The Commish blows smoke on pot

Paul Danish/Sue France

New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton went on a NYC talk radio show last weekend and unburdened himself of some truly daft “thoughts” regarding marijuana:

“Interestingly enough, here in New York City most of the violence we see — violence around drug trafficking — is involving marijuana,” he said. “And I have to scratch my head as we are seeing many states wanting to legalize marijuana, and more liberalizations of policies. Here in New York the violence we see associated with drugs, the vast majority of it, is around marijuana, which is ironic considering the explosion in the use of heroin now in the city.”


If most of the violence around drug trafficking in New York City is around marijuana, then the obvious way to end the violence is to legalize it and regulate its sale.

Interestingly enough, the Police Commissioner of New York City seems to be blissfully unaware of a chapter of American history commonly referred to as “Prohibition.” It had a lot of violence associated with it; violence that stopped after booze was re-legalized.

Ironically, the existence of violent crime around pot sales is usually cited by marijuana legalization activists as a reason for ending pot prohibition, not by police chiefs as a reason for keeping it in place. That’s the real head-scratcher.

As Conor Friedersdorf, writing in The Atlantic put it: “There may be costs to legalizing marijuana. Some people think that they outweigh the benefits. But there is no question that legalizing marijuana would shift sale of the drug from criminals who sometimes engage in violence to business that almost never would. Legalization is the only effective way to eradicate such violence. How can one of America’s most successful police chiefs fail to understand that?”

How indeed.

Interestingly enough, Bratton didn’t cite any statistics to back up his claim. And even more interesting, a spokesman for the New York Police Department subsequently refused to say whether there are even any statistics on drug trafficking-related violence.

That raises suspicions as to whether Bratton knows what he’s talking about or if he’s making it up as he goes along.

According to the website ThinkProgress, this isn’t the first time Bratton has shot off his mouth about marijuana and violence. In March 2015, he blamed an increase in New York City homicides during the first two months of that year on pot. (They had increased to 54 from 45.)

“This seemingly innocent drug that’s being legalized around the country,” he said. “In this city, people are killing each other over marijuana more so than anything that we had to deal with in the ’80s and ’90s with heroin and cocaine. In some instances, it’s a causal factor. But it’s an influence in almost everything that we do here.”

That prompted Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance to issue a statement saying that “it appears that finding marijuana on the scene of a violent crime is enough for Bratton to assert a causal link. Using that rational, we can make other causal links to violence — for instance, if police find a cell phone at the scene of a violent crime, then certainly the cell phone must cause that crime.”

The only thing that makes Bratton’s views on marijuana and crime interesting is that he’s still trying to blame violence caused by marijuana prohibition on marijuana ­— and use that as a pretext for keeping marijuana illegal.

He’s not the first prohibitionist to do so; it’s been a central part of the war on drugs’ narrative since the ’60s.

But the fact that he is still trying to inject such a transparently deceitful and dishonest rational into today’s legalization debate bespeaks volumes about the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the war on marijuana.

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