District Attorneys Slam Marijuana Legalization by Disregarding Facts
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked.
The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) has released a position paper on marijuana that states “Federal drug enforcement policy regarding… marijuana should be applied consistently across the nation to maintain respect for the rule of law.”
That’s not really a surprise. Did we really expect the prosecutors of America to endorse not enforcing federal laws?
The surprise is how the prosecutors made their case for their position.
Stoned Mayhem On Freeways!
One concern they have about legalization is the fear of Stoned Mayhem On Freeways, or SMOF (see also: my Green State article last week). “Since a majority of states have legalized marijuana for medical and/or recreational use,” NDAA writes, “marijuana-impaired driving cases will continue to present unique challenges for prosecutors.”
Why “since?” Legalization doesn’t invent stoned drivers; cars and weed have been around since the beginning of the 20th century. As NDAA explains, “a driver who exhibits clues of impairment,” along with evidence of marijuana, “could be successfully prosecuted for impaired driving.”
That doesn’t change when the possession of the marijuana is legal.
To their credit, NDAA makes it clear that testing for marijuana and metabolites in blood and urine is a fool’s errand, stating “Scientific studies have not yet demonstrated support for marijuana ‘per se’ levels similar to alcohol.”
But NDAA flops when they state that “marijuana use has been shown to… increase crash risk.”
For years now, prohibitionists have relied on a meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal purporting a doubling of crash risk in drivers who test positive for marijuana.
Guess who consumes the most marijuana most often in America? Over one-in-five people aged 19-23 consume marijuana monthly (age 24 = 18.1 percent); no other age breaks the 20 percent rate. Over one-in-ten men toke monthly, but just one-in-sixteen women do.
Even the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found recently that “better controlled studies have found lower (or no) elevated crash risk estimates.”
What About The Children?
Another concern from NDAA is the tried-and-false What About The Children, or WATC. “Legalization of marijuana… clearly sends a message to youth that marijuana is not dangerous,” writes NDAA, “and increases youth access to marijuana.”
If the youth are getting any message about legal weed, it seems to be “business as usual.” Washington State says, “Rates of teen marijuana use have remained steady, despite the changing landscape.” Colorado says, “Youth marijuana use remains relatively unchanged.” Oregon says, “Recent trends in youth use have been stable.”
Teens also aren’t finding greater access to marijuana. Since 1975, the Monitoring the Future survey has asked 12th graders how difficult it would be to score some pot. The rate of teens responding “easy” or “fairly easy” had been as high as 90 percent and never dipped below 80 percent, until the year after four states had legal marijuana.
This is just common sense. Teens’ access to weed isn’t through stores, it’s through “the guy” who deals in the parking lot behind shop class. It’s older folks like me who gain increased access through legalization, as evidenced by senior use increasing by over half since legalization.
The rest of the position paper touches on hoary marijuana scares like the gateway theory (debunked since 1999); pot causes IQ loss (debunked by studying twins); weed leads to drop-out, unemployment, welfare, and dissatisfaction (funny how a criminal record can do that); and legal pot has increased poison control calls (since people can be honest about what made them or their kid or dog sick), even though such calls are down in Colorado following a public education campaign on marijuana edibles.
Distraction From Mass Incarceration
The NDAA is willing to promote every reefer madness talking point available to help obfuscate a truth that is becoming clearer every day: this nation has a mass incarceration problem largely fueled by the unchecked power of these same district attorneys to prosecute drug possession.
In his new book Locked In, criminologist and law professor John Pfaff notes that between 2000 to 2014, our overall prison population only increased by 100,000, but 9.6 million new prisoners were minted. It’s not the long-term, violent offenders that are the problem; it’s the short-term, non-violent offenders that shuffle in and out of the system, permanently marked as criminals for the next employment, educational aid, and housing application.
It’s those offenders, largely drug possessors, that make up the bulk of NDAA’s workload. Research shows that 95 percent of all criminal cases are resolved with guilty plea bargains. Prosecutors since 1994 increased felony charges by almost 40 percent, even as crime and arrests fell.
Prosecutors pile on those felony charges like stacking chips at the poker table, so when it comes time for the plea deal, they have the upper hand. Despite the falling crime rates, the number of prosecutors increased by half even as they maintained virtually the same rate of prison admissions per prosecutor (around 24).
If marijuana is legalized and federal enforcement is waived, then how will these over 30,000 District Attorneys pile on the extra charges of possession with intent to deliver, conspiracy to traffic controlled substances, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, felony child endangerment, use of a communications facility to commit a felony, and whatever other scary charges they need to convince a cannabis consumer to plead guilty to a simple possession charge to avoid a trial in front of an increasingly marijuana-friendly jury pool?