The War on Drugs has created an inherent “us against them” mentality in many marijuana smokers. While the vast majority of cannabis consumers are otherwise law-abiding citizens – many of whom appreciate the efforts of law enforcement (when the law being enforced isn’t marijuana-related) – there is still a great deal of distrust involved. The prevailing sense that sides have been chosen and lines cannot be crossed is understandable given this country’s cannabis prohibition. However, it is not terribly helpful in attempting to affect change.
Interestingly, a microcosm of this dynamic can be found within the law enforcement side of the equation alone. An article published in The New York Times late last week highlighted several cases of officers voicing their desire to see marijuana legalized or decriminalized and paying severe consequences.
The optimistic takeaway here is clearly that non-violent, peaceful marijuana smokers benefit when officers with a frontline view of the drug war formulate their own opinions and decide marijuana prohibition is an utter failure. However, it is disappointing to say the least to learn that various law enforcement agencies will not tolerate the thoughts or beliefs of individual officers when they fall outside the government’s anti-pot dogma.
In one such case Bryan Gonzalez, a former Border Patrol agent, mentioned in passing to a fellow agent that legalizing marijuana would likely end drug-related violence in Mexico. Gonzalez also expressed sympathy for illegal immigrants. Not long afterwards he received a letter of termination stating Gonzalez held “personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and sprit de corps.”
Gonzalez was aware of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) at the time of his off the cuff remarks. LEAP is an organization made up of former and active law enforcement officers determined to end America’s War on Drugs.
Unfortunately, many active law enforcement officers who happen to agree with LEAP’s mission are wary of openly throwing their support behind the group. And with good reason. Take for instance Joe Miller, a former probation officer in Arizona. Mr. Miller was fired after simply adding his name to a letter from LEAP calling for marijuana decriminalization. When Miller added his name to the letter, he also included his agency. While this was merely for “identification purposes,” according to Miller’s attorney, Miller’s bosses saw it as a misleading action meant to appear as if he was speaking for the entire probation department.
Miller has since filed suit in Federal District Court and is being aided by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. Gonzalez, the Border Patrol agent who was canned via letter, also filed suit in federal court in Texas.
With such backlash resulting from expressing a dissenting opinion, LEAP has a difficult time garnering the support of active officers. According to LEAP’s executive director Neill Franklin, “No on wants to be fired and have to fight for their job in court … So most officers are reluctant to sign on board. But we do have some brave souls.”
The fear of potential consequences for speaking out is powerful indeed. Franklin noted the case of an officer in Maryland who is sympathetic to LEAP’s mission but won’t join the group until he leaves the force. “He wants to have a good last couple of months, without any hassle.”
Jonathan Wender is one of the lucky officers standing up for drug reform while on the job. Wender was a police sergeant in Washington State who was fired for supporting marijuana decriminalization. However, Wender managed to win a settlement of $815,000 and was even given his old job back. Perhaps disillusioned by the fight that ensued after speaking his mind, Wender instead decided to retire and now teaches a course in “Drugs and Society” at the University of Washington.
LEAP is a unique organization fighting against prohibition. Not only does the group help blur the line between marijuana users and law enforcement but it also acts as a recovery program of sorts (this is the opinion of the author, not the official stance of the organization), providing officers a community of likeminded individuals who have all experienced America’s War on Drugs from the vantage point of enforcement. It is disturbing that open-mindedness regarding marijuana is not tolerated in many law enforcement agencies, yet that makes an organization like LEAP all the more crucial.