The Hennepin County Sheriff, Rich Stanek, has authored an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune entitled “Lax marijuana enforcement is bad” that predicts all manner of doom thanks to the Justice Department’s refusal to enjoin Washington and Colorado legalization measures.
Sheriff Stanek writes that DOJ’s approach means “keeping neighborhoods safe will become more difficult”, yet in the very next paragraph he claims DOJ’s lack of response “will encourage other states to legalize marijuana”. Why would the other states, seeing the devastation he predicts in Washington and Colorado, then move to legalize marijuana? How can both his suppositions be true?
Sheriff Stanek seems to think the status quo of criminal control of marijuana markets and criminalization of marijuana consumers is working. He supports his theory with a litany of allegations about cannabis use that don’t stand the scrutiny of science and actually argue for the legalization and regulation of marijuana he so fears.
The sheriff is concerned about trafficking across state lines, I suppose to the other states that weren’t encouraged to legalize it. As I understand it, that’s a crime now, still, after legalization in two states, just as it has been a crime for forty-two years. It’s never been stopped before legalization, it will never be stopped after legalization, because you cannot repeal the law of supply and demand. Minnesota’s failure to stop its citizens from smoking weed is hardly an argument for the feds to shut down Washington’s and Colorado’s weed markets, leaving legalized possession and maintaining criminal trafficking.
Stanek is terrified of the alleged increases in “stoned driving”, noting statistics that prove only that more people are smoking marijuana. Fatalities involving drivers who test positive for marijuana only means they had smoked sometime ago, not necessarily that they were stoned at the time. Besides, Sheriff Stanek notably fails to mention that overall fatalities, including drunk drivers, are down in Colorado. Perhaps some of them are switching to weed instead?
Sheriff Stanek even dusts off an oldie but goodie, saying, “Marijuana is an addictive gateway drug”, despite every major organization that has studied this since our own Institute of Medicine in 1999 agreeing that the gateway theory is a myth. There’s nothing physiological about marijuana that leads to other drugs; it’s that marijuana is lumped in with other drugs. Despite statistics that show use of cigarettes or alcohol are much better predictors of future drug abuse, nobody thinks of them as “gateway drugs” because they don’t get them from a street dealer who’s also selling crack, meth, and heroin. Countries like the Netherlands that have separated “soft” drug markets for marijuana from “hard” drug markets have resulted in much lower “hard” drug addiction problems.
“Drug task forces here have linked marijuana to assaults and homicides,” warns Sheriff Stanek, which is doubtlessly true, since prohibited markets settle their disputes not with courts and lawyers, but with guns and bribes. Nobody sees Leinenkugel’s and Pabst Blue Ribbon dealers shooting it out on the streets of Minneapolis, do they? Can you recall the last major assault case over a pack of cigarettes? Again Stanek tries to bolster his case with statistics of how many people arrested or jailed have tested positive for marijuana, a dubious stat when using marijuana can get you arrested and jailed, which again only tells us people like to smoke pot.
Sheriff Stanek is also concerned that the DOJ “sends the wrong message about the dangers of marijuana, especially to youths.” I wonder how the sheriff thinks we’re sending the right message to youth about cigarettes, use of which is down among teenagers to its lowest ever recorded levels? How did we manage to send the right messsage without arresting and imprisoning adults who smoke cigarettes? The debunked harms to learning and IQ he cites seem to argue that we ought to check the IDs of cannabis consumers, unlike the status quo. The harm to youth argues for placing weed behind the counter. And his citation of more kids in rehab for marijuana is also moot when getting caught equals a sentence to rehab.
Finally, Sheriff Stanek promises that legalizing marijuana will not end criminal gangs. On that, we can agree. Criminals commit crimes, always have, always will. What we’re saying is, how about we make marijuana one of the crimes they can no longer commit? Why should otherwise law-abiding cannabis consumers be forced to participate in a criminal market? Why give such a lucrative market to criminals when we can tax, regulate, and control it for society’s benefit?
The fact is the Sheriff and all the law enforcment organizations he writes on behalf of are merely protecting their budgets. Sheriff Stanek is the president of the Major County Sheriffs’ Association. County sheriffs offices get a large amount of funding from the federal grants that target drug crimes (but no other crimes) and reward departments for their increasing arrest numbers. They also receive a huge bounty in civil asset forfeitures, where they can keep the cash, cars, and homes of people caught growing or possesing marijuana.