NYPD Union Leader: Reducing Marijuana Arrests is “Beginning of the Breakdown of a Civilized Society”
Reported efforts to begin following through on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 election promise to reduce marijuana arrests in the city has distressed Sergeants Benevolent Association police union President Ed Mullins. Mullins is quoted Wednesday in the New York Post lamenting that “If the current practice of making arrests for both possession and sale of marijuana is, in fact, abandoned, then this is clearly the beginning of the breakdown of a civilized society.”
The city’s apparent move to reduce the number of marijuana arrests comes soon after an October joint report of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project publicized that the number of marijuana possession arrests in New York City were on track to remain the same under de Blasio’s leadership, or even increase, compared to arrests under Michael Bloomberg, the preceding mayor.
Of course, the truth is that there is nothing civilized about arresting people and throwing them in jail for making the choice to use, buy, or sell marijuana. Such choices have been tolerated or accepted in much of the world for centuries and were legal under United States law for the majority of the nation’s history. US legal prohibitions and punishments were imposed in the 20th century, including with the enactment of laws such as the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and marijuana’s inclusion in schedule one of Controlled Substances Act of 1970, thus applying the most expansive level of prohibition to actions involving the plant. In contrast, looking further back to the origins of the US, we find that Founding Fathers grew hemp on their farms, including George Washington at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.
A time traveler from the American 1800s, when marijuana and other now-illegal drugs were legally grown, bought, sold, and ingested, would likely find perplexing the comment that it is uncivilized to refrain from arresting and jailing people for such peaceful activities and commerce. Indeed, such a time traveler would probably immediately recognize that it is instead the police-state approach exhibited in Mullins’ comment and demonstrated each day in the enforcement of the drug war that is uncivilized.
But, Mullins need not talk with a time traveler; he can witness himself in the states of Colorado and Washington, and soon more American jurisdictions, that even legalizing marijuana is not a step away from civilization.
It is hard to believe that Mullins really believes his dire warning. Instead, as with the response of other drug war beneficiaries to marijuana prohibition rollbacks, Mullins is probably making his Chicken Little pronouncement in a desperate attempt to keep the war on marijuana easy money flowing in spite of the apparently unstoppable move toward nationwide marijuana legalization. Mullins is a police union leader after all.
Mullins also reveals a broader agenda behind his support for continuing the high number of New York City marijuana arrests when he comments in the Post article, “If we’re not making marijuana arrests, then we may not pop someone who has a warrant on them or who committed felony crimes.” Indeed, the drug war exception to the Fourth Amendment and to similar state restraints on police action has proven a convenient path to abusing people with impunity. And, when you put enough people through the wringer, you will find a person here and there with a warrant or who you can book for a crime.
One of those “crimes” the Post article reports is often uncovered in the city’s marijuana policing is illegal gun possession—a victimless crime just like marijuana possession.
As a candidate, de Blasio both criticized Bloomberg for being too severe in the pursuit of marijuana law violators and said, “amen for what [Bloomberg] did on gun control. I think we should go the next step." Might the next step include replacing the marijuana pretext for city police abusing people with a gun pretext? We can hope not. But, the city taking that step may give Mullins some hope for preserving the warped “civilized society” he cherishes—at least in New York City.
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