Complaining that they can’t keep up with all the changes to the law, police departments in Colorado are demanding that the legislature impose a moratorium on any new cannabis-related legislation. 

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports:

In May, heads of Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police [a taxpayer-funded special-interest group that lobbies for police organizations], the County Sheriffs of Colorado and Colorado District Attorneys’ Council wrote a letter to the “Members of Legislative Leadership” seeking a two-year moratorium on new marijuana regulations in order to bring all officers into compliance with enforcement expectations.

Officers “cannot keep up with the quantity and speed of constantly changing marijuana laws,” their letter said, noting 81 bills have been introduced [NB: only a small fraction of these have been passed into law] in the last four years.

Specifically, the police say they are concerned that the legal changes may mean that “agencies won’t aggressively enforce the laws.”

It is notable that when the police come forward to demand fewer laws, it’s in response to legal changes that in many ways increase the freedom of the taxpaying public overall. That is, the police are frustrated with the fact that laws are being repeatedly passed that make it more difficult for them to prosecute private citizens. Marijuana related activities that may have been illegal several years ago are no longer illegal, so police may find themselves in situations where they make arrests and destroy private property in cases where no law has actually been broken.

Moreover, as one police sergeant explained: “If authorities seize plants during an arrest but charges are later dropped, there’s no property to return to the grower, which exposes police to lawsuits.”

In many cases, the police are then forced to proceed with caution in order to avoid lawsuits over seized private property.

The police find this upsetting.

One is left wondering, however, if the police have ever come forward demanding a moratorium on laws that make it easier to make arrests and prosecutions. This is, if the legislature were going in the opposite direction, and expanding police powers over marijuana production, would the police departments be complaining about an expansion in their power?

That seems exceedingly unlikely.

Nevertheless, the police could easily address the issue by prioritizing real crime, such as theft, assault, rape, and homicide, while ignoring petty drug offenses and home growing operations.

It is notable, for instance, that The Gazette article mentions the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office as one of the agencies that is being negatively impacted by the changing legal landscape. Pueblo County continues to focus on making drug busts, which exposes it to lawsuits. Pueblo law enforcement agencies are among the state’s most aggressive in going after marijuana violators.

What the article doesn’t mention, however, is that the Pueblo metropolitan area is home to the state’s worst homicide rate, and that there is an ongoing violent crime problem in the area. Thus, one is forced to ask why Pueblo law enforcement officials continue to focus on marijuana when homicide in their jurisdiction is outpacing the rest of the state.

It’s likely that the law enforcement agencies would respond they must enforce “all laws” but this has always been a nonsense response that ignores the reality of budgeting, opportunity cost, and resource allocation.

No police agency in the history of the world has ever enforced “all laws.” Every government agency, just like every household, must budget its time and resources in accordance with priorities. The fact of the matter is that law enforcement agencies often choose to focus on drug violations because it can be financially lucrative for them in terms of seized property.

Thus, is is disheartening to see that law enforcement agencies in Pueblo County would rather focus on pot grows than on its growing number of homicides.

Were police agencies to focus on property and violent crime, of course, they would free themselves from the legal risk of lawsuits from being overly aggressive in drug busts. And, they absolutely should proceed with caution, since, as the police are so fond of reminding the taxpayers: “not knowing the law is not an excuse.”

With police, there is always a double standard, and while ordinary people are always expected by the police to know the minutiae of the law, the police themselves often can’t be bothered.

This was amply demonstrated, for example, in a 2012 case in which a man was harassed, threatened with a beating, and arrested in Colorado Springs for open-carrying a handgun in a city park. Unknown to the police was the fact that open carry had been legalized in city parks nine years earlier. Knowing the current law, it seems, is just an afterthought if one is a member of the police force.

(In an interesting twist in light of the Orlando Massacre, the arrested man was a gay man legally carrying his firearm on the way home from a Pridefest parade.)

So, should the legislature impose a moratorium on passing new laws?

Provided the legislature doesn’t confine itself to a moratorium on drug-related laws only, a stop on new laws would be a excellent idea, indeed. After all, historically, many state legislatures only met every two years, and four states today, including Nevada and Texas, still do not convene annually. And, many of the states that domeet annually meet for only a period of a few months. Somehow, life can go on without legislators constantly meeting to pass new laws.

Were the legislature to respond positively to the police lobbyists’ request for a moratorium, though, one would be struck by a double standard at work yet again. Few in government have ever responded favorably when, say, the small business community has echoed the police and said that it “cannot keep up with the quantity and speed of constantly changing … laws.” Keeping up with the whims of the legislature, it seems, is the moral duty of everyone. Everyone except the police.


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