Our view: Medical marijuana measure not yet right for MinnesotaConversing with colleagues from California, Police Chief Gordon Ramsay laid out the troubles Duluth has had with the Last Place on Earth: the long lines intimidating others and crowding them off the public sidewalk, the sometimes-dangerous criminal activity, the bizarre behavior of those clearly stoned, and worse. Plus, there was that expensive, takes-officers-away-from-other-troubles need for constant police presence.
Conversing with colleagues from California, Police Chief Gordon Ramsay laid out the troubles Duluth has had with the Last Place on Earth: the long lines intimidating others and crowding them off the public sidewalk, the sometimes-dangerous criminal activity, the bizarre behavior of those clearly stoned, and worse. Plus, there was that expensive, takes-officers-away-from-other-troubles need for constant police presence.
“Oh,” the California cops invariably would interrupt, as Ramsay recalled during an interview last week with the News Tribune editorial board. “You sound like you’re talking about our dispensaries.”
As in California’s marijuana dispensaries. As in the storefronts where medical marijuana can be legally sold — and then illegally resold outside or stolen or worse among the crowds that gather and hang out, a la Last Place on Earth.
Not wanting a return to such troubles, among other good reasons, Ramsay stands with people both inside and outside of law enforcement who oppose any suggestion Minnesota legalize marijuana for medical use.
State Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, introduced legislation last session to do just that. It didn’t go far. She said she’ll introduce it again when the Legislature reconvenes in late February. But the bill isn’t ready for passage and can be rejected once again by fellow lawmakers.
As well-intentioned as Melin and her measure may be, and as heart-tugging as the stories of people who could be helped by medical marijuana are, what she’s proposing simply
doesn’t address the larger concerns raised by Ramsay and others.
“My experience is, I’m not protected by a bubble. I live in the real world. I’ve seen the devastation that marijuana use can cause families and children,” Ramsay said. “I don’t believe in it. I think it’s a bad thing. … I’ve had a family member who was addicted to it and was hallucinating and had psychosis where he had no clue what was going on. He couldn’t work (and) couldn’t even really function.”
In California, Colorado and other states, legalizing marijuana for medical use was just a first step toward its total legalization, including for recreational use. Ramsay and other experts who we ought to be listening to — including the Minnesota