David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
The meager symbolism of our nation's drug laws is illustrated by the fact that police departments across the country have chosen, out of the most practical necessity, to tolerate past violations of drug laws by job applicants.
Meager, because the laws and their enforcement have been the most dramatic of failures -- so much so, that even police departments must resort to hiring confessed former drug law violators.
Symbolic, because only those who get caught suffer the hard hand of the US criminal justice system, often, these years, for horrifically lengthy, unjust sentences. Those who don't get caught -- such a vast majority that our police forces can't function without hiring some of them -- may go on to enforce the very same laws.
Perhaps one strategy for the drug policy reform movement would be to advocate that police agencies apply the "zero tolerance" philosophy, of which drug warriors are so fond, to all their policies across the board, including hiring. That is, consider any previous use of any illegal drug to be an automatic disqualifier for the job of police officer, period.
Then, since police departments have already admitted they can't find enough cops without hiring some admitted past drug users, police forces would be left shorthanded. Faced with the need to manage limited resources, politicians would then have to decide what kind of law enforcement is truly important, and would de-prioritize drug law enforcement in favor of focusing on crimes of violence.
Actually, I don't recommend such a strategy; zero tolerance is too dangerous a movement and concept to support, even when wielded against the enforcers of these most destructive of laws. But isn't it ironic that the very laws requiring massive expansion of police forces, also force those agencies to hire confessed, former violators of those laws?
Now that's symbolism.