This is John Urquhart and Steve Strachan. They're both cops. Strachan, who used to be a DARE officer, is now the King County Sheriff, and Urquhart is the 24-year department veteran running to replace him in the November election.
When the SECB sat down with these gents, they disagreed about a few things—on capital punishment, for example, Urquhart supports it while Strachan is totally opposed—but they both agreed on one thing: legalizing marijuana.
As if that isn't refreshing enough, then they squabbled over who wants to legalize 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," Strachan said. His leading point was that legalization—particularly a model with well defined regulatory mechanisms like Initiative 502 on the fall ballot—would help delineate lawbreakers from law abiders. Current medical marijuana laws are ambiguous while the priority for possession cases is low, so "the lack of clarity in the law is bad for criminal justice, bad for rule of law, and bad for kids. And as a law enforcement leader," the sheriff continued, "I think legalization will lead to the greatest clarity. I will vote for I-502."
But Urquhart said that position contains "no leadership" and it's not enough. "Strachan talked about clarifying the law," Urquhart said of his opponent. "The reason I am for legalization is not to clarify the law. I am saying that, morally, it should be legal."
Strachan refused to back down. He disavowed some of his practices as a DARE officer, saying that the program was "overblowing the dangers" of pot, that marijuana use was a "parental responsibility," and that mixing messages about marijuana with "truly dangerous" hard drugs was "incredibly unhelpful."
Man, who cares who wins this debate, right?
This is an active-duty sheriff and a recently retired cop, both campaigning for office in a room of reporters, typing—trying—to one-up each-other over on an issue that used to be toxic. Just nine years ago, King County Sheriff Dave Reichert co-authored 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." Now both the people who want that same job are fighting on the other side—in the name of the children and morality—and the position is safe ground for both of them.
It's easy to take this for granted in a progressive place like Seattle, but when the sworn, badge-wearing leaders of a major police force in the US can boldly advocate for legalizing marijuana, it represents a monumental shift. Pot is going to be legal soon in Washington State, I'm sure of it, whether or not voters pass Initiative 502 in November. If prohibition doesn't have the cops on its side, it's lost.