‘The ship has sailed’: Calif. cops just reversed their opinion on legal weed

california police cannabis

*This article first appeared on SFGATE

California’s pot farmers have a new and unlikely friend in government: the police. After years of fighting cannabis legalization, one of the most powerful law enforcement groups in the state is now in support of cannabis legalization, reflecting a transformational moment in cannabis politics.

Earlier this month, the Peace Officers Research Association of California, an association of 950 police unions representing over 80,000 officers, announced that it now supports marijuana legalization and legal pot businesses.

“The ship has sailed,” PORAC wrote in a policy position released earlier this month announcing its call for federal cannabis legalization, “and for the vast majority of Americans, cannabis is legal and accessible.”

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The group’s announcement coincided with its support for the STATES 2.0 Act, a congressional bill that would force the federal government to recognize state-legal cannabis programs as valid under federal law. The bill would also provide a massive financial boost to legal pot companies.

PORAC President Brian Marvel told SFGATE that the bill would allow federal authorities to coordinate directly with local law enforcement to fight illicit cannabis companies and support legal pot farms.

“We’re not making a moral judgment as to whether you should smoke it or don’t smoke it, but we want to make sure [legal cannabis companies] aren’t being drowned out by the illegal market,” Marvel said to SFGATE.

california cops weed
Operation Hammer Strike Sgt. Rich Debevec with the San Bernardino County Sheriffs Department dumps some of the 316 pounds of marijuana found inside a 29 Palms home in the front yard on Tuesday Oct. 19, 2021. Photo: Will Lester / Getty

If approved, the bill could provide a massive cash windfall for the legal industry by reducing its federal tax rate and creating a pathway for California pot businesses to legally export their products across state lines, a long-held dream within the legal industry.

PORAC, which is the largest law enforcement group in California and the largest statewide police group in the country, opposed Proposition 64, the 2016 voter initiative that legalized marijuana in California. But the group’s opinion has shifted as cannabis became more normalized among police officers in the state, according to Marvel.

“A fair amount of officers patrolling the streets nowadays know nothing other than legalized marijuana in the state of California,” Marvel said. “They are much more receptive to conversations on marijuana.”

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Marvel said federal pot prohibition requires local law enforcement to do the majority of the work fighting illegal cannabis operations. If federal prohibition ended, however, federal officers could help fight the illegal market, thereby freeing up more local police to fight other types of crime.

The STATES 2.0 Act also calls for a new federal tax on cannabis that would help fund cannabis regulations and enforcement. Marvel said more funds for law enforcement was one reason the group supported the bill.

PORAC was joined by Oregon’s statewide law enforcement officer group in announcing its support for the STATES 2.0 Act. PORAC said in a statement to SFGATE that it was the first time a statewide law enforcement group had supported a pathway to federal legalization.

Marvel said shutting down illegal pot farms and the environmental damage they cause was another reason the group wanted to support legal farms. “We really need to do everything in our power to eradicate the illegal grows in California,” Marvel said.

PORAC’s support comes as views on marijuana are rapidly shifting across the country and inside law enforcement. New police recruits are no longer being asked if they have used cannabis in the past after the California legislature passed a new law banning workplace discrimination based on past cannabis use. And PORAC is actively calling for more research to determine if it’s safe for active police officers to use cannabis during non-work hours, according to Marvel.

Marvel said the group’s shift on cannabis use is also relevant to psychedelic reform, with the organization’s membership more interested in how psychedelics could be safely used instead of just outright banning the drugs.

“Let’s not … bury our heads in the sand and just say ‘No no no, we’re going to be doing pure enforcement,’ when the reality is we should be focusing on violent crimes and making our communities safer,” Marvel said.