It used to be politically mandatory for police officers to oppose marijuana legalization. In 2003, for example, King County sheriff Dave Reichert went as far as to coauthor a knee-jerk voters' guide statement opposing Seattle's initiative to deprioritize pot enforcement because it would be "wrong for our children and our community."
That era, apparently, is over.
In an interview last Friday, both men running for King County sheriff not only said they support legalization—they sparred to prove who supported it more.
"As the sheriff, I don't think it is a problem for public safety if we legalize it because that will provide a supported, understood law that we can enforce," said Steve Strachan, the current King County sheriff. His leading point was that legalization—particularly a model with well-defined regulatory mechanisms like this fall's Initiative 502 proposes—would help delineate lawbreakers from law abiders. "I think legalization will lead to the greatest clarity," he explained. "I will vote for I-502."
But John Urquhart, a 24-year department veteran running to replace Strachan in the November election, said his opponent's stance contains "no leadership" and is not enough. "Strachan talked about clarifying the law," Urquhart said. "The reason I am for legalization is not to clarify the law. I am saying that, morally, it should be legal."
Strachan responded by disavowing some of his practices as a former D.A.R.E. officer, adding that the "lack of clarity in the law is bad for criminal justice, bad for rule of law, and bad for kids."
It's hard to overstate how new a phenomenon this is—especially for cops. Just a few years ago, the former King County sheriff was using his bully pulpit to fight legalization. Now both of the cops who want his old job are invoking children and morality to declare that the war on pot needs to end. That, in a word, is progress.