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The hurdles of marijuana legalization include Hempfest behavior

Post by Brian O'Neill on June 28, 2011 at 11:25 pm with 15 Comments »
June 29, 2011 2:58 pm

In a previous column on marijuana I discussed the legalization turmoil in Olympia, Hempfest, and the subsequent arrests that somehow came as a surprise to those in attendance. I received quite a kickback from readers, many of whom were critical of my views against legalization.

The only problem with that argument is that I’m not against legalization. Truly.

But before anyone considers sending me a link to LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), my own opinion on this topic is the following: I don’t care.

I have neither smoked pot nor spent any amount of time researching the health concerns surrounding its use. But I have yet to read or hear about studies suggesting that marijuana is more toxic to the lungs than a cigar, or harder on the body than liquor. I mention the latter because those of us who imbibe alcohol should be aware of the hypocritical subtext within our own anti-drug statements.

In short, though there may be many of us unwilling to stand in the way of marijuana’s legalization, that same number would also not stand behind it.

My primary concern on the marijuana issue is that those advocating for its legalization must be equal to the task of forging meaningful, real world legislation. And there are many hurdles leading to that result.

First is culture, as in “this is the way it’s always been.” Generations of Washingtonians, especially those who did not spend their wonder years rolling a joint, have accepted the rationale that marijuana is simply illegal. However, that might change in the coming years for many reasons: HTC’s medicinal benefits; public freedom; skyrocketing costs of enforcing marijuana statutes.

Second is crime, as in cartels, gangs and violence. Wresting the distribution of marijuana from these sources will not prove to be a simple matter. Even now, home invasion robberies are increasing as medical marijuana dispensaries and patients grow their plants at vulnerable locations. One possible remedy would be to give the responsibility for production and distribution to the state, which has done a decent job distributing liquor. Either way, solving the public safety issue of legalized pot will require much forethought.

Third is money, as in the unknowable costs of legalization. Without a proper framework, it would be next to impossible to guess how much of an investment this would require. On the plus side, doing away with enforcement, and its requisite court appearances and jail costs, could lighten the load on overburdened city, county and state budgets.

Legalizing marijuana is a complex issue. It will require a determined and professional advocacy, well prepared to tackle the inherent difficulties in changing the culture and system that has been in place for many, many years.

But if the best example of marijuana advocates turns out to be cut from the same hemp as the few irresponsible individuals arrested at Hempfest, we won’t be seeing new marijuana legislation any time soon.

Leave a comment Comments → 15
  1. On June 17, 1971, President Nixon told Congress that “if we cannot destroy the drug menace in America, then it will surely destroy us.” After forty years of trying to destroy “the drug menace in America” we still *haven’t* been able to destroy it and it still *hasn’t* destroyed us. Four decades is long enough to realize that on this important issue President Nixon was wrong! All actions taken as a result of his invalid and paranoid assumptions (e.g. the federal marijuana prohibition) should be ended immediately!

    It makes no sense for taxpayers to fund the federal marijuana prohibition when it *doesn’t* prevent people from using marijuana and it *does* make criminals incredibly wealthy and incite the Mexican drug cartels to murder thousands of people every year.

    We need legal adult marijuana sales in supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies for exactly the same reason that we need legal alcohol and tobacco sales – to keep unscrupulous black-market criminals out of our neighborhoods and away from our children. Marijuana must be made legal to sell to adults everywhere that alcohol and tobacco are sold.

  2. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    Arizona recently passed a medical marijuana law, modeled on several similar laws found elsewhere in the US. I recognize the medical benefits of marijuana and think the current form of prohibition has utterly failed. I also think that consenting adults should not be prohibited from using marijuana recreationally, as few, if any, deaths have been attributed solely to marijuana, whereas alcohol cannot make the same claim.

    My issues with legalizing marijuana are these: First, if it’s going to be purely medicinal, then lobby the federal government to change its regulations and treat it like any other prescription drug. Prescription drugs are distributed at pharmacies, by pharmacists, not at “medicine clubs” by stoned hippies. The problem with this condition is that every single medical legalization effort in the US has been backed by groups who advocate for legalized recreational use. Like Brian, I have no personal stake in the matter. But if you want it legalized, have some integrity and do the work to get full legalization. Don’t just push for medical marijuana so you can claim you have insomnia that can only be cured with weed.

