Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) stated Friday that he opposes legalizing recreational marijuana, telling WKOW in Madison that he’s deferring to law enforcement from around the state.
“Recreationally, no, I’m not [in favor of legalization].” LeMahieu said. “I’ve heard from local law enforcement, law enforcement around the state have all taken stands it’s really dangerous to be legalizing marijuana recreationally at this point.”
LeMahieu offered no explanation for why Wisconsin law enforcement feels it’s ” really dangerous” to be legalizing it, which sounds more than a bit suspect given that almost a third of states across the country have already done so. So what is it a danger to? Their budgets?
Back in 2014, Minnesota DFL Rep. Carly Melin attempted to champion a medical marijuana bill through the Minnesota legislature. Governor Mark Dayton said publicly he’d only support the bill if Minnesota’s top cops were on board, which was a somewhat cowardly position to take, frankly, but Mellin dutifully attempted to negotiate with leaders from the Minnesota Law Enforcement Coalition. Here’s what she reported from those negotiations, via Minnesota Lawyer.
“The second-term DFLer from Hibbing said she was particularly frustrated after she met in November with representatives of the powerful Minnesota Law Enforcement Coalition, a group that includes the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Minnesota Sheriffs Association, Minnesota County Attorneys Association, and Minnesota State Association of Narcotics Investigators.
“They wouldn’t discuss any specific provisions and said they had a blanket opposition to medical marijuana,” Melin recalled. She took note of one objection voiced at the meeting but not mentioned in the coalition’s 10-page, bullet-point laden white paper: concern about the impact the measure might have on police budgets.
According to Melin, Dennis Flaherty, the executive director of the MPPOA, explicitly told her that he was worried that legalization — in any form — could lead to harmful reductions in the federal grants that are an important funding source for many police agencies.”
As they say in Minnesota, ( where I was raised) ” uffda!” In an interview with a popular liberal Gopher State blog, Bluestem Prairie, Melin took it a step further:
A: There are many individual members of law enforcement who are supportive of medical marijuana. In fact, one of them is a co-author of the bill, Rep. Dan Schoen, state representative and police office fromCottage Grove, MN. Law enforcement in northeast Minnesota have discussed some flexibility, which is a lot further than we got with the statewide leaders. It is the head honchos and lobbyists down in St. Paul who are the problem. Marijuana being illegal is big business for law enforcement. The forfeiture of property relating to marijuana crimes brings in big revenue to law enforcement agencies. They are worried that legalizing medical marijuana is a step toward the decriminalization of marijuana, which in turn would impact their budgets. “
Double uffda! Fortunately, in 2019 the SCOTUS finally put some limits on the dubious practice of asset forfeiture. From Slate:
“The Supreme Court struck an extraordinary blow for criminal justice reform on Wednesday, placing real limitations on policing for profit across the country. Its unanimous decision for the first time prohibits all 50 states from imposing excessive fines, including the seizure of property, on people accused or convicted of a crime. Rarely does the court hand down a ruling of such constitutional magnitude—and seldom do all nine justices agree to restrict the power that police and prosecutors exert over individuals. The landmark decision represents a broad agreement on the Supreme Court that law enforcement’s legalized theft has gone too far.”
Ouch! Tough language. But while the SCOTUS ruling places limits on asset forfeiture the issue of federal drug enforcement money lives on, apparently. Take the case of South Dakota, for example.
Last November South Dakotans voted to legalize marijuana by a 53% to 47% margin. Close, but the voters have spoken, right? Not so fast.
On February 9th a South Dakota judge ruled that the voter approved constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana was, in itself, unconstitutional. Who brought suit against the measure that resulted in the judge’s ruling? The head of South Dakota’s state Highway Patrol, Rick Miller, and Kevin Thom, Sheriff of South Dakota’s second most populous county, Pennington. These two went to court to overturn a voter approved constitutional amendment. Why?
Or take the case of Illinois.
Predictably, law enforcement in Illinois opposed legalization of weed but, recognizing that the political winds were not in their favor, argued for a bigger cut of the revenues if it was legalized. I’m sensing a pattern here. As the Chicago Tribune reported:
“Law enforcement officials came out Wednesday against legalizing marijuana in Illinois — but if cannabis is allowed, the police want a bigger cut of the proceeds for what they fear will be increased safety risks.” Increased safety risks, or making up for a budget shortfall?
Fortunately, there are dissenting opinions within law enforcement on this issue and those views should be a part of the debate here in Wisconsin. The Law Enforcement Action Partnership is a group of former and current law enforcement professionals who are opposed to the so-called War on Drugs. Take a look at this graphic from their website.
In short, marijuana legalization in Wisconsin is an idea whose time has come, and statements of opposition from various law enforcement leaders and associations around the state should have little or no bearing on the deliberations going forward. Their motives are questionable, their arguments are specious, and it’s entirely possible that they stand in the way of a public good for the sake of their own bottom line.