How do you feel about cannabis? That was one of many questions on a wide-ranging survey of 8,000 policemen and policewomen conducted last year. The Pew Research Center conducted the survey between May and August 2016. And their findings, published this week with the title “Behind the Badge,” offer readers an inside look into the attitudes and views of everyday law enforcement officers. The report shows a very conflicted and emotional police culture. However, one of the most divisive issues was the legalization of cannabis. So while a sharp divide still exists among police attitudes toward legal weed, the survey also suggests that two-thirds of cops say cannabis laws should be relaxed.
Cops On The Public’s Side
Attitudes concerning race and the use of force were among the biggest differences between the public and the police. Perceptions are very different. But the cops and the public agree when it comes to marijuana. According to Pew’s police survey, 84 percent of the public thinks the nation should chill out on cannabis enforcement. A majority of police agree. In other words, both police and the public want to legalize or at least decriminalize marijuana. Still, only 68 percent of police think cannabis should be decriminalized.
The difference is about the same when it comes to the recreational use of weed: 16-17 percent. According to the Pew Research Center, just under 50 percent of the public have favorable views on recreational and medical purposes. However, only 32 percent of police support legalization. So police may be tired of cracking down on cannabis offenders, but they aren’t so eager to embrace legalization.
Age is one of the biggest factors that separates cops’ views on cannabis laws. If you’re a police officer under the age of 35, you’re way more likely to support recreational marijuana legalization. About 37 percent of under-35 cops are ready to chill out on cannabis entirely. But if you’re over 35 and wearing a badge, you’re not so into legal adult-use weed. And if you are, only 27 percent of your fellow law enforcement officers agree with you.
This generation gap fits attitudes in the wider culture of the United States. Young people are drastically more for legalization recreational weed than their older counterparts. Indeed, the Washington Post reported that about 67 percent of people under 35 support legalizing recreational. Just 45 percent of folks over that cutoff are behind it.
Police culture is changing from the bottom up. Attitudes towards cannabis are getting more relaxed. But police are still way behind public opinion on the question of legal pot. In fact, law enforcement groups have supported many of the most vocal opponents of legalizing cannabis. Sometimes, police themselves are the most outspoken against ending the federal prohibition on marijuana. In California and Arizona, for example, police groups have thrown thousands of dollars behind lobbying efforts to halt the legalization or decriminalization of weed.
Police attitudes and culture are changing, however. Younger cops are starting to break rank about it. Even if at a slower pace than the rest of us. But Pew’s survey suggests that law enforcement may finally be ready to chill out on marijuana laws. Hopefully, they catch up to the public soon.