    And second, if it’s not medicinal, then before it can be legalized for recreational use, science and technology must catch up to the law. As pointed out to me by a local sheriff just before the AZ medical marijuana law passed, there is currently no way to definitively test for the presence of marijuana metabolites in the field. That is, unlike alcohol, which can be tested for with a breathalyzer, there is no way to scientifically tell if a driver is currently under the influence of marijuana. You can test their urine or their hair after arrest and see if they’ve used marijuana as far back as 90 days, but there is no way to instantly tell if their body is metabolizing marijuana that particular instant, and cop in the field needs that ability.

    If we can develop a “pot breathalyzer” or some other sort of non-invasive test that can be used in the field and give an immediate result, then great, let’s legalize marijuana for recreational use. Then those people who need it medicinally can have easier (and likely cheaper) access to it.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Brian. This was well written, well thought out, and I understand your position. You acknowledge the cost of fighting cannabis ‘crime’, but still maintain a neutral (‘I don’t care’) standpoint. Why? Do you not care that your tax dollars are being wasted? Do you not care that this victimless crime consumes time that you could spend searching from the perpetrators of property or physical crimes against another?

    I think you probably DO care, but just haven’t realized it, or are unwilling to say it in the public forum.

  4. APimpNamedSlickback —

    If you can’t tell a person is under the effects of marijuana, does it matter if they are behind the wheel? California does not require its medical patients to stop driving while under the influence of cannabis, it simply recommends that patients become familiar with the effects before driving.

  5. 2 excellent well thought out columns in a row! Excellent and well thought out viewpoint. Thank you for sharing these thoughts Brian!

  6. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    et2kah:

    I’m not talking about about the officer’s impression of whether a person is high. There needs to be some sort of test available in the field to determine with some level of scientific certainty that the person has marijuana in their system at that particular time. Otherwise, if ther person is arrested, the only tests available can determine if they’ve used it in the past 30 days (with urine) or 90 days (with hair). That won’t meet the evidentiary standard to charge for a DUI.

    I don’t know about CA, but in AZ the subject of driving while using medical marijuana is not addressed. The consensus among law enforcement is that if a person is driving while high on marijuana (medical or otherwise), they are driving under the influence of a controlled substance. Same as with alcohol, and same as with any other prescription drug. The difference between marijuana and alcohol or most other prescription drugs that affect judgment and motor skills, is that the timeframe for usage of marijuana cannot be narrowed down to less than 30 days with current technology.

    Without a more accurate test, police are left to depend on motor skills tests and the smell or presence of marijuana in the vehicle to establish use. But when those drivers get their day in court, every one of them will say: “Of course I smelled of marijuana and had it in my car — I have a prescription for it. And of course I failed the motor skills test in the field — I have an equilibrium disorder that can only be managed with marijuana, so the fact that I couldn’t balance myself is proof that I wasn’t high.” Case dismissed.

    Look, I don’t have a problem with people who need medical marijuana using it. I don’t even have a problem with an adult using it recreationally in a responsible manner. But driving while high is no more responsible than driving drunk. There’s a reason we have laws against that, and why DUI laws generally include more controlled substances than just alcohol.

  7. Brian O'Neill says:

    Pimp,

    There actually is a field test available to check for marijuana, as well as other prescription and non-prescription narcotics. It is called the Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE), a twelve step process performed only by those officers trained in the procedure, and it can be conducted on the street following a stop for DUI.

    And et2kah,

    In regards to the notion that driving under the influence of marijuana is not prohibited in CA, I will simply state that is incorrect. DUI laws cover impairment, whether the source is alcohol, legal or illegal drugs. For example, if you forgot to read the prescription when you downed your Vicadin, you can be stopped and arrested for DUI. The point is that anything you choose to put in your body should not be the cause for a decrease in your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

  8. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    Brian:

    I know about the DRE, but it relies on the opinion of the observing officer. Unlike a breathalyzer, it is subject to the interpretation of the person performing the test. In fact, the 11th step is “the opinion of the evaluator.” Also, in a big city it shouldn’t be a problem finding a qualified officer to administer it, but in rural communities where there isn’t the budget or manpower to train an officer or keep him/her available all the time, the DRE is useless when marijuana is a legal but controlled substance.

