Portland State University Cannabis Survey of Police Shows Need for Better Training

Portland State University (PSU) criminologists Dr. Kris Henning and Greg Stewart’s survey of 301 Oregon law enforcement officers revealed a rather remarkable amount of confusion among police regarding state cannabis laws. The public servants working in the Bend Police Department, Redmond Police Department, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office, are certainly feeling dazed and confused, a fitting title for Henning and Stewart’s report, even though I don’t always believe that the usual stereotypical reefer references are appropriate names for academic research papers.

Addmitedly, I may be biased as a coauthor and chief petitioner of the Measure 91 legalization law, but it seems to me that police shouldn’t be that confounded by the legal limits laid out in statute, their county district attorneys enforcement policies, and even how to determine whether the substance is legally hemp or cannabis. The PSU report left me wondering if these law enforcement officers are as bewildered about other areas of law as they are about cannabis.

I’m not alone in having questions about these officers’ lack of knowledge as The Bulletin reported:

“Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said he prosecutes all valid arrests that reach his office. He noted some of the survey respondents work outside Deschutes County.”

“It makes me wonder if the officers are correct. I mean, I’m pretty liberal on drug charges. And if I’m bringing charges, I don’t imagine there’s a county out there that’s not,” Hummel said. “Look, it’s anecdotal — it wasn’t fact-checked. But it’s important in that it’s telling us what the officers think. That’s important to know.”

The Bend Police Department told the The Bulletin that resources are available for officers to learn about relevant cannabis laws. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), the state agency tasked with regulated cannabis commerce, has an FAQ page and even put out a handy infographic detailing legal limits. Apparently not many officers are utilizing these resources. It is troubling that there seems to be a lack of communication regarding policy, even how to contact the state’s forensic office on testing THC limits. The officer survey was extremely light on actual information, mostly capturing “feelings” about the law. One fact that certainly became crystal clear, not hazy at all, is that these officers need a better understanding of state cannabis laws.

While the report “Dazed and Confused: Police Experiences Enforcing Oregon’s New Marijuana Laws,” did an alright alright alright job of determining the feelings of 301 Oregon police officers and sheriffs deputies, it would have been a lot cooler if it had determined their actual knowledge of state cannabis laws. Do they know the legal limits allowed under the law, that forensic labs are available to determine the difference between hemp and cannabis, or their county prosecutor’s enforcement policy? Also, the surve overstates some of the objectives of Measure 91 and leaves out others.

The PSU researchers claim that stated intentions include the “elimination of the illegal marijuana market” and “stopping diversion to other states” when the Vote Yes on 91 campaign NEVER claimed that ending prohibition would completely eliminate the illicit market here or the diversion to other states, an impossibility, especially while other locations cling to outdated Reefer Madness laws. There’s still illegal alcohol and tobacco sales, how can any cannabis system be expected to completely prohibit such illegality? Primary objectives of Measure 91 included ending harmful cannabis convictions and generating revenue for important state programs. By those accounts, and the feelings of voters, those important goals have been largely met. It would be counterproductive if this survey were used to lead to more arrests and a waste of our limited law enforcement resources that should be prioritized for more pressing matters.

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