With the legalization of marijuana coming for Washington on December 6, some long-time police officers are looking forward to a potential improvement in relations with community members where fear and mistrust have dominated in the past.
Many long-time cops like former Seattle Police chief Norm Stamper believe the war on drugs has created an unnecessarily combative relationship between officers and citizens, especially the minority communities, where a disproportionate amount of marijuana arrests are made.
“I have come to believe that the war on marijuana has made enemies of otherwise law abiding Americans. Many of them young, black, Latino, many of them poor,” Stamper says.
Stamper says legalizing pot could start mending some of those fences and foster new trust because there won’t be a perception anymore that officers are simply looking to bust minorities for minor offenses.
“The law and the mass incarceration behind it has set up a real barrier between the police and particularly ethnic minority communities.”
Alice Huffman, President of the NAACP in California argues the amount of attention and resources devoted to the war on drugs promotes conflict between cops and the community.
“There’s a lack of trust, there’s a fear on both parts,” she says.
Huffman says legalizing pot should help ease those fears and concerns because officers will no longer be targeting people in those communities specifically for marijuana possession.
Stamper believes that could turn the tide of mistrust.
“We can build an authentic partnership between the police and the community and create a climate of true, not cosmetic public relations versions of community policing. True community policing demands a mutual trust and mutual respect and confidence in local law enforcement,” he says.