A new Pew survey finds that a majority of American police officers favor marijuana legalization to some degree.
More than two-thirds of United States’ police officers believe marijuana should be legal for either medical or personal use, according to a new survey conducted by Pew Research Center.
The national survey of nearly 8,000 policemen and women revealed that 32 percent favor marijuana being legal for adult use, while 37 percent support legalization for medical purposes. Just 30 percent voiced support for keeping all marijuana illegal.
On the marijuana issue, the Pew survey also found a generational divide among police officers. Those under the age of 35 were more likely to support the legalization of recreational marijuana (37 percent) compared to those between the ages of 50 and 60 (27 percent).
Compared to the general public, police are more conservative on the issue of marijuana legalization. Among American adults, Pew found that 49 percent support legalization recreational marijuana, 35 percent support legalizing medical marijuana only, and 15 percent support prohibition.
Retired Lieutenant Commander for the Redondo Beach Police Department, Diane Goldstein, told The Washington Post that she’s not surprised that police officers are more conservative regarding legalization compared to the general public.
“Law enforcement continues to represent an outlier view on this issue because police are trained with outdated, unscientific, drug-war-oriented materials,” Goldestein told The Washington Post. But, she added “the poll reflects a positive attitude shift when you see that it’s only 1 in 3 police officers who believe marijuana should remain illegal.”
Goldstein is a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a non-profit organization founded by retired and active-duty officers in 2002. In last November’s election, LEAP endorsed marijuana measures in California, Arizona and Massachusetts.
Legalizing marijuana, a safe and harmless substance, would improve public safety by reducing the black market associated with cannabis. Additionally, with the prevalence of marijuana arrests occurring among communities of color, prohibition contributes to the hostile environment between police and the community.
In an interview last year with Attn.com, LEAP member and Denver Police Department veteran Tony Ryan explained the organization’s reasoning for supporting marijuana reform.
“[Legalizing marijuana] would free us up. Rather than pursue the drug war and chase around drug users and sales, [police] could concentrate on things that really are more important to the average citizen in terms of law enforcement, because you only have so many police officers,” Ryan said.
In the US, eight states have so far legalized recreational marijuana, while 28 states have passed comprehensive medical marijuana laws. In Colorado, the first state to legalize adult use cannabis, the overall crime rate and traffic fatalities have decreased since the law took effect. Similarly in the state of Washington, violent crime decreased in the year following recreational legalization. A 2014 study published in PLOS One found legalization could be correlated with a reduction in homicide and assault rates.
A poll conducted by YouGov.com in August found that 65 percent of American adults feel the costs associated with enforcing marijuana prohibition are higher than the benefit they provide.
The Pew Research Center National Survey of Law Enforcement Officers was conducted online May 19 through August 14, 2016. The national sample included 7,917 police officers working in 54 departments with at least 100 sworn officers. You can read the entire survey report, here.