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Communities look to weed out marijuana enforcement from police priorities

Posted October 3, 2016

— Community groups across the country are urging police departments to de-prioritize marijuana enforcement, arguing that pursuing criminal charges for small amounts of the drug wastes both taxpayers' money and law enforcement resources and disproportionately targets blacks.

The Durham City Council, for example, recently asked City Manager Tom Bonfield and Police Chief C.J. Davis to look at ways to pull back on enforcement for small amounts of marijuana, such as citing people instead of arresting them and levying marijuana charges only when a a person is being investigated for other crimes. Bonfield and Davis said Monday that said they have just started looking at the issue and aren't ready to discuss how it may be implemented.

"Our officers have more important things to focus on. There are more genuine threats to public safety," said Mike Meno, a spokesman for the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In addition to using limited resources, Meno said, marijuana enforcement antagonizes communities, especially black neighborhoods. About 80 percent of people charged with marijuana possession are black, while estimates of marijuana usage are evenly divided along racial lines.

"The aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws disproportionately targets people of color, it harms police and community relations and it leaves many people who have been arrested with even tiny amounts of marijuana with a lifetime of consequences," Meno said.

Horace McNeill knows that all too well. In March, he was riding in a car that was stopped by police in Pinehurst.

"We were suspicious for driving into town at 10:30 at night," McNeill said.

Police found a small amount of marijuana in the car. McNeill was arrested and convicted. Now, he can't get a job, which he said is frustrating.

"It's also important to remember the collateral consequences that even one arrest for a small amount of marijuana can have," Meno said.

The Police Accountability Community Task Force, a community group in Raleigh, this summer asked that Raleigh police put a lower emphasis on marijuana enforcement to help improve community relations. Raleigh officials said that would require discussions with state lawmakers, the Raleigh City Council and Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.

Freeman said Monday that she is not inclined to curtail officers' discretion when it comes to laws that are on the books, but she is willing to look at the issue.

"They're targeting a certain demographic, and it's not justice in my eyes," Raleigh resident Tim James said.

"We hope they pay attention to what's happening in Durham," Meno said of Raleigh officials.


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  • Mark Cooper Oct 5, 2016
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    I don't think anyone (at least I am not) is justifying marijuana via alcohol. Many times people do not understand the comparison being made. It is to show the hypocrisy of the antiquated laws, not to justify the use of anything. A reasonable man would find little objective logic in the comparison of the two in their effect on children, adults and by standers.

    As far as the developmental issues. A drop in the bucket. You better start with parenting for the development of kids and not count on the govt, laws, or schools to do the parenting job (as many do now). The pot is there now correct? More than 1/2 the High School grads report using or having used. Again an example of an antiquated that law that is not even effective in its own intent.

  • Colin Burch III Oct 4, 2016
    user avatar

    The comparison of marijuana to alcohol is a little troubling especially when used to justify marijuana. Alcohol is abused to great detriment of society. Personally I will have a glass or wine or beer on a rare occurrence. However, when you look at the statistics on damage done by drunk drivers or domestic violence or abuse on college campuses or etc alcohol is consuming a lot of resources. This is when it is legal. Drunk drivers get off too easily. With regard to marijuana, there are several reasons why not enforcing the laws on the books is of concern. Science tells us that the male brain is not fully developed until mid 20's and science also tells us that marijuana has a negative effect on a developing brain. So does excessive consumption of alcohol. When laws are not enforced it becomes easier for children and teenagers to obtain illegal substances. Science also tells us that marijuana is a gateway drug for a segment of the population, that is it leads to cocaine and heroin.

  • Charles Edwards Oct 4, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Good Grief. By definition alcohol is a drug and some would argue more harmful than pot. It is only because of politics (of course) that pot has the classification that it does. I don't see folks touting that alcohol is an entry way to cocaine and heroin. No, pot is not an entry drug into heroin any more than alcohol.

  • John Archer Oct 4, 2016
    user avatar

    The Raleigh police will definitely target small users and just because you get a citation instead of going to jail doesn't mean you aren't subjected to tons of legal problems. You have to attend a court hearing, and if the officer fails to show, you have it continued and have to do it all over again. And unless it is completely dismissed, you now have a record. Go sit in Wake County court sometime and you'll see the cost associated with these small users. It is ridiculous!

  • Mark Cooper Oct 4, 2016
    user avatar

    Here are some acquainted laws in NC:
    - In Charlotte, women must have their bodies covered by at least 16 yards of cloth at all times.
    - In Asheville, it is illegal to sneeze on city streets.
    -In North Carolina, the only position you are legally allowed to have sex in is missionary position.
    -If you are legally separated but not yet divorced and conceive a child in a new relationship, the only father’s name legally allowed on the birth certificate is your soon-to-be Ex-husbands regardless if he is the father.

  • Mark Cooper Oct 4, 2016
    user avatar

    Guys the laws are great but in many cases laws do not keep up with society or tech. Laws can become antiquated, the issue is the slow moving govt . I mean for years you could put a camera in a toilet as long as it did not have audio due to an antiquated law.

    Lets look objectively at weed vs alcohol. Alcohol can't be bad for us or misused because it is legal but weed is bad for us and can be misused because it is not? Apply some logic here beyond what the govt (which we are supposed to question as part of our societal design) and how does this make any logical sense.

    Many here have both smokes and used alcohol or be around people that have. Is the drunk or the stoner causing more issues? Which is more likely to drive?
    Which substance is being found to have more positive benefits to society as a treatment for medical conditions?
    Put away the antiquated Refer Madness laws that came out generations ago.

  • Rod Runner Oct 4, 2016
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    Marijuana, cocaine, and heroin were all legal before they were illegal. You don't think Coca-Cola was putting an illegal drug in their sodas do you? You don't think that Bayer was marketing Heroin when it was illegal do you?

    It is the same as prohibition, it's just that some of those drugs have been worse than alcohol so no one really considered unprohibiting them until recently. The same thing happened with them as alcohol in the 1920's. The black market took over selling the drugs, then we had the war on drugs started by Nixon and haven't let up, wasting probably trillions of dollars on it all and making criminals out of people looking to relax.

  • Rod Runner Oct 4, 2016
    user avatar

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    Police certainly target people possessing a small amount. They go undercover and try to sell weed to people just wanting to smoke.

    I knew a cop, because he was friends with my mother. I was walking down Hillsborough St while attending NC State and a guy came up to me and asked if I wanted to buy some weed. I said, "no." And then looked him in the eye, it was my mother's friend. He recognized me too and we went our separate ways.

  • Rod Runner Oct 4, 2016
    user avatar

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    If you're just smoking it, the Feds aren't going to break down your door. So, yes, it does matter what the states or cities do. If they tell the local police to not arrest people for minor possession, then they won't, and the Feds aren't coming to get people with very little weed.

  • William Patterson Oct 4, 2016
    user avatar

    this incredibly bad law has wasted police time and resources as well as turned good people into criminals it has caused tremendous harm By making this sacred herb illegal it has caused people to associate with pushers and forced them underground where they might not have gone otherwise. The disinformation campaigns also showed people how easy it is for the government to push a lie on the people to further its agenda...it is ludicrous that this plant with so many benefits is illegal while alcohol enjoys legal status ....it was made illegal by lobbying from the pharmaceutical and timber industries ....its all about the money