Why do so many law enforcement officials like alcohol and hate marijuana so much?

Many adults enjoy a drink every now and then, and if used in moderation, it can be quite enjoyable. But law enforcement’s embrace of alcohol more broadly seems contrary to logic.

If you ask the average police officer on the street, he or she will tell you that alcohol makes nearly every shift more challenging. Whether it’s responding to domestic violence calls, breaking up fights or trying to defuse tensions between neighbors, there is a high likelihood that alcohol will be a factor.

Based upon this evidence, you would think law enforcement officials would be excited about adults having an option other than alcohol to consume when relaxing or socializing – especially one that is known to make people less likely to engage in violent or reckless behavior.

Yet when Portland residents emphatically approved just such an alternative, law enforcement officials went out of their way to discourage its use and punish people for using it.

Last November, an overwhelming 67 percent of Portland voters approved a ballot measure to eliminate all penalties under city ordinances for the possession of marijuana. They agreed with the campaign’s oft-used message that it makes no sense to punish adults for choosing to use a less harmful substance than alcohol.

This was an opportunity for law enforcement to work with city leaders – and with the blessing of two-thirds of voters – to adopt a new approach to adult marijuana use.

Unfortunately, they’ve done the exact opposite. Instead of respecting the will of the people and exercising their ability to stop punishing adults for simple possession, they have fallen back on state marijuana laws to continue doling out citations. (In fact, they have actually increased this year.)

Is this what we as citizens want? Clearly, in Portland it is not. And this year the voters of Lewiston and South Portland have the opportunity to express their opinion. In each city, an initiative is on the Nov. 4 ballot that would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older. For those under 21, it would remain just as illegal as it is today. Use in public would also remain against the law.

The logic behind these ballot measures is nearly unassailable. They simply direct law enforcement officials to stop punishing adults for using a safer substance than alcohol and redirect that time and attention toward addressing serious crimes.

Police have vast discretion. If voters in one or both cities approve the initiatives, officers would be able to refrain from issuing possession citations, just as they often refrain from pulling people over for driving 10 mph over the speed limit because their time is better spent addressing those who are going 20 mph over the speed limit.

As the proponents of these initiatives, we understand there are differing opinions on this topic. We are respectful of that, and we hope to continue the public dialogue well beyond this year’s election.

What we do find offensive, however, are law enforcement officials who use their positions as public servants to skew this debate with inaccurate information.

Recently, South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins was asked about the primary message put forth in support of the initiatives. In response, he said, “Claims that marijuana is safer than alcohol are so bogus it’s not even funny.”

It is uncertain upon what evidence he made this statement. Government studies and data indicate that alcohol is more addictive than marijuana and produces far greater health costs per user than marijuana. Alcohol also contributes to tens of thousands of deaths annually in the U.S. – marijuana consumption is rarely, if ever, cited as a cause of death – and it is associated with millions of acts of violence every year, whereas marijuana is not.

If Chief Googins would like to produce some evidence proving our “claims” are bogus, we will gladly review it and respond.

Otherwise, the role of law enforcement should be to enforce the laws that citizens create, not to defend illogical and unjust laws for the sake of perpetuating their own anti-marijuana bias and policies.

As we move toward a likely statewide vote on regulating marijuana in 2016, please join us in pushing the conversation forward. If you happen to speak to members of law enforcement, ask them whether they support regulating the production and sale of marijuana.

If they don’t, ask them, “Why do you prefer adults use alcohol?”