WASHINGTON -- A broad coalition of law enforcement officers who have spent the past three decades waging an increasingly militarized drug war that has failed to reduce drug use doesn't want to give up the fight.
Organizations that include sheriffs, narcotics officers and big-city police chiefs slammed Attorney General Eric Holder in a joint letter Friday, expressing "extreme disappointment" at his announcement that the Department of Justice would allow Colorado and Washington to implement state laws that legalized recreational marijuana for adults.
If there had been doubt about how meaningful Holder's move was, the fury reflected in the police response eliminates it. The role of law enforcement is traditionally understood to be limited to enforcing laws, but police organizations have become increasingly powerful political actors, and lashed out at Holder for not consulting sufficiently before adopting the new policy.
"It is unacceptable that the Department of Justice did not consult our organizations -- whose members will be directly impacted -- for meaningful input ahead of this important decision," the letter reads. "Our organizations were given notice just thirty minutes before the official announcement was made public and were not given the adequate forum ahead of time to express our concerns with the Department’s conclusion on this matter. Simply 'checking the box' by alerting law enforcement officials right before a decision is announced is not enough and certainly does not show an understanding of the value the Federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partnerships bring to the Department of Justice and the public safety discussion."
The missive was signed by the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association,
the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers Associations’ Coalition, the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association and the Police Executive Research Forum.
Law enforcement, the police groups said, "becomes infinitely harder for our front-line men and women given the Department’s position."
The Justice Department declined to respond.
Local law enforcement agencies rely heavily on the drug war for funding. Police departments are often able to keep a large portion of the assets they seize during drug raids, even if charges are never brought. And federal grants for drug war operations make up a sizable portion of local law enforcement funding.
The letter warns that marijuana can cause suicidal thoughts, impairs driving and is a "gateway drug." The missive does not, however, address the failure of law enforcement generally to reduce drug use, even while tripling the number of people behind bars. Instead, the police warn that liberalizing pot laws will lead to an increase in crime.
"The decision will undoubtedly have grave unintended consequences, including a reversal of the declining crime rates that we as law enforcement practitioners have spent more than a decade maintaining," the officers write.
Worse, they warn, more states are likely to follow Washington and Colorado.
"The failure of the Department of Justice to challenge state policies that clearly contradict Federal law is both unacceptable and unprecedented. The failure of the Federal government to act in this matter is an open invitation to other states to legalize marijuana in defiance of federal law," they write.