Cannabis Law Prof Blog

Editor: Franklin G. Snyder
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Thursday, November 9, 2017

A conversation with a Dallas Police Department Sergeant

Lary Nichols is currently a Sergeant of the Dallas Police Department. Nichols, like his father and grandfather before him, was born and has lived his entire life in Dallas, Texas. He attended Lake Highland high school and had a part-time job selling cars at his father’s used car lot. Marijuana blog police

After high school, he headed to boot camp to join the Marine Corps. Because his goal had always been to become a Dallas police officer, Nichols joined the Marine’s military police to gain the necessary experience. After four years of service, Nichols left the Marines to pursue his dream. But unlike today’s standards—where recruits need to either have earned a minimum of 45 hours of college credit or have 3 years of military experience—DPD strictly required the minimum college credit then. Thus, Nichols took the requisite courses at El Centro, Dallas’s County Community College, before being admitted into Dallas’s police academy in 1992.

Upon graduation, Nichols worked full-time patrolling Southeast Dallas, until he was promoted to Senior Corporal in 1997. There, he worked with Dallas’s K-9 Unit for three years until he returned back to patrol. After four years, Nichols was promoted to Sergeant in 2004. As Sergeant, Nichols was placed in charge of one Dallas SWAT unit and has played a pivotal role in organizing the city’s security measures for large events such as marathons and protests. Currently, DPD is considering promoting Sergeant Nichols again, this time to Lieutenant.

Sergeant Nichols has been married since 1988, and has two children. His son recently graduated from Dallas’s police academy this year, following in his father’s footsteps; his daughter graduated from Texas A&M and is currently attending nursing school in Dallas.   

Q: What training regarding marijuana detection and how to handle situations involving marijuana have you experienced?

A: In 1992, when I was in the academy, they had a narcotics officer come in and teach various things about the drugs we should expect to confront on the street. This included street names, what to look for; they also did something called a “controlled burn,” which is where they burned DEA-grade marijuana, so we could recognize the smell and be better equipped to testify about it in court if we made a traffic stop and we smelt marijuana. But I think that practice ended because now everyone knows what it smells like; plus, your trainer will say “Hey, that’s marijuana” while on the street. This was followed by update-training every few years. I’ve had some outside narcotics training, which consisted of either eight or forty-hour courses to improve narcotic detection and intervention. But most of my experience has come from making arrests and testifying in court.

Q: Do you believe that the methods currently used to detect whether someone is high on marijuana are effective?

A: I don’t think enough. Although there’s a lot of training to detect people high on marijuana, there probably isn’t enough to be adequate.

Q: Would you be open to police departments adopting a marijuana breathalyzer that would measure a person’s current level of THC?

A: Yes, I would. I think that would be a great tool. Especially as we move towards more states legalizing marijuana, law enforcement needs an effective method, similar to a BAC breathalyzer, to detect whether someone is operating a vehicle under the influence.

Q: What problems do you personally perceive regarding people using marijuana?

A: I actually think the use of marijuana is less problematic than alcohol. People don’t smoke weed and go beat their wives, but they do that with alcohol. But some problems associated with marijuana are long-term. The health effects are probably worse for you than smoking cigarettes; obviously there are cancer concerns. Also, marijuana tends to dull people’s initiative and motivation. From my high school experience, there were those stoner friends who smoked a lot of weed; they weren’t go-getters. Especially if people smoke too much. Overall, I believe the health effects and dulling of people’s initiative and ambition are the biggest problems. Also, people think they can smoke and then drive, but they can’t. Their reaction times are slow; their judgement is impaired. So that’s another large issue.

Q: Do you believe marijuana is a “gateway drug?”

A: I do; especially for younger people. It’s a way for them to start using illegal drugs. They feel like “Oh, I can smoke marijuana and go to school and then wake up the next day and feel fine? Well, maybe I can do this cocaine and pills too.” Adults though have a little more maturity. Similar to having a drinking age of 21, once people are more mature they realize “Yeah, I can smoke weed, but I’m not going to jump to heroin.” But I do believe it is a gateway drug for the more vulnerable population and younger people to lead them to more addictive drugs.

Q: Do you believe marijuana should be legal in any form? Explain.

A: We spend a lot of resources and a lot of money in the criminal justice system and law enforcement on enforcing marijuana laws. But I think that money could be spent better elsewhere. I think alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana. So personally, I’m not opposed to legalizing it. But the problem I have is kids getting a hold of it. I know that’s a big problem in states that have already done so. Similar to getting older people to buy you beer here. I think marijuana is extremely detrimental to the young population. I’ve seen studies where it affects their mental and physical development. So, if it is legalized, it needs to be strictly controlled. I’m not opposed to it, and I think it will be legalized eventually because it doesn’t make sense all the time, effort, and money being spent putting people in jail. We are slowly reducing the penalties and enforcement of it. We should stop beating around the bush and just legalize, regulate, and tax it. We always talk about personal freedoms, well people should be free to do what they want. You can have an abortion and kill a baby, but you can’t smoke a joint in your own house. I think it’s kind of hypocritical; it’s similar to prohibition in the 1920s, which didn’t work at all.

Q: Do you believe your job would be easier if marijuana was legal for adults 21 and older?

A: There’s a catch 22 about that. Law enforcement would spend less time bringing people to jail for marijuana offenses, but there would be more people under the influence causing problems, so I don’t know if it would make our job that much easier. We would still have people driving impaired and stealing to get more marijuana. Especially initially after legalization, I believe there would be a lot more people using it, because believe it or not, there are people who refrain from smoking because it is illegal.

Q: In a given week, how many of your on-duty calls had some relation to marijuana?

A: I’m not in patrol right now, but back in the 1990s in Southeast Dallas, I would say probably 60-70% of what I did there involved some aspect of marijuana. Whether it was present, they were using it, or they were under the influence. So, it was consistently prevalent throughout my time patrolling.

Q: Do you believe marijuana enforcement has disproportionately impacted African Americans?

A: It probably does in a way, but ultimately, I believe it disproportionately impacts lower socioeconomic groups. Poorer people don’t tend to have private places to smoke, so they drive around or smoke in public place like the streets or in parks. This leaves them more vulnerable to getting caught by us. Whereas, someone with means and wealth will have a house or other place they can smoke where law enforcement won’t be able to catch them. Unfortunately, this is true for law enforcement in a lot of regards, not just marijuana.

Q: Which do you believe is more dangerous: marijuana or alcohol consumption?

A: In my experience, it’s clearly alcohol. If you look at traffic accidents, domestic violence, or other violent crimes, a lot of them involve alcohol abuse. Alcohol, especially in the short term, is worse. I don’t know if we have sufficiently studied the health effects of marijuana for the long term. I’ve heard there are things in marijuana that cause cancer, worse than in cigarettes.

Q: How do you think your job will be affected if marijuana is nationally legalized?

A: I think it will be a mixed bag. There will be some things that will be easier, some harder. Obviously, we will have more people using it, initially at least. But hopefully there will be more people using it responsibly. I think it will be a learning curve; I’m interested to learn from law enforcement in the legalized states on how they are dealing with these issues.

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