It's a real dilemma for cops when it comes to enforcing marijuana laws
Police work is not as easy as one might think. After college and the police academy, I was pretty brain damaged and thought that things were black or white. They were right or wrong, either against the law or lawful. WRONG!
The best police officers operate in the gray shades of human existence. Those officers enforce the law — not the letter of the law — but an interpretation based on decency, fairness, humanity and what in their view keeps the public safe.
Steve Pepple | AnnArbor.com
For instance, I am a big advocate of wearing seatbelts, so I would be apt to give violators tickets for noncompliance. My personal threshold for “writing” speeders was 15 mph over the limit. Others officers write at 10 over or eight over, and one trooper policing US-2 in the Upper Peninsula is writing tickets for five over the limit for violators with cars equipped with cruise control — yikes that’s harsh.
Nowhere in the law am I more conflicted and confused than with marijuana. A funny thing happened during the nearly 30 years of my police adventure. Since 1982, alcohol has been demonized in our society, while marijuana is becoming more accepted.
Having policed Ann Arbor and being used to a $5 fine for marijuana use — later changed to a $25 fine, I was conflicted for a while until the police command staff made enforcement decisions very easy.
For most officers, the $5 fine for possession of marijuana was not worth writing. To write the $5 ticket it took an officer the time to write the ticket, drive to the station and log the baggy or joint into evidence and hand the paperwork into command. This was probably a 45-minute transaction for the officer.
Factor in the time it took for the property officer to catalogue, store, then some day dispose of the contraband properly and the time it took the court staff to process the $5 ticket, it seemed a ridiculous waste of time. We officers felt we should be out doing “real police work” instead of bothering with $5 weed tickets.
When citizens of this state voted for the law — yours truly included — we visualized Grandma Smedley getting some measure of relief for her cancer therapy chemo or glaucoma by firing up a doobie, ripping on a bong or eating a few THC laden brownies.
That is why back then a lot of individual marijuana cigarettes or “joints” as well as small baggies wound up scraped on the pavement under a combat boot, dropped down storm sewers or blown to the four winds of heaven in what used to be called “wind testing” the green leafy substance. In those cases no violation was issued, but the dope was destroyed.
That happened until an officer brought an arrestee in on a serious crime, found a joint or two in his pocket and flushed the marijuana down the toilet in police lock up. Well this crook sitting in jail had time to think about this and became morally outraged by the incident.
Once out of jail, the prisoner turned “victim” of officer’s “shortcut” made a complaint with the Ann Arbor Police Department. This fellow alleged that the Ann Arbor Police Department might be flushing all the joints in the city into the sewer system and then in a carefully choreographed conspiracy with the workers at the wastewater plant re-harvesting the marijuana and perhaps selling it on the streets.
OK, point well taken. Destruction of evidence turned into big time discipline for that officer and command sent the message that it was not right, it would not be tolerated and if you “wind tested” or flushed any more reefer you could be severely disciplined up to termination. Roger, 10-4, easy to understand. Take the time and do it right or face the consequences. It was really easy and clear to me then.
Now the lines on marijuana are really fuzzy for officers. Officers find now that it is easier for a teenager to buy a “nickel” or “dime” — $5 or $10 that is — bag of weed in and around school than it is to get a six-pack of beer from their old man’s fridge or get an adult to buy them beer.
The Michigan Medical Marijuana Law has really muddied the waters on enforcement for officers. When citizens of this state voted for the law — yours truly included — we visualized Grandma Smedley getting some measure of relief for her cancer therapy chemo or glaucoma by firing up a doobie, ripping on a bong or eating a few THC laden brownies.
What we voters had not envisioned was the “epidemic” of 18-year-old “wake and bakers” suffering from every malady from hangnails to hemorrhoids in order to find some quack to “prescribe” them “medications” with such colorful names as: Trainwreck, Grape Ape, White Widow, Purple Erkle, L.A. Confidential, Blue Dragon, Jack the Ripper, Sweetie Pie or Mr. Magic.
Twenty years ago, an officer would have never dreamed of taking a theft report of marijuana. Unless it was an armed robbery or homicide over dope, it was just not often listed as “stolen property” in a police report. Now officers are taking larceny reports of medical marijuana —though most are not exhausting every investigative resource to recover the “patient’s” “medicine.”
On the other hand most officers will tell you they have had more fights with drunks than the more docile, less ambitious burnt out dope smokers. That is as long as we are talking about marijuana only and not “blunts” laced with other drugs like PCP, crack or meth. In cases where it is mixed, officers can have their hands filled.
For those who will blog that marijuana is just a victimless substance that has been around for 10,000 years — save it. Ask the people who live in the southern border states if marijuana is a harmless, victimless recreational drug.
People die everyday to get the recreational users their little baggy because the baggy comes from a larger bag, which came from a bale, which was smuggled after it was harvested from a well-guarded field. Lots of money changed hands between there and Ann Arbor. Each time money changed hands, there was an opportunity for someone to get greedy and someone else to get hurt or killed.
Most officers handle marijuana on a case-by-case basis. Pounds and dealers get prosecuted, while individual joints, roaches and shake may be “overlooked.” Most officers are as conflicted as I am.
Therefore if you ask me if we should just legalize marijuana and be done with it — or — keep fighting the fight and crack down on dispensaries, dealers and the disruptive influence of the evil weed — my answer is unequivocally and without hesitation — YES!
Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.
Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for AnnArbor.com. He also serves as the Crime Stoppers coordinator for Washtenaw County.