First a disclaimer. I have no personal experience with marijuana. I have spent a good portion of my professional career fighting the proliferation of marijuana in all it’s forms, to include developing a training program for the Missouri State Highway Patrol used to facilitate the highway interdiction of illicit drugs as they travelled through our state. I have arrested a good number of folks who were under the influence of marijuana, for a variety of offenses influenced by this substance. My observations set out in this writing are simply an attempt to frame some of the considerations attendant to the recent sanctioning of it’s use in Missouri for medicinal purposes, from the perspective of a career law enforcement officer.
Medical benefits. There is evidence on both sides of the argument supporting the efficacy of marijuana in the treatment of certain afflictions. The problem lies in the relatively low number of carefully controlled studies that might quantify the positive benefits of marijuana in certain applications. The reason these studies and controlled studies do not exist is the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, with “no current accepted medical use, and a high potential for abuse”. I am not making an argument either way here, merely pointing out that there will likely continue to be little objective research into the possible benefits of this drug until such time as it is removed from this classification. To date, the vast portion of evidence to support the use of this drug in certain applications is anecdotal in nature, with no deep studies to lend dignity to the argument. If marijuana has legitimate medicinal use then legalize it and trust production to federally regulated production facilities, where the strength and efficacy of the drug can be tightly controlled, and then trust the dispensing to trained pharmacists.
Legalities. I suspect attorneys around the state are sharpening their pencils. There are any number of legal considerations that will most certainly lead to litigation in both the civil and criminal venue. Our law is crafted to place the medical provider in the position of simply certifying the existence of one of the several conditions that merit the use of marijuana to treat. I am not an attorney, but am concerned that we may be placing providers in the position of “enabling” the use of a federally prohibited substance. Could litigation arise out of a decision to certify PTSD, as an example, in an individual who smokes legally dispensed marijuana, and then takes his own life or the life of another? Remember the reasons for placing this drug on the Schedule 1 listing. A reach? Perhaps, perhaps not. What about a medical complex (hospital) from which a provider certifies an individual for purposes of obtaining this drug? We mustn’t forget they have deep pockets, the favorite venue of trial attorneys. My argument here is simple. If you do not like the law, work to change it, don’t violate it. We are a country of laws, a fact lost on those that seek to force change by wholesale violation of existing law. I see significant legal jeopardy for those involved in the enabling of marijuana use in the face of existing federal law prohibiting it in all forms. Civil disobedience does not justify wholesale violation of existing law.
Law Enforcement. States that have gone ahead of us report significant, measurable increases in auto accidents and impaired driving cases. Are we ready to deal with this increase in adverse affects? Irrespective of medical benefit, the use of this drug in any therapeutic amount will affect judgement and will result in judgement related incidents that law enforcement must deal with. Here I do have experience and can state, anecdotally, that marijuana highs are not all mellow, goofy, events. Often paranoia accompanies chronic use and can result in problems to first responders who must deal with folks who are “stoned”. Again, there are precious few studies and trials to help folks in this chain to understand the behaviors and implications of marijuana use.
As a final note. I am not in a position to challenge the efficacy of marijuana in some medical settings. I am however, deeply concerned with the notion of plowing ahead in the use of this potentially significant, mind altering substance with a “high potential for abuse” without deliberation and consideration within our legislative arenas. Most “legal” grow operations today are operated as a cash business, with traditional banks and other financial institutions avoiding transactions with them, wary of the possible legal ramifications on the federal level. There exists today an industry centered around the business of transporting large sums of cash from this very profitable industry. It takes little imagination to conjure up the problems associated with large, cash transactions.
I leave you with a simple question. What are we thinking……..or are we thinking at all?