“In addition, cities should deprioritize enforcement of laws concerning the cultivation, transportation, and exchange of psychedelic plants.”
The Law Enforcement Action Partnership—a self-described “nonprofit group of police, prosecutors, judges, and other criminal justice professionals”—endorsed the “deprioritization” of drug offenses in Massachusetts in an August letter to municipal leaders.
“As current and former law enforcement, we know firsthand that justice resources are limited and need to be prioritized toward the greatest threats of public safety,” the statement read. “Arresting someone for drug possession not only fails to make our communities safer, it also criminalizes people at the expense of helping them.”
“One way to better focus justice system resources is for cities to officially deprioritize enforcement of possession of controlled substances,” the letter continued. “In addition, cities should deprioritize enforcement of laws concerning the cultivation, transportation, and exchange of psychedelic plants.”
The signatories staked their especially progressive take on psychedelics in research that shows the drug class’ efficacy in treating depression and PTSD, among other mental and behavioral health conditions. “Police officers respond to many mental health crisis calls and suicide attempts,” the letter notes. “Police do not want to be asked to arrest people seeking solutions for mental health issues.”
Officers themselves “struggle with PTSD and depression at far higher rates than the general public,” the letter notes. Furthermore, decriminalization could potentially make psychedelics available as a therapeutic resource to members of law enforcement, among whom suicide is a leading cause of death.
Decriminalization can also rehabilitate the relationship between law enforcement and the public, the letter suggested. “Encounters for controlled substance possession can go tragically wrong, endangering civilians and officers alike while further eroding trust in law enforcement,” it read. “Deprioritizing drug enforcement can … improve police-community trust, particularly in communities of color.” The letter emphasized that Bostonians arrested for drug possession are disproportionately Black and Hispanic.
“You got to ask yourself, what are we policing?” said Winthrop police lieutenant Sarko Gergerian, the first signatory on the letter. “Are we policing violence? Or are we policing criminalized, self-directed behavior? And why was that self-directed behavior made into a crime in the first place?”
The answer to that last question, according to Gergerian, is “codified racism” in the law: “You come to these realizations through listening to other groups—through education pathways that bridge you into information that aren’t traditionally part of the curriculum.” Gergerian, a certified recovery coach and psychotherapist, said he was “blessed to be able to intersect with information in social work, mental health counseling, and psychological services.”
“The training path that I had to go on put me in touch with information and people and bridged me into groups of people that I wouldn’t traditionally be connected to or influenced by,” the Winthrop lieutenant added. “I think making it so that these other groups can be in the same room and share ideas with law enforcement in an open and safe way would be very beneficial.”
As Mass “emerg[es] as a leader in deprioritizing drug offenses,” Gergerian said it will be crucial for leaders to share ideas and research with law enforcement “so that they feel like they’re a participant in the evolution rather than having something jammed down their throat that they don’t even know how to think about.”
“We’re moving out of the ‘enforcer’ approach to law enforcement, and into the ‘guardian’ approach,” Gergerian said. “Within the enforcer mindset, there is an other—an alien-type other that needs to be found and punished. But within the guardian mindset, that distinction is no longer … We’re all human beings in a common society. And we are here to help each other.”
Retired Hampden County corrections officer Patrick Heintz, former federal corrections officer Regina Hufnagel, and retired Rowely state police officer Karen Hawkes co-signed the letter with Gergerian. They drew attention to pending resolutions on decriminalization in Boston, Salem, and Easthampton—the last of which, at the time of this writing, is projected to approve the legislation with an 8-1 vote on Oct. 1, joining ranks with Somerville, Cambridge, and Northampton.
Juliet is a college student studying philosophy at Harvard. Her writing & reporting appear in STAT News, the Harvard Crimson, the Harvard Advocate, and the Harvard Political Review.