Pubdate: Wed, 18 Nov 2015
Source: Seattle Weekly (WA)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Michael A. Stusser


Our King County Sheriff is outspoken in his support for legalization.

The sky has not fallen because we have legalized marijuana in 
Washington. Is it going to work long-term? I don't know; we'll have 
to wait and see. But clearly, what we were doing before-the War on 
Drugs-did not work, so it was time to try something new. The citizens 
suggested legalizing marijuana-and I support it."

It's a reasonable-enough statement, but somewhat surprising in that 
it comes from our own King County Sheriff, John Urquhart. "I still 
think it was a good decision for the citizens of Washington," 
Urquhart told me in an interview last week. "The initiative [I-502] 
passed statewide with 56 percent supporting it, and 63 percent in 
King County, so that's clearly what the citizens wanted."

Urquhart's outspoken support of legalization isn't being taken all 
that well by some members of law enforcement. Urquhart did a TV ad 
last month on behalf of the (successful) Oregon Measure 91, and 
members of the Oregon State Sheriff's Association took him to task. 
"How dare he use his position as a sheriff to spoon-feed Oregonians 
blatantly false information about Washington state," said Clatsop 
County Sheriff Tom Bergin, "right before an Oregon election."

Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins not only didn't like Urquhart's 
ad, he went NIMBY gun-slinger with a zinger. "You don't see any 
Oregon sheriffs going up to Washington to weigh in," Adkins blasted 
in a statement. "He needs to get his nose out of our state and show 
some respect. The issues we face are different." Like neck beards and 
living on a swamp-river, I presume.

Members of the Oregon Sheriffs Association claimed Urquhart's 
statements were misleading, citing state patrol reports that showed 
stoned driving arrests had increased. In the ad, Urquhart rightly 
claims tax revenue is up, wasteful arrests have been eliminated, and 
DUIs in our state are down, implying that legal weed may have 
something to do with all these results.

While it's true DUIs are down overall (DUIs have dropped 25 percent 
since 2009), arrests involving pot and driving are up. The most 
current stats from the Washington State Patrol show that 
cannabis-related DUIs since December 2012 (when we legalized it, man) 
have gone up, from 988 in 2011 to 1,362 in 2013. A Washington Traffic 
Safety commission report last week showed the frequency of drivers in 
fatal crashes who tested positive with THC in their systems (alone, 
or in combo with booze or other drugs) was highest in 2014 (75) as 
compared to the previous four-year average (36).

"There have been more arrests for driving with marijuana in their 
system," Urquhart admitted, "but, overall, fatality crashes have not 
gone up. There haven't been any studies in Washington where there's a 
direct causation from legalizing marijuana [to road fatalities]. 
There might be a correlation, but we'll need more research on that."

And the reason for more stoned drivers? "Well, for one, we're looking 
for stoned drivers. Because of all the publicity around it. And now 
we have a per se standard. So we're watching for that-and obviously 
there will be more arrests. As they test more blood-they're gonna 
find more people with THC. The question then will be, how long has it 
been in their system? Did it affect their ability to drive? And what 
other drugs might be in their system?-including alcohol."

But surely, since ganja has gone legal, officers in the field have 
constantly had to tackle out-of-control stoners at sex-crazed parties, right?

"No. Not at all. From what I'm hearing from my deputies, it's a big 
yawner. No change for them whatsoever. What I have told them, if 
people are smoking marijuana in public, use your discretion like you 
would with drinking in public, or like speeding. Don't be afraid to 
write a citation. So they're doing that. But I haven't heard any pushback."

I asked the Sheriff if it was strange to be a voice for legalization. 
"To be honest, it's very, very weird. I have been a cop for 40 years, 
I spent a good amount of that time doing drug investigations, and was 
a street-level narcotics investigator. And now, in some quarters, I'm 
the face of all this. Most police chiefs and sheriffs don't want to 
speak out on this, regardless of their what their personal feelings 
are. And of course, the police chief has to kowtow to who the mayor 
is. A sheriff has more freedom. I just don't care, to tell you the 
truth." (FYI, the Washington State Sheriffs' Association wrote a 
letter to the Oregon sheriffs during the campaign, clearly stating 
that Urquhart's views were not endorsed by the organization.)

Urquhart isn't a Lone Ranger (Lone Reefer?) on legalization. Founded 
in 2002, LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) is a group of 
over 5,000 current and retired cops, judges, and prosecutors 
committed to ending decades of failed drug policies. Like Urquhart, 
they don't like the trillion dollars spent on the failed War on Drugs 
or the $80 billion spent on incarceration in the U.S. each year-which 
could instead go to rehabilitation, job training, and education.

At a press conference last month, executive director Major Neill 
Franklin explained LEAP's position: "As our nation's top police and 
prosecutors reflect back on their careers, we have come to understand 
that many of the so-called tough-on-crime principles to which many of 
us gave our lives are flat-out wrong," said Franklin. "We can reduce 
crime and incarceration at the same time, but to do that we need 
alternatives to arrest, balance in our laws, and continued 
improvement in community relations."

Every 45 seconds a person gets busted for marijuana. This adds up to 
more than 700,000 pot-related arrests in 2014 alone. Of 1,561,231 
total drug arrests last year, weed made up 45 percent of 'em. Of the 
1,700 daily cannabis busts, 88.4 percent were solely for possession. 
Still, Urquhart understands that not all law enforcement will agree 
with his stand on legalization, and he's fine with that-so long as 
they have ideas of their own on failed policy.

"The only thing that gets me pissed off is when police chiefs 
criticize the decision that the citizens of Washington made, for 
legalizing marijuana, but offer no alternative to that. They all know 
the War on Drugs doesn't work. What are we going to do differently? 
Marijuana is one small step. Let's see if it works. It's a grand 
social experiment. And it appears to be taking hold."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom