Comments made by Columbia, Mo., Police Chief Ken Burton last week have excited cannabis legalization advocates, and the chief is standing by his statement that he does not know how to enforce the city’s marijuana laws.
“If we can get out of the business, I think there is a lot of police officers that would be happy to do that,” Chief Burton said of using police resources in enforce cannabis laws.
“Unfortunately, it is still a matter of law… Crimes of violence do happen because of marijuana… I don’t have anything against it except it is against the law,” Burton said.
“I am with you on the fight,” Burton said of the movement to legalize marijuana. “I hope you are successful at some point.”
The chief’s comments came at a May 20 news conference as he was summarizing the findings of an investigation in February’s SWAT drug raid at a Columbia home in which two family pets were shot, but which resulted only in the discovery of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana, reports David Brennan of the Columbia Tribune.
Burton said this week that he stands by his statements about Columbia’s ordinance, but that he does not have an opinion on the issue of legalization, except that he is pro-law enforcement.
“I have read articles that say it is no more damaging to your system or to your body than cigarettes or alcohol,” the Chief said. “On that argument alone, if that is actually true, then I think the dialogue should at least be started.”
“People are obviously doing it, and it seems to be pretty popular across the country,” Burton said. “If they are going to do it anyway and we are not impacting the crime rate by enforcing those laws, then maybe the government needs to look at that.”
The chief also mentioned how confusing it is to enforce the city’s misdemeanor marijuana ordinance, which says “the enforcement of laws against marijuana shall be among the lower priorities of law enforcement.”
The “lowest law enforcement priority” measure was approved by Columbia voters in 2004; similar measures have been adopted across the country, including in major progressive cities such as Seattle.
Columbia’s ordinance also sets standards for misdemeanor marijuana violations, with a maximum $250 fine and no arrest.
The measure passed with overwhelming voter support, at 62 percent, but was amended by the Columbia City Council in 2006 over “problematic issues.” Translation: The Columbia Police Officers Association, refusing to accept that the people had spoken, forced negotiations by starting its own petition to remove the voter-approved ordinance.
Despite the 2006, police-inspired alterations to the ordinance, which removed repeat offenders from the more lenient municipal penalties, Chief Burton said he thinks Columbia’s marijuana law was written without much thought as to how officers would enforce it. He said the ordinance supersedes the state law against marijuana possession, and that if he were an officer, he would be unsure how to interpret its language.
“I don’t think it’s an ordinance I can comply with,” Burton said. “It is impossible to comply with. If I stop you, do I ignore that it’s a state law if your pockets are full of marijuana?”
Burton said the only way to solve the problem would be to repeal marijuana laws on the federal level.