ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - There’s a push in Florida to full legalize marijuana. Supporters are gathering signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2016. A group of former police officers are supporting that effort.
"In Florida 60,000 people get arrested every year for marijuana possession. 10 percent of the nation's total of marijuana arrests happen here in our state. That's not right,” said Raymond Strack, a retired U.S. Customs agent.
Strack isn’t concerned that too many people are doing drugs. He says officers are spending too much time arresting people who do drug. Strack represents, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP. For 15 years the organization of former police officers, sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement agents have been advocating for legalizing drugs. Strack told FOX 35 he formed his opinions while nabbing drug runners at New York’s JFK Airport.
"We arrested 2-3 couriers per day. Every day. Nothing changed. The price of drugs never changed," he said.
Members of LEAP believe resources are better spent elsewhere. Christine Rodgers, a former police officer and corrections officer from Massachusetts, told FOX 35 that once she retired she started thinking about all the time she spent arresting people for drug-related crimes.
"You know... I was in the academy in 1988 and nothing's really changed all these years later with the War on Drugs,” Rodgers said.
She joined LEAP last year.
"I certainly didn't know that there was a whole organization of law enforcement professionals that felt the same way. And so when I found out about LEAP it was really eye opening that, 'Yeah, it wasn't just me that saw things like that, but there was a lot of others like me,'" she said.
Over the next year members of LEAP will try to persuade voters to support a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in Florida. Part of their message is that regulating pot the same way governments regulate cigarettes and alcohol takes the power away from criminals and frees up officers to fight other crimes.
"The drugs aren't going away, so who's going to control it or sell it? The drug dealer on the street or society?” Rodgers said.
That is not the message that the Florida Sheriff’s Association sent in 2014 when members campaigned against a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana. "I think they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo,” Strack said. “The vested interest in maintaining the status quo for law enforcement agencies is budgetary. It's man power. It's keeping themselves in power," he continued.
The hope of Strack and Rodgers and their colleagues is that the voices of retired officers will have the power to persuade.