Brash statements made by those in positions of authority can influence public perception and shape policy. So when New York City police commissioner William Bratton — the top cop — recently claimed marijuana is responsible for the ‘vast majority’ of violence in the city, debunking his outdated, reactionary statement is an absolute necessity.
“I have to scratch my head as we are seeing many states wanting to legalize marijuana, and more liberalizations of policies.” Bratton asserted Sunday during the Cats Round Table radio program. “Here in New York, the violence we see associated with drugs, the vast majority of it is around the issue of marijuana.”
Comparing the city’s criminal violence from cannabis to the lack of similar violence stemming from its heroin epidemic, Bratton seemed to be testing the limits of both veracity and absurdity in one fell swoop. Radio show host John Catsimatidis failed to probe Bratton on his statement any further, though an NYPD spokesman told the Daily Mail in an email the commissioner had been referring to violence associated “with the sale of marijuana.”
Of course it is — because, currently, though New Yorkers will only be fined if found in possession of 25 grams or less of cannabis, its sale is still against the law. When any substance is illegal, people turn to black markets to procure it — no matter if it’s cannabis, heroin, crack, or poached elephant tusks — if there is demand, suppliers will answer.
When it’s the black market responding to demand, a criminal element will undoubtedly comprise a large percentage of those selling — and with that, violence tends to follow. People who operate outside the law take great risks, and if they feel their lucrative, illicit job is threatened, of course they’ll act to protect it.
Remove legal strictures, and you knock the legs out from under the black market — cartels lose their power when they have nothing to supply.
To blame an arbitrary substance for the violence is to ignore the role of law enforcement in driving the black market, thereby driving the violence.
As simple as this concept might be, Bratton appears to have missed the point, which — as the top cop in the most influential law enforcement position in NYC — could have repercussions in how he guides underlings to view the city’s populace. If Bratton instills fear in a street patrol officer that someone found in possession of cannabis is more likely to become combative or violent, there should be major concerns. Bratton’s apparent ignorance surrounding the failed drug war and the functions of black markets didn’t begin Sunday. In fact, the commissioner began ignorantly demonizing cannabis in early 2015 — a few months before the minor change in the city’s possession law.
“The seemingly innocent drug that’s been legalized around the country,” Bratton remarked about cannabis at a press conference in March last year, “In this city, people are killing each other over marijuana more so than anything we had to deal with [in the] 80s and 90s with heroin and cocaine.”
Addressing a rise in homicides at the beginning of 2015, Bratton added, “In some instances [marijuana] is a causal factor. But it’s an influence in almost everything that we do here.”
But as even Bratton discussed during that news conference, ripoffs of marijuana dealers and other sales-gone-sour factors sparked the very violence he determined must be cannabis’ fault — missing the illegality of the substance as driving risk and violence naturally associated with black markets.
Bratton’s sweeping condemnation of weed harkens to outdated, unfounded, and wholly propagandic reefer madness instituted at the outset of cannabis prohibition — itself proven to have been foisted on the country purely for racist and political ends.
President Richard Nixon’s counsel and domestic policy chief, John Daniel Ehrlichman, admitted to journalist Dan Baum in 1994 the war on drugs had been initiated to “vilify” the Nixon White House’s primary “enemies: the antiwar left and black people.”
Bratton, noted the New York Times in 2015, despised everything to do with 1960s popular culture. In fact, in his memoir, Bratton sharply criticized “hippiedom, Woodstock, the drug culture, the style of dress,” and at the same time he served in Vietnam, his peers “wore beads, smoked marijuana and listened to antiwar rock and roll.”
Suddenly Bratton’s vilification of cannabis in New York City and of states where the plant is legalized, like Colorado, makes sense — the police commissioner has an arbitrary and enduring chip on his shoulder similar to Nixon’s.
Whatever the motivation, Bratton’s views about cannabis — particularly legalized recreational cannabis — amount to holdouts of the propaganda-fueled, utterly failed war on drugs.
Perhaps Bratton should look to Portugal’s unprecedented success in reducing not only addiction, but violence, prison terms, and general criminal activity once that country decriminalized all drugs.
As SoundCloud user, Brooklyn Teddy, commented on the radio show post featuring the top cop, “Bratton seem [sic] so out of touch. He says violence comes from trafficking. If cannabis is legal no trafficking, no violence.”