Politicians Finally Realize They Can Stop Pretending to Hate Weed

Everyone from Barack Obama to Chris Christie is having sudden second thoughts about marijuana prohibition. How did legal weed go from a fringe issue five or six years ago to this current race to out-chill your political competitors?

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Jan 27 2014, 9:55pm

Photo via Flickr user mardi_grass_2010

In a New Yorker profile published this month, President Obama admitted that marijuana was not that bad and the enforcement of anti-weed laws was skewed against minorities. Similarly, on Thursday Texas Governor Rick Perry voiced his support for decriminalizing marijuana and letting states craft drug laws free of federal intervention. On January 16, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had changed his mind and that medical marijuana was a fine thing after all. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was trying to drown his state’s medical marijuana program in the bathtub not three months ago, spent part of his inaugural address delivered on January 21 promising to end the war on drugs. New York Senator Chuck Schumer just said on MSNBC that states should be allowed to “experiment” with legalization. What the hell is happening? How did the war on drugs go from a fringe issue five or six years ago to this current race to out-chill your political competitors when it comes to weed policy? It’s hard to know for sure, but it seems like Americans as a whole have decided that marijuana should be legal (or at least partially legal), while our leaders’ views have lagged behind. Now we’ve reached a tipping point where it’s safe for elected officials to embrace an end to prohibition—politicians’ minds aren’t changing, but poll numbers are.

Remember how Obama’s views on gay marriage “evolved” from wanting to legalize gay marriage, to changing his mind once he decided to run for president, then changing his mind again once he realized how many Americans were fine with gay marriage? His views on weed are an echo of that—young “choom gang” Barack would have favored legalization, but his older, more electable self would have thrown Barack the teen in prison. Clearly, Obama knows it’s wrong that marijuana is illegal, but his excruciatingly slow journey toward not being an asshole hypocrite on drugs is a little bit less than honest—when the White House issued a post–New Yorker clarification that the president had no interest in changing the laws, only fine-tuning them, it was obvious that his rhetoric is about testing the political safety of being anti-prohibition, not actual reform.

Well, the reformers are winning even without Obama on their side, and someday other drug laws may be liberalized as well. But when that happens,we’ll still have a few hundred thousand prisoners who are casualties of this idiotic war. And when they’re finally freed, the same politicians who helped put them there will be fighting over credit for who wanted to let them out most.

Here are this week’s bad cops:

-Las Vegas police officer Jesus Arevalo was fired nearly two years after he shot an unarmed Gulf War veteran who was suffering from PTSD, but the cop can now collect disability checks for life, so we can stop worrying about him. Stanley Gibson, the veteran, who suffered from anxiety and paranoia and was off his meds, died on December 12, 2011, after driving to an apartment complex where he didn’t live and residents called the cops. The responding officers pinned his vehicle between two police cruisers, and one officer fired beanbag rounds at Gibson—then Arevalo, mistaking that for life ammunition, fired his semiautomatic weapon, hitting Gibson four times and killing him. Eighteen months after the shooting, Arevalo filed for disability status due to “stress” and soon began receiving 31 percent of his former paycheck from the state Public Employees’ Retirement System. The exact amount he gets is not public, but based on previous wages, the Las Vegas Review-Journal estimates that Arevalo will be paid around $28,000 a year for the rest of his life. He also collected something like $183,000 for his 22 months of paid suspension during the investigation into the shooting. Arevalo, who in February was charged with harassment and disturbing the peace over an incident with his ex-wife, is not barred from working elsewhere either.

-The November arrest of Norman Gurley taught us all that having an empty secret compartment in your vehicle is illegal in the state of Ohio. Gurley was pulled over for speeding, at which point the police saw “wires” leading to the compartment and smelled, but could not find, marijuana. A brand new state law prohibited hidden compartments that are used or intended to be used to transport drugs, so if prosecutors have their way Gurley, who was the first person ever arrested of this crime in Ohio, will be indicted by a grand jury, though Gurley plans to challenge the law under Fourth Amendment grounds. In the meantime, according to John Ross, a researcher for the libertarian law firm the Institute for Justice, Virginia is considering a similarly bizarre law. If it passes, “knowingly” possessing a vehicle with a secret compartment will be a Class Six felony that could send offenders to prison for up to five years. Ross also notes that Virginia has especially lax asset forfeiture laws that allow police to keep seized cash or other items with only the most tenuous connection to a (sometimes not even proven) crime.

-Last week’s baffling acquittal of the Fullerton, California, police officers in the Kelly Thomas murder trial was one hint that even when prosecutors attempt to hold law enforcement accountable, the people may not be up to the task. Here’s another hint: on Tuesday, a grand jury refused to indict former Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, police officer Randall Kerrick for voluntary manslaughter. The trial was over events that occurred early in the morning of September 14, when former college football player Jonathan A. Ferrell got into a car accident and knocked on a stranger’s door in order to ask for help. The homeowner didn’t recognize him, so she called the police. Three officers arrived, thinking they were responding to a break-in. Though dashcam footage of the incident has never been released (and may not have been part of the evidence presented to the grand jury), cops said that Ferrell refused requests to put his hands up and continued to advance on the officers. On the other hand, Kerrick was the only one of the three cops who fired his weapon—a total of 12 shots, ten of which hit Farrell, who died. The grand jury requested that prosecutors submit evidence to try for a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.

-On Tuesday, a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) detective was shot by his colleagues during a raid on a robbery suspect’s apartment in Dublin, California, and thee shooting does not seem to have been captured on any police body cameras. Five plainclothes detectives, two uniformed officers, and a sheriff’s deputy went to 20-year-old John Henry Lee’s apartment on suspicion that he had violated his probation. It turned out Lee had been arrested the week before, but in the course of the raid BART Detective Sergeant Tommy Smith was fatally shot in the chest by fellow detective Michael Maes. It has not yet been confirmed whether Maes thought Smith was Lee, or whether the discharge of the weapon was entirely accidental, but either way it should have been filmed by the cameras the officers are required to have on their persons at all times.

- Our Good Cop of the Week award goes to Rogersville, Tennessee, police officer Chris Price, who responded to reports of a suicidal 18-year-old woman on Wednesday night. According to the Kingsport Times-News, Price got to the address in two minutes, which was just in time to cut the unconscious woman down from the scarves she had attempted to hang herself with in the carport. That’s the kind of officer we like to see, someone who turns up just in time to stop a temporary state of mind from becoming a permanent tragedy.

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter: @lucystag

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