During a press conference that talked about the dangers of marijuana, an argument ensued about police tactics in enforcing marijuana laws. And a woman who wanted to talk about her son getting killed in a car accident by a driver who was high was shut down from speaking. It was a somewhat raucous news conference.
But I would postulate here that the problems at this news conference were more on the periphery of the case about marijuana rather than a direct correlation to this drug.
First of all, the anger at law enforcement regarding the killing has more than just marijuana aspects to it. During the news conference, this happened:
The meeting got increasingly heated, with one pro-legalization supporter speaking out against how black Minnesotans are currently handled by law enforcement who smell marijuana on them during traffic stops.
I have to agree that the law enforcement aspects regarding marijuana are badly handled. The Feds still consider it a high level narcotic (which it is not), and police officers treat marijuana offenders as if they are hardened street criminals (which some are but most are not), and the sentencing guidelines involving marijuana are out of proportion and in addition are biased against black defendants (which needs to be changed).
Dakota County Attorney Backstrom has an old school attitude about marijuana – probably has seen Reefer Madness too many times. But law enforcement in general has been trained to believe that marijuana is a “gateway” drug and put it in the same class as heroin or cocaine. This is a gross mischaracterization and needs to end.
Marijuana users are forced to deal with a criminal element precisely because of the drug status at the Federal level. They need to buy it on the street and often resort to criminal behavior to obtain it. So many states have legalized marijuana now that the illegal actions should no longer be necessary – this status needs to be changed nationally, but because of the inability of our government to decide, it has been left up to the states. Which causes its own problems as their is no uniformity on the laws.
Even states, like Minnesota, that have authorized medical marijuana have put so many inherent restrictions on its sale and use that it is completely unaffordable which will sometimes send people back to the street anyway.
But let’s discuss the woman who wanted to talk about her son who was killed in a car accident by a driver under the influence of marijuana. I understand her pain and she was not treated very fairly at the news conference – but again, the legalization of marijuana may not be the real issue. Impaired driving has many causes. The most common is alcohol. Yet we do not even consider the idea of making alcohol use a criminal offense. Drinking and driving is criminal, but we hold the individual accountable, not the alcohol itself. The same should be said for marijuana. You should certainly not drive under the influence of marijuana. The same goes for glue sniffing, huffing, and even cold medication. These have legal uses and need to be used for responsible purposes – not getting high.
I believe that marijuana should fall into this same category – legal with responsible use.
The mother who lost her son is naturally angry at the irresponsible use of marijuana by that driver. But that does not speak to the argument about the legality of the drug. That driver used marijuana. It was illegal to obtain it and it still killed her son. I would contend that if marijuana is legalized that a host of educational programs will ensue that may make its use safer and done more responsibly. It won’t solve the problem entirely, but then we have not solved our alcohol issues either.
If marijuana was just another recreational drug to get a person high, then I would also object to its legalization. But marijuana has so many potential uses. The main one that should give everyone hope is its use in pain relief. The opioid crisis needs a behavioral change. It needs an alternative. Marijuana show great promise to meet those needs. Marijuana alters moods, yes, but so does hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl. And they are far, far more dangerous and more addictive.
People who are against legalization of marijuana act as if we are going to dump thousands of pounds of marijuana out in the open in a free for all. Of course not. Careful restriction, like we have with alcohol, are certainly warranted. And unless you believe that we should go back to prohibition on alcohol, I would think that marijuana can be utilized in a safe, similar manner.
Law enforcement continues to be the obstacle. I would contend that their arguments are old, outdated, and wrong.
It is time for Minnesota to join the other legalization states and we should at the same time push the Federal government to do the same.