Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby recently announced that her office will no longer prosecute any marijuana possession cases “because prosecuting these cases [has] no public safety value, disproportionately impacts communities of color and erodes public trust, and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources.”
“We need to get serious about prioritizing what actually makes us safe,” said Mosby, “and no one who is serious about public safety can honestly say that spending resources to jail people for marijuana use is a smart way to use our limited time and money.”
The policy change is detailed in a new white paper issued by the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City (BCSAO) called “Reforming a Broken System: Rethinking the Role of Marijuana Prosecutions in Baltimore City.”
Mosby says her office “will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases, regardless of weight or a person’s prior criminal record” and will seek “to vacate nearly 5,000 prior marijuana convictions dating back to 2011.” Distribution of marijuana will still be prosecuted “as long as there is articulated evidence of intent to distribute beyond the mere fact of possession.” However, anyone “charged for the first time with felony possession with intent to distribute or with felony distribution will be referred to diversion.”
Mosby termed “jailing people for marijuana possession” a “vast and ongoing moral failure” that “squanders limited resources that should be used for policing and prosecuting offenses like homicide that are closely tied to public safety.” Baltimore is a city with more than 600,000 residents, but averages almost one murder per day, making the city’s homicide rate well above that of any other large American metropolis.
Not everyone is happy about the change in Baltimore’s marijuana policy. Just as not everyone is happy that thirty-three states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, ten states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and at least twenty states and more than fifty localities in a dozen states have either fully or partially decriminalized the possession of marijuana.
In a word, marijuana is unsafe. Or at least that is the conclusion of some recent criticisms of marijuana legalization.
A conservative who believes that the legalization of recreational marijuana has “brought devastation to Colorado,” claims that
- marijuana is stronger now than it was 20 years ago, causing many of the health problems we are seeing today;
- drug cartels are breeding new marijuana hybrid plants with higher levels of THC and other toxic and addictive chemicals in it;
- pot use by teens is destructive to the adolescent brain;
- recreational marijuana use may lead to testicular cancer in young men;
- a mysterious marijuana-related illness is popping up with increasing frequency in hospital emergency rooms, particularly in states where cannabis is now legal;
- marijuana use has not only been significantly linked with a number of short-term psychosocial problems, but has also been linked with several longer-term medical and mental health risks such as periodontal disease, respiratory inflammatory symptoms, psychosis, immunity suppression, nausea and vomiting, and decreased testosterone in men;
- continued cannabis use is associated with sevenfold greater odds for subsequent commission of violent crimes; and
- the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time.
In Florida, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd declared on Fox & Friends about marijuana use, “It’s not a minor, nonviolent felony. It’s ruining families and killing people every day across the United States.”
In a speech delivered last month at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C., Alex Berenson, author of Tell Your Children: The Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence, argued that “almost everything you think you know about the health effects of cannabis, almost everything advocates and the media have told you for a generation, is wrong.” Marijuana use not only “leads to other drug use,” it “can cause or worsen severe mental illness, especially psychosis.” Teenagers who “smoke marijuana regularly are about three times as likely to develop schizophrenia.”
A recent article in The New Yorker asks the question: “Is marijuana as safe as we think?” The author maintains that “because of recent developments in plant breeding and growing techniques, the typical concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, has gone from the low single digits to more than twenty per cent — from a swig of near-beer to a tequila shot.” He believes that “in some cases, heavy cannabis use does seem to cause mental illness.” He bases that opinion on and refers to a 468-page report prepared in 2017 by a panel of sixteen leading medical experts for the National Academy of Medicine that convened to analyze the scientific literature on cannabis. The panel declared, “in one of its few unequivocal conclusions,” “‘Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.’”
But to ask about the safety of marijuana is to ask the wrong question.
It doesn’t matter how safe or unsafe marijuana is. Likewise, it doesn’t matter
- how addictive marijuana is;
- whether marijuana is a gateway drug;
- how medicinal marijuana is;
- how dangerous marijuana is;
- how harmless marijuana is;
- whether marijuana is more potent today than it was 20 years ago;
- how unhealthy marijuana is;
- how therapeutic marijuana is;
- whether marijuana use has been linked with short-term psychosocial problems;
- whether marijuana use has been linked with long-term health risks;
- how destructive to the brain marijuana is;
- whether marijuana can cause or worsen severe mental illness;
- whether marijuana use may lead to cancer;
- how beneficial marijuana is to those undergoing cancer treatments;
- whether marijuana use drives people mad;
- whether marijuana use makes people suicidal;
- how drug cartels are breeding new marijuana hybrid plants; or
- whether marijuana is the most dangerous of all drugs.
It doesn’t even matter if marijuana is the most hazardous substance known to man.
The important question is simply this: Who decides? Who decides whether one should use marijuana? Who decides how often marijuana should be used? Who decides how much marijuana should be used? Who decides why marijuana should be used? Who decides whether one should grow marijuana? Who decides whether one should sell marijuana? On the basis of all of the pros and cons, benefits and dangers, and rewards and risks of marijuana, who decides those things?
In a free society, the individual decides. That doesn’t mean that the decision is made in a vacuum. Persons may consult family, friends, ministers, physicians, psychiatrists, health professionals, books, websites, and any number of other people or things. Ultimately, however, the decision to use marijuana is an individual decision.
In an authoritarian society, the government decides. Although government bureaucrats may be influenced and supported by puritanical busybodies, nanny-statists, pious do-gooders, ignorant fear-mongers, religious moralists, and anti-drug crusaders, the decision is ultimately a government decision.
And of course, it’s not just marijuana. It’s any substance or activity. Who decides whether one should engage in risky, immoral, dangerous, or unhealthy activities? Is it the individual or is it the government?
In a free society the government neither makes decisions about activities that people engage in nor interferes with them as long as their actions are peaceful, private, voluntary, and consensual and they don’t violate the personal or property rights of others while engaging in such actions.