Police administrators across Alaska worry that marijuana legalization could mean increased costs for their departments, according to survey results released Tuesday by the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police.
AACOP estimates the cost of legalizing marijuana could mean $6 million in unanticipated costs for law enforcement in Alaska if the initiative passes this year. The association says much of those costs account for what they believe will be an increase in drug use, specifically among teens and impaired drivers.
Of the police chiefs surveyed, 75 percent said if marijuana were legalized they would not have the resources needed to deal with the potential impact to their communities.
Alaskans will get a chance to decide whether or not to legalize marijuana in November when they vote on Ballot Measure 2, which would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. If the initiative passes, Alaska would become the third state to legalize the drug for recreational use.
"The chiefs weren't wanting to be judgmental, but they felt in their role as public safety officers in their community they needed to speak out on something that could cause rifts," said Kalie Klaysmat, a retired U.S. immigration service officer and executive director of the association.
The survey was sent to 37 local and municipal heads of police departments and included the chiefs of police at University of Alaska system schools and airports. Although the association represents more than 100 Alaska law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local level, Klaysmat did not reach out to federal or state law enforcement, since the survey was intended to focus just on impacts of legalization on local law enforcement agencies.
Klaysmat said the $6 million projection is a conservative estimate that takes into account the costs of training patrol officers to be more aware of drivers under the influence of marijuana, among other things. The survey also found that many chiefs expressed that they would have to add school resource officers to increase drug awareness programs among youths.
"There's no money coming in to support costs. Either those officers don't get trained or the community bears the cost," Klaysmat said.
That could change, though. With potential revenue coming in through the taxation of marijuana, money could be allocated to police departments. However, that would take an act of the Legislature, since money cannot be allocated via the ballot initiative process.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in Alaska was quick to condemn the report, saying in a statement that law enforcement officials should "focus their time and resources on serious crimes, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, armed robbery, and shootings."
The group, which helped to craft the language of the initiative, argues that driving under the influence of marijuana is already illegal in Alaska, and that even with the drug itself illegal, there are "no widespread problems" on the roadway as a result. It also notes that a 2013 report from the American Civil Liberties Union found that state of Alaska spends upwards of $14 million each year on the administration of marijuana possession laws.
"It is absurd to suggest that taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol will be anything but an economic boon for Alaska," said Tim Hinterberger, chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska.
Numbers from the Department of Public Safety released in January show that it costs about $2,500 to train an officer in the drug recognition expert program. Earlier in the year the Department of Public Safety estimated passage of Ballot Measure 2 would cost the department $2.6 million over two years, including about $62,000 for additional drug recognition expert certification.
Much of that training is expensive and requires extensive travel depending on if the community is on or off the road system, according to Klaysmat. The survey estimates that the cost of training 700 officers from across the state in the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement program would be $3.7 million.
Kenai Chief of Police Gus Sandahl worked on an AACOP committee to develop the survey in an effort to help understand what the concerns of police chiefs might be, specifically looking at resources.
He said in Kenai, the biggest challenge would be training officers to be drug recognition experts, training that has traditionally been done by the Alaska State Troopers. While the training didn't cost his department extra money, it did mean an officer was unavailable to patrol for two weeks. For a department of only 18 people, that was a big impact, he said.
Laren Zager, Fairbanks chief of police, said legalization would mean most of his 32 patrol and traffic officers will likely have to be trained in the drug recognition expert program as well. Zager estimates that only four officers have the training currently. He said while the number of officers receiving that training has increased in recent years, marijuana legalization would "jet engine" that process.
Zager said his police department will happily carry out whatever becomes law but said this particular initiative is worth a second look.
"(Legalization) carries with it certain social hazards," Zager said. "Most officers find it alarming."
Reach Suzanna Caldwell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By SUZANNA CALDWELL