Proponents of marijuana legalization were likely disappointed to hear Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore’s rationale for asking the city council to decriminalize pot possession.

Moore doesn’t consider pot a harmless plant. Rather, he considers it a waste of time to arrest and book someone on pot possession when later the Rock County District Attorney’s Office prosecutes almost all possession cases not as crimes but as county ordinance violations.

Moore figures his officers will save about 300 hours under the ordinance change approved by the city council last week allowing officers to issue citations rather than make arrests for pot possession.

Moore’s recommendation is a practical one. It makes little sense to arrest someone who ultimately won’t be prosecuted for the crime.

We agree with the city council’s action—it makes police operations run more efficiently—but the community needs to be aware that we’re edging closer to the legalization of marijuana.

The entire nation of Canada legalized it this month. Several states, including all of the West Coast, have legalized recreational pot. Michigan is planning a legalization referendum this fall, and the question will also be on Rock County ballots this fall as an advisory referendum.

The legalization trend is larger than any one police department or city council. The percentage of people nationally who support legalization has surged over the past several years. A new CBS News poll shows 61 percent of Americans now favor legalization, while 33 percent oppose it. Only seven years ago, 40 percent supported legalization, while 51 percent opposed it.

A majority of poll respondents, 53 percent, also view alcohol as more harmful than pot. Only 7 percent consider pot more harmful, while 28 percent view them equally harmful.

A challenge for law enforcement, schools and employers will be to address the growing acceptance of pot without resorting to just-say-no hyperbole. Pot is not a black-and-white issue. Pot is neither harmless nor absolutely destructive. It has legitimate medical uses but can be abused like any other drug. It can be addictive but doesn’t lead to fatal overdoses like opioids and alcohol. Some studies suggest it can affect youth brain development, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about the long-term effects.

Law enforcement is understandably wary of pot, and Moore insists decriminalization is not “the first step to the legalization of marijuana.” But—ready or not—the legalization wave is coming, and there’s little Moore can do about the larger societal forces driving this debate. What Moore can do (and has done for many years) is find ways to help his department run more efficiently. Giving police officers more time to deal with issues that matter most to the community is always a worthwhile objective.

Editorials are written by the Opinion Page editor expressing the opinions of The Gazette. Editorials are separate from news articles, which are written by news reporters and do not include the opinions of the author.

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