Cannabis is a Schedule I drug under federal law, meaning it is not believed to have any proven medical benefits, and a high risk of addiction. It’s counterparts within the schedule include drugs such as Heroin and LSD. Despite the federal standpoint, over half of the states have legalized its use for medical or recreational use. Statistics show that the majority of people are, for the most part, in favor of cannabis legalization. What may be surprising though, is what a Pew Research Center survey reveals; that most cops would prefer relaxed marijuana laws as well. The reasons for their attitudes towards the plant are varied, from a failed War on Drugs to a perception that cannabis is safer than many other substances, and even the age of the respondents.
The Survey Findings
Between May 19 and August 14, 2016, Pew Research conducted online interviews with close to 8,000 law enforcement officers, representing 54 police departments across the country. They also polled over 4,500 individuals that are not associated with law enforcement. What they found is that the officers’ opinions of legalized cannabis closely align with the public’s views. In fact, seven of ten officers support it, while eight in ten Americans do. Not surprisingly, the younger an officer is, as with the public, the more likely they are to believe it should be legalized, or at least decriminalized. That said, they are still twice as likely (30% versus 15%) to advocate for a complete ban on the plant.
The War on Drugs
While law enforcement groups have been among the most ardent supporters of banning cannabis, there are some that believe that its prohibition is the root cause of a substantial number of social issues. Namely, the U.S. Makes up 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of incarcerated adults. This, they say, has led to prison over-crowding, a large number of broken families, wasted tax dollars, and an overall mistrust of authority figures. The Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) says that prohibition leads to increased amounts of drug abuse and violence. They advocate for regulations that include age restrictions on cannabis sales and its use. They also believe that it is important to look at new models that create more balanced personal freedoms and individual responsibility.
Age Affects Opinion
There is a definite age disparity among the public when it comes to opinions about whether cannabis should be legal. The younger a person is, the more they favor it. Almost two-thirds of the adult population in the united states under the age of 45 are in favor of cannabis legalization. While law enforcement officers aren’t quite as liberal, there is a growing number of younger officers that believe it should be legal as well. In fact, 37% of the respondents to the survey who were under 35 think that restrictions should be lifted. Their older counterparts aged 50 to 60 aren’t far behind with 27% approving of legalization. This is, perhaps a result of out-dated, negative and oftentimes, unscientific rhetoric about the dangers of marijuana use and its social consequences.
Whilst those in law enforcement continue to have a more conservative view of cannabis than the public, their attitudes are definitely shifting. As more states vote to legalize for both medical and recreational use, it’s certainly likely that attitudes will continue to change. In fact, it’s already happening with only one in three officers believing that it should be banned for all users. It remains to be seen how the new administration will tackle the topic, especially since Trump has said he won’t interfere with the states. However, attorney general Jeff Sessions, has continuously stated that he is personally opposed to cannabis and legalization efforts.