In a free society, law enforcement exists to protect our lives, liberties, and property. Unfortunately, some of our laws force law enforcement agents to police private behavior, such as cannabis possession. These arrests misuse scarce law enforcement resources that would be better spent pursuing criminals who pose threats to our property and persons.

Moreover, the very act of prohibition has created a situation exactly opposite of its intention: Instead of controlling cannabis in a legal fashion like alcohol, we have given over an enormously profitable, unregulated and untaxed market to criminal enterprise and corruption.

Did you know?

Police arrested nearly three quarters of a million Americans last year for cannabis law violations, more than one half of all total drug arrests.  In Missouri alone, law enforcement agents arrested over 20,000 people for cannabis offenses, and over 90 percent of those arrests were for simple possession. At both the national and state levels, blacks and Latinos are arrested at a far higher rate than their white counterparts, despite whites having a slightly higher rate of usage.

All those cannabis arrests distract law enforcement from the real crimes that threaten public safety, such as robbery, rape, and murder. In 2011, Missouri police and prosecutors only brought charges in 72.5 percent of all murders and a little more than half of all rape cases. That means that one in four murders and half of all rapes that year remained unsolved. The numbers for property crimes are even worse, with charges brought in only 20 percent of cases!

Our law enforcement agents have the very difficult and important job of keeping Missourians safe, but cannabis prohibition prevents them from doing that job as effectively as possible. Less time arresting people for possession of cannabis means more time testing rape kits, walking beats, and patrolling the streets for dangerous and impaired drivers.

Cannabis prohibition has also contributed to a frightening militarization of our police departments. The use of heavily armed SWAT teams to serve low level warrants for cannabis has put the lives of both citizens and police at risk. For instance, in 2010 the Columbia, Missouri SWAT team shot two dogs, killing one, in front of a six-year-old child while serving such a warrant. The only thing of circumstance found by police was a misdemeanor amount of cannabis. This style of policing is common for cannabis warrants, but it sows mistrust between police and their communities.

So what’s the solution?

Let’s legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis. Legalization will reduce black market transactions and the crimes associated with them and hopefully stop the trend towards police militarization. Regulation will allow us to regain control of the market and institute a 21 and up age limit on cannabis that doesn’t exist in the black market system. Finally, the Missouri Auditor’s office estimates that taxing cannabis in Missouri will generate over $200 million in new revenues, some of which could be used to increase funding for law enforcement.