Pubdate: Fri, 06 Nov 2015
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2015 The Denver Post Corp
Author: Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post


Washington - America's cops overwhelmingly do not see marijuana as a 
major threat to their communities, according to results of a survey 
released this week as part of the Drug Enforcement Administration's 
"2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary."

The DEA asked a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 
law enforcement agencies what they saw as their biggest drug threats. 
Marijuana came in at the bottom of the list, named by only 6 percent 
of survey respondents. The share of law enforcement agencies naming 
weed has been declining steadily since the mid-2000s, even as states 
have moved to legalize medical and recreational marijuana during that 
time period.

By contrast, nearly three-quarters of police departments named heroin 
and meth as their top drug threats this year. The perceived threat of 
heroin has more than quadrupled since 2007, according to the survey. 
And after rising sharply from 2007 to 2013, the threat posed by 
prescription painkillers has subsided considerably in the past two years.

The findings indicate a statement by law enforcement of a fact that 
drug policy experts and researchers have known for a long time: 
Compared with other recreational substances, including alcohol, 
marijuana doesn't cause that much harm. It's probably even safer than 
many people think. And if you're worried about potential harms to 
individuals or to communities, marijuana is low on the list of 
recreational substances.

The state and local police also say that marijuana is not a big 
driver of crime. Only 6 percent said that marijuana was the most 
serious driver of violent crime in their communities in 2015, and 5 
percent said it was the biggest contributor to property crime. This 
contradicts arguments made by some high-ranking law enforcement 
officers recently that marijuana is somehow driving an increase in 
murders this year.

Despite the shift in thinking, arrests for marijuana possession 
continue unabated. Police keep arresting people for marijuana 
possession. This might be a simple question of low-hanging fruit: 
Marijuana is by far the most widely used illegal drug, and more users 
means more potential arrestees. But these arrests have serious 
consequences for the people caught up in them, and they divert 
precious police time and resources away from serious crimes, such as 
rape and murder.

Beyond that, the Department of Justice has continued to prosecute 
marijuana cases aggressively even in places where some use of the 
plant is legal, such as California. This led to a federal judge 
giving a scathing rebuke to the department last month, accusing it of 
openly defying congressional efforts to put an end to these raids.

The DEA also continues to pump millions of dollars into its endless 
campaign to "eradicate" marijuana plants in the U.S., funding 
expensive weeding operations that spend, in some cases, $60 or more 
to uproot a single plant.

The DEA's latest drug threat assessment makes an implicit argument 
for smarter policing: If marijuana is of little concern while heroin 
and meth are a big worry, then devote less time and resources to the 
former and more to the latter. The report notes that more than 46,000 
people died from drug overdoses in 2013. It does not mention is that 
none of those overdoses was caused by marijuana.
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