Skip to main content

Pew Research Center has released the results of the National Survey of Law Enforcement Officers, asking nearly 8,000 police officers about their personal thoughts on cannabis legalization for both medical and recreational usage. The study found that almost one third, 32 percent of them think cannabis should be legal for recreational use. However the largest group, 37 percent of respondents think cannabis should be legal only for medical use. After rounding errors, at least 30 percent of cops think cannabis should remain illegal.

This total effectively means that two thirds of police officers still support the prohibition of cannabis some form. By comparison, only 15 percent of the general population thinks cannabis should remain illegal, according to Pew. Nearly half of Americans, at 49 percent, are in favor of recreational usage. Over a third of Americans are only in favor of approved medical usage.

The Pew Research Center study was conducted online from May through August 2016, among a national sample of 7,917 police officers in local police and sheriff departments with at least 100 sworn officers. The study was compared to a survey of the general public of 4,538 U.S. adults conducted online and by mail from August through September 2016. The survey is considered representative of both the public and law enforcement nationwide and is one of the largest of its kind, according to Pew. While this article uses the word cannabis, the survey was presented to the officers as marijuana.

The responses to Pew's study were also split by age on the issue. Officers under age 35 were more likely to support recreational use at 37 percent, compared to 27 percent for the ages between 50 and 60.

Not mentioned in the study, but a reality nonetheless, is the fact that no matter the opinion of the officers on cannabis, they will still arrest you for it — as it is their job. Parents looking to medicate their epileptic children with cannabis wouldn't be so scared of doing it if 60 percent of cops weren't a threat. However, as proven by statistics, less the rare exceptions, the majority of cops continue to kidnap and cage people over this illegal plant — personal views on cannabis aside.

Law enforcement groups have strongly opposed legalization efforts across the country for decades. However lobbying efforts against cannabis have intensified in recent years. California's Proposition 64 which legalized recreational use saw almost 10 million dollars in opposition from the top 5 police organizations in the state. Two of the top five are collective bargaining organizations, the California Correctional Supervisors Organization and the Peace Officers Research Association of California. The remaining three are professional and training organizations, the California Police Chiefs Association, California Narcotics Officers’ Association, and the Los Angeles Peace Officers’ Association.

Washington Post was forced to note that the Pew survey indicates wide variation in views on cannabis use among officers. The Post highlighted pro-legalization group LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which is made up of active-duty and retired police officers who want to speak out “about the failures of our existing drug policies.” LEAP has been active in local campaigns to legalize recreational usage in Colorado, Washington and elsewhere.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended for You

The Washington Post quoted LEAP board member Diane Goldstein, a retired Lieutenant Commander from the Redondo Beach Police Department, who stated common reasons why police officers have more conservative attitudes than the public about marijuana legalization. “Law enforcement continues to represent an outlier view on this issue because police are trained with outdated, unscientific, drug-war-oriented materials,” Goldstein said.

The Free Thought Project has covered the negative effects of the drug war and seeks common sense changes to American law enforcement which ends the system of policing for profit and promotes public safety. Free Thought has interviewed numerous cops on the subject, one who calls the drug war a scam. Law enforcement policy is changing in some areas as a 2015 report by the Drug Enforcement Administration showed that 1,100 police departments no longer consider marijuana a threat, according to the DEA's National Drug Threat Assessment Summary.

The drug war only encourages corruption, ranging from petty violations like the California cops who raided a legal dispensary and were caught on video eating edible candy products, to major operations like the entire police department in Florida caught laundering tens of millions of dollars for drug cartels. Another California police department executed a raid with guns drawn on a legal dispensary, seizing cash and assets after disabling security cameras.

Public safety continues to be an issue with police raids looking for marijuana, such as a case in Buffalo where a woman and her dog were shot by Buffalo cops, a department that has likely shot over 100 dogs since 2011. A Florida man was killed in a SWAT team raid that yielded two dollars worth of marijuana. An Iowa man was left paralyzed after being shot in the neck by an officer during a traffic stop. The man allegedly tried to escape after being arrested because the officer smelled marijuana.

Drug war raids have also left a toddler disfigured by a flash grenade thrown into a crib, and a 7-year-old girl killed while sleeping on the couch with her Grandmother. Detroit cops recently killed three dogs in a raid on a woman's house searching for cannabis plants, even though two dogs were locked in the basement and one in a bathroom.

The Drug war has been proven a waste of time, as cops mistake cannabis for vegetable plants like tomatoes in one Texas case and for okra in Georgia.

The Free Thought Project is uniquely focused on the national trend of dangerous police raids for marijuana prohibition which can be found in search results or in our Drug War archive.