Pot Luck

I don’t like to pick on the police. I believe most of the folks in law enforcement are on the job for the right reasons, and that they handle most situations as best they can under the circumstances. They have a tough job and because of a few bad apples and some high-profile errors, they get a bad rap despite their willingness to put their lives on the line for their communities day after day.

That said—and in the spirit of sparking humor rather than hostility—I want to discuss a handful of events that made the news recently and which have me questioning the skills and judgment of some of those whose job it is to protect and to serve.

I’ll start with the seizure last week of a portion of a Georgia man’s okra crop by the State Police. According to various sources, including Christopher Ingraham with the Washington Post, the okra was seized during a raid on the man’s property after an aerial crew from the Governor’s Task Force for Drug Suppression observed “suspicious-looking plants” growing on his land.

Now I’m no botanist, but even I can tell the difference between a cannabis plant and an okra bush having seen the former only twice in my life and having seen the latter exactly never. It’s not even my JOB to look for pot from a fixed wing aircraft but from just the photos of the okra bushes included in Ingraham’s story I can see they’re not pot plants.

But it’s easier, you may be thinking, to tell its okra when you’re looking at a photograph and/or up close than it is when you’re looking down on it from a helicopter several yards in the air. Okay, that may be true for some of us, but apparently it’s not true for certain members of the Georgia State Police. Because even after they raided the property, realized what they’d seen was not cannabis, and apologized to the home owner, they still took samples of the plants with them for further analysis, stating that “we’ve not been able to identify it as of yet. But it did have quite a number of characteristics that were similar to a cannabis plant.”

Hmm. Let me see if I have this straight: These guys are trained to identify and seize cannabis for a living, but they need to take okra back to their lab to make sure? In exactly what context have they been sampling the things they seize? And have they, perhaps, been sampling it a bit too much?

Then again, a lot of plants do look alike—both up close and from far away. So who can blame them for making such a mistake?

Actually, I can. Because if you can’t tell the difference between marijuana plants and garden-variety flora, you probably should not be paid to look for them, and you most definitely shouldn’t be paid to strap on automatic weapons and seize them.

Nobody’s perfect, you may be moved to say, because we all make mistakes. And you’d be right. Lawyers. Software engineers. Garbage handlers. They all make mistakes. Even I *gasp* make mistakes. The thing is, when I make a mistake it usually involves a comma, and no one gets shot or goes to jail. Usually.

But in other fields where the stakes are higher, we tend to have higher standards. We expect, for example, for a doctor to know the difference between cancer and pneumonia. And while their symptoms are somewhat similar, we don’t expect our physician to treat us for one when we have the other—and vice versa.

So I don’t think it’s asking too much for those who hunt cannabis to know what is and is not cannabis. After all, if a real estate agent couldn’t tell you the difference between a rambler and a colonial, he or she wouldn’t be in business very long.

Unfortunately, in addition to calling into question the abilities some of those employed by the Georgia State Police, this event also leads me to wonder if these folks have enough to do. Especially when you factor in one of the statistics in Ingraham’s report:  That 98% of the cannabis seized in marijuana eradication programs in the United States last year was uncultivated, non-psychoactive ditchweed. Add to that the fact that, according to Ingraham, most of these programs and their activities are funded by “asset forfeiture programs, which allow law enforcement officials to seize property from citizens never even charged – much less convicted – of a crime” and you now have not only means and opportunity, but also motive.

I’m not suggesting that these folks are deliberately abusing their powers to make a profit or harm innocent people. I’m just wondering if this isn’t a case of people seeing what they want to see. After all, if we started paying doctors a dividend for every case of cancer they diagnose we would likely see a spike in the number of screenings performed in certain markets, as well as an increase in the number of people undergoing chemotherapy.

That’s it for today. Tune in next week when we travel to Alaska for a serious case of Mistaken Identity…


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