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Chief Koval's Blog

Marijuana Legalization: Chief Koval's Perspective

October 14, 2014 8:44 AM

With respect to the recently published article about my personal opinion(s) regarding marijuana, context is important.  Since the article was published I have received quite a bit of feedback and numerous inquiries about what was written.  I believe further information on where I am coming from will be helpful on this topic.  The few sentences that were published were provided in the course of over 30 minutes of discussion on racial disparities in drug enforcement strategies by the police.  In that regard, I never suggested that the police would turn a blind eye to laws that are still on the books, both federally as well as in the State of Wisconsin.  In fact, I was very affirmative that MPD would continue to focus on those individuals who would exploit others in the manufacturing and distribution of illegal drugs.   Additionally, I have never encouraged anyone--publicly or privately--to use ANY mind or mood-altering drugs and this includes alcohol and tobacco products.

While I am sensitive to the fact that we do not want our society--particularly our youth--to be susceptible to the various items or activities that can be harmful to their long-term growth and development, I also don't want youthful offenders who have smoked marijuana to be arrested and placed into the criminal justice system.   As someone who spent my past 17 years recruiting for the MPD and conducting background investigations on the finalists, I can tell you that the vast majority of people who are ultimately hired for positions of trust as police officers for the City of Madison have acknowledged using marijuana on more than one occasion.  That trend has only gone up over the years.  Whatever "deterrence" effect our current criminal laws may have has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction whatsoever---in fact, the stigma of having a record of an arrest and/or prosecution (i.e. a "rap" sheet), may have left some very viable candidates looking for employment marginalized.

Would I prefer that people not use marijuana?  Of course.  And the same holds true for many other avarices which are currently legally available.

I have a myriad of significant enforcement priorities confronting my Department on a daily basis; the casual possession of marijuana for personal use is not going to rank at the top of the list.  While it is certainly not going to be ignored (just check the numbers of those we arrested by accessing the Wisconsin State Journal article on 9/14/14), it pales in comparison to the more compelling concerns we are grappling with in heroin sales and overdoses.

As of this writing, the laws on our books speak to the end result of a legislative process that formulated a societal pronouncement on marijuana.  It is illegal.  Unless and until such time as the laws are modified or rescinded, MPD will enforce these laws.  When I was directed to voice my opinion, I made this point emphatic in my interview.  But as someone who is asked to speak to the public policy implications of this and other issues of the day, I will continue to exercise my prerogative to lend my voice to the marketplace of ideas from the perspective of a Chief.  Whether the legislature chooses to change anything is not up to me.

As a parent of two sons (now grown adults of whom I am very proud), my wife (a school teacher in Madison) and I, always preached about abstinence to our boys. . .abstinence from alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, sex, etc..  I would still recommend such a policy in the context of serious family discussions.  But when marijuana is so readily accessible, at an affordable price point, it is clear to me that whatever efforts on the part of law enforcement to stem this tide has been futile, at best.  Hence, this is where my comments were coming from.

Posted by: Chief Koval

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