Citing a history of inefficient enforcement and racial disparities, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said he supports the idea of legalizing marijuana.
As some serious drug issues are rising in Madison, such as a surge in heroin-related crimes, Koval said he would rather see his force’s energy go toward solving those rather than continuing to pursue controlling marijuana crimes.
“Frankly, I’ve reached that threshold in my professional career, where I realize that the enforcement efforts have proven largely unsuccessful,” Koval said. “It just didn’t work. It wasn’t effective.”
Koval said he would reserve the criminal record for crimes of violence and weapons offenses, rather than for casual possession of marijuana.
Koval cited the failure of the alcohol prohibition effort as an example of how ineffective absolute enforcement can be, saying he can imagine how “overwhelmed” officers felt. Rather than continue to criminalize people, Koval said he would rather see marijuana treated the same as alcohol and tobacco products are.
“I’m not endorsing the use of any of those substances, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, but I have just assumed that it would be heavily regulated and taxed, and that money would be earmarked for other therapeutic interventions or alternatives to incarceration,” Koval said.
Dane County voters support legalization of marijuana and redistricting amendmentDane County residents voted in favor of both an advisory referendum to legalize marijuana use at the state level and Read…
As far as the impact on the University of Wisconsin campus, Koval said he believes legalization would not make much of a difference. Depending on the age threshold, he said, the effects should be similar to the impact alcohol has on campus.
With that in mind, Koval said he wants to emphasize that he does consider this a serious matter, regardless of his use of the term “casual.”
The ultimate benefits of marijuana legalization for Wisconsin would be fewer arrests and fewer instances of racial disparities in incarceration, he said. Racial disparity in drug-related offenses in Madison, however, is something Koval said needs to be addressed sooner than later.
“The rate of arrests … for possession of marijuana, as is the case of most possessory drug crimes, is significantly higher for African-American males than it is for the rest of the demographics of our city,” Koval said.
According to an analysis by MPD, about 60 percent of people arrested for drug crimes last year were white. The overwhelming majority of the remaining portion of people arrested were black. In comparison, Madison’s population is 75 percent white and only 7 percent black.
However, Lieutenant Jason Freedman of the Dane County Narcotics and Gang Task Force, said dividing drug crimes up by demographics is not a simple endeavor.
The task force investigates and tracks the sale of narcotics throughout the county, focusing its efforts largely on heroin, cocaine and marijuana. It is possible to see trends in the average profile of who is selling what, but Freedman said there are always exceptions.
While a large percentage of marijuana-related crimes in Madison involve black males, Freedman said the average large volume dealer is actually a white, college-aged male.
Koval said he does not think racial profiling is the problem, but rather a mix of social and economic issues that lead to higher instances of crime in certain “challenged” neighborhoods.
“Quite frankly, you have a higher incidence like that in these neighborhoods that are increasingly becoming challenged due to socioeconomic factors of poverty,” Koval said. “That’s where we have a disproportionate amount of people of color living coincidentally.”
The issue is not just specific to the city, Koval said, though Madison is where his priorities lie. He said Madison is representative of a much larger national issue that needs to be dealt with.
For now, Koval said he realizes he still has a responsibility to enforce the state’s drug laws. However, it is not the most urgent issue on his list.
“I look at the myriad of instances that confront the police, not the least of which is weapons offenses, crimes against persons and heroin,” Koval said. “In relative scale, casual possession of marijuana does not rise to the top of our things to do.”
Marigrace Carney contributed to reporting of this article.