    Assuming a qualified officer administers the DRE and determines a person is using marijuana, that only lets you arrest him and perform further tests. But the only test available to determine the chemical presence of marijuana in the body is still only able to narrow it down to 30 days. You may still be able to charge the driver, but they’ll deny being under the influence at the time and they can claim that several of the determining factors of the DRE are symptoms of the condition they have the medical marijuana prescription for, such as: muscular dystrophy, MS, Tourettes, epilepsy, arhythmia, equilibrium impairment, etc. I know of several attorneys in CA who have used those defenses, and they have been successful at times.

    Add to that, with the kind of information pro-legalization groups are putting out, how much longer do you think it will be before every medical and recreational marijuana user knows that all he has to do is refuse the third part of the first step and the DRE is over without coming to any conclusion? Sure, they might be arrested at that point, but it still only gets you to point where you can give them a UA or hair follicle test and establish use within the past 30 days.

    What I’m saying is that there needs to be some device that can test for instant presence of marijuana, just like a breathalyzer can test for alcohol. Until then marijuana should remain illegal, at least for recreational use.

  9. Brian O'Neill says:

    Good point.

  10. Pimp-thanks for the info, I had no idea of the problems surrounding the DUI tests for marijuana. Now I have to re-think my position about legalization of the drug. I had only looked at the ideas that it is no more harmful than tobacco or alcohol(with views in line with Brians position in this blog)…..but if there is not a fail-safe way of identifying drivers under the influence of cannabis conclusively, that is a HUGE stumbling block in the legalization of the drug……

  11. DevilDog2019 says:

    The amount of time being impaired on MJ is nowhere the amount as being impaired by alcohol. The “high” may only have intoxicating effects for about 30 min to an hour, doesn’t matter really how much smoked. Smoke too much take a nap. Alcohol however needs to go through the liver, 1 hour for every ounce consumed. 12 drinks, 12 hours.

    Also Brian , I believe you should care. With the amount of life being lost (3 way, Enforcement, Criminal, and most important the Innocent), the war on drugs is the real cause. When we try to prohibit no violent behavior, we create Violence & Crime. This one of the reasons that Barney Frank and Ron Paul have introduced H.R. 2306, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, would remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and limit the federal government’s role in marijuana enforcement to cross-border or interstate smuggling. States would be able to legalize and regulate marijuana, or to continue to prohibit it, as they individually choose.

    There are only 2 real sides; For Prohibition (with all the Refer Madness) and Against Prohibition (with all the new science and studies).

    Biggest problem with all of this, is that the Fed has to eat Crow on all the nonsense the made us eat for 70 + years!!!!!

  12. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    DevilDog:

    Are you saying that because the impairment resulting from marijuana use does not last as long as alcohol, it should shouldn’t be included in DUI laws? Even if a high only lasts 30 minutes, you’re still impaired and should be driving during that time. And what about people who use while they drive?

    There are more than two sides to this. I’m on the side that says “You should have the right to use marijuana, but that right ends where your use endangers my safety.” I don’t care if you get high, just don’t do it in a way that poses a threat to me or others; and until we have a way to scientifically determine on the spot if you’re body is metabolizing marijuana, it should be illegal.

  13. BlaineCGarver says:

    Good article, Brian. I agree with you 100%

  14. If New Approach Washington’s initiative passes then people will be hauled off to a local phlebotomist clinic where their blood would be taken- anything over 5 ng/mL would be above the legal limit. That would mean anyone who has smoked that day would likely fail the test, taking away the ability to drive completely for current medical patients with debilitating diseases.

    Not great, but there you go – that’s the only field test which would prove impairment absolutely.

  15. @SensiD — My blood level is ALWAYS over 5ng/ml, guaranteed.

    @Brain – 20 years of driving. To and from Seattle (from Tacoma) every day for the past 6. 0 tickets. 0 wrecks. I’ve been pulled over while very high (tail light once, headlight just the other day)… The cops have had no idea, because it doesn’t impair you (especially after you are familiar with the effects).

    When I have a drink, I avoid driving for the rest of the day.

    Cannabis does NOT impair you. Comparing vicodin to cannabis is out of line.

    By the way, Brian, I don’t know a single pot smoker who doesn’t drive liberally while stoned. I never hear about them getting popped for DUI, either. My drinking friends? They constantly screw up their lives and endanger others by getting on the streets under the influence of alcohol.

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