Former prosecutors and cops led the effort to legalize marijuana in Washington last fall. And some current law enforcement officials are now openly endorsing pot legalization in the Midwest. In fact, no matter where you look, it’s fair to say that cops across the country are talking a lot about pot these days and questioning whether it should remain illegal, said retired California police officer and marijuana activist Nate Bradley, who specializes in changing cops’ minds about ending the weed war.
Bradley began using medical cannabis after he was laid off in 2009 from the police department in Wheatland, California, just north of Sacramento. He’s now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a national group of retired police officers who want to end the Drug War.
Since joining LEAP, Bradley has focused on talking to cops and law enforcement brass about legalization, because police organizations are the main opposition to it. Neutralizing police fears about marijuana is essential to any legalization effort, he said. The process starts by understanding the police mindset and looking for the right opportunity to broach the subject. "Very casually bring up the news last night and ask them, ‘What do you think?’" he said, adding that the answer might surprise you. "The attitude of many cops in the Bay Area is ‘Prohibition’s a joke.’"
Still, cops skew toward being rule-followers. Bradley, for instance, said he "came from a very religious, right-wing household" and attended Christian school before enrolling in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Academy in the 1990s. "I was one of the weird people who never [smoked pot] in high school," he said. "Cops are uptight. Imagine Eagle Scouts."
In police academy, instructors espouse "a military mindset of ‘all for one and one for all,’ where they tell you what to think: ‘Marijuana is bad, it does X, Y, and Z. These are the rules, this is how we go after people,’" he said. Cops also are taught to treat pot users like drug addicts, and to "see them as second-class citizens," Bradley added. "Your view of a drug user is that of a zombie. ‘Treat ’em like a zombie.’"
After police academy, uniformed officers are tested for marijuana use, and if they associate with friends who smoke pot, it can put them in an uncomfortable position, not to mention possibly damage their careers. But they’re still our uncles, brothers, and buddies underneath the uniform, Bradley said, and activists need to start conversations with relatives and friends who are cops. But, he said, don’t try to sell a cop on the benefits of pot. Instead, discuss the harms caused by prohibition. Plant a seed of critical thinking. "Cops are trained to see the truth and to sniff through bullshit," he said.
Ask for a cop’s experience with the weed war, because it will likely include plenty of wasted resources. In addition to working for the Wheatland PD, Bradley also worked with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department from 2002 to 2009. His first real pot arrest involved a father on parole. "Here were four cops surrounding this one guy, and he says, ‘I got dope on me, I’m sorry.’ My sergeant pulls out his handcuffs and says, ‘All right.’ And he looks at my sergeant and he just starts crying. He goes, ‘Can you at least wait until my son goes inside?’ It froze me. I looked at him. I looked at his kid. And something in me says, ‘This guy’s not a criminal.’"
Bradley said he has watched twenty police officers get paid overtime to cut down a pot garden, and then be told that no overtime is available for catching more pedophiles, for solving more homicides, or for taking guns off the street. "I’ve learned it’s that way everywhere."
Bradley also suggests asking cops about the corruption that stems from keeping pot illegal. "Marijuana is reaching levels of acceptability where we’ve got these young law enforcement officers for whom it’s a way of life — they’re not going to think twice about throwing a few pounds [of marijuana] in the back of their car when they have to make rent," he said. "And I’m only saying it because I see all that shit."
Lastly, Bradley suggests appealing to a cop’s self-interest. "Two deputies I know got shot at by a pot grower last year," he said. "Those are two sets of kids that almost didn’t have a Papa Bear come home — over weed — not because you were going after some rapist.
"The ideal result of ending marijuana prohibition is no more dead cops," he continued. "That gets them going. ‘How many more funerals, dude?’ … The money drug dealers get from selling weed, they buy bullets to kill cops. Ending prohibition is just for our own safety."