When any sort of marijuana liberalization proposal makes the ballot, you can always count on law enforcement to pipe up in strong opposition to it, whether it be lowest law enforcement priority, decriminalization, medicalization, or legalization. On a rare occasion you may get a law enforcement voice in support, but usually they are retired officers from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).
Never in all our reporting on marijuana legalization have we ever witnessed the situation Dominic Holden reports from Seattle, where the sitting King County Sheriff Steve Strachan, a former D.A.R.E. officer, and his opponent, John Urquhart, a law enforcement vet with two dozen years experience, not only voiced their support for Washington’s I-502 legalization initiative, but fought over which one of them wanted to legalize marijuana more!
“As the sheriff, I don’t think it is a problem for public safety if we legalize it because that will provide a supported, understood law that we can enforce,” Strachan said. His leading point was that legalization—particularly a model with well defined regulatory mechanisms like Initiative 502 on the fall ballot—would help delineate lawbreakers from law abiders. Current medical marijuana laws are ambiguous while the priority for possession cases is low, so “the lack of clarity in the law is bad for criminal justice, bad for rule of law, and bad for kids. And as a law enforcement leader,” the sheriff continued, “I think legalization will lead to the greatest clarity. I will vote for I-502.”
But Urquhart said that position contains “no leadership” and it’s not enough. “Strachan talked about clarifying the law,” Urquhart said of his opponent. “The reason I am for legalization is not to clarify the law. I am saying that, morally, it should be legal.”
Strachan refused to back down. He disavowed some of his practices as a DARE officer, saying that the program was “overblowing the dangers” of pot, that marijuana use was a “parental responsibility,” and that mixing messages about marijuana with “truly dangerous” hard drugs was “incredibly unhelpful.”
When sitting sheriffs are parroting our talking points about D.A.R.E., you know the end is near. Sheriff Strachan also underscores one of the points I’ve heard from many cops: make it legal or make it illegal, but these medical exception laws are ambiguous and untenable from a law enforcement perspective.
In the most recent polls, I-502 has 50% to 57% support and the editorial endorsements of numerous Seattle newspapers.