Shortly after the Columbia, South Carolina Police Department posted on its Facebook page that it arrested a man and seized approximately forty thousand dollars worth of marijuana from his home, several individuals wrote critical comments of this arrest and of marijuana prohibition in general. “How many unsolved murders and rapes do you have in your jurisdiction? Maybe you should focus your attention on those instead?” wrote one commentator. Another simply wrote that “Pot should be legal.”
Ruben Santiago, the Interim Police Chief in Columbia, South Carolina, did not take kindly to these comments. Yet, rather than simply defend his department’s actions or offer counterarguments expressing why he believed that this marijuana arrest was a good use of police resources, he decided instead to threaten one of the commenters. In a comment that was first reported by the libertarian-leaning blog Popehat, Chief Santiago logged into his department’s Facebook account and told an apparent advocate of marijuana legalization that the man’s political views provided “reasonable suspicion to believe” that he may be a criminal, and that police “will work on finding” him.
This comment was deleted shortly after it appeared, but Santiago soon followed up with a longer comment comparing advocates for marijuana legalization to people with gang tattoos.
Setting aside the obvious First Amendment problems raised by a police chief saying that his department will “work on finding” someone for doing nothing more than expressing a political viewpoint, Santiago is wrong to suspect that a person who openly disagrees with his views about marijuana policy is engaged in illicit drug use. Though a recent Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, a different poll found that just 12 percent of the public actually used marijuana within the last year. So even assuming that every single person who smokes marijuana also believes that it should be legal, nearly four out of five people who support legalization are not marijuana users.