol, sign a contract, carry a weapon, etc. – because we know that allowing everyone to do it can lead to chaos and disaster. Not that every 21 year-old is ready to handle alcohol, or every 18 year-old will vote responsibly, but we believe that most of them are capable of it. And while there are some people in society who can use what they call “soft drugs” in Amsterdam without society going into the crapper, the reality is that too many people can’t.
Part of the territory of being a police officer is that sometimes you have to enforce laws that you may think are silly or wrong. I’ve always believed that the Constitution provides an individual right to keep and bear arms, and that adults who aren’t criminals, drunks or crazy people should be allowed to carry firearms provided they act responsibly. However, when I started my law enforcement career it was illegal in Texas for an ordinary citizen to carry a firearm just because he thought he had a Constitutional right to do so. It was a stupid law, and one that I personally thought offended the Constitution. However, it was the law and all the court cases challenging it had upheld the Constitutionality of the law. I lost count of how many people I arrested for the offense of Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon, but I bet you could fill a nice sized banquet hall if you got them all together in one place.
The police don’t get to usurp the power of the people as expressed in laws that society’s legislatures and courts decides are just and proper – our job is to enforce them. Enforce them in a reasonable and responsible manner, but we don’t get to unilaterally declare a law null and void because we don’t like it.
If Amsterdam’s government was telling its cops – “We’re enforcing this law now and it applies to you as well” – I would believe any cop caught smoking dope should be fired and prosecuted. But that’s not what Mayor Cohen is proposing.
The Dutch have put themselves, and their cops, in a tricky situation. Police agencies have to prioritize the use of their resources because there are always too many laws and lawbreakers, and not enough time, money or people to enforce them all. But in Amsterdam they made a decision to ignore the law as a matter of policy, not prioritization, and that is a moral failure. Either something is against the law, and that law is enforced as best as demand requires and resources allow, or the law is wrong and should be rescinded. And making a political decision to not enforce the law in the case of ordinary citizens while enforcing it for police officers is too stupid to describe.
There is no sense in telling police officers that a law applies to everyone, but forbid them from enforcing it, only to tell them they have to obey that same law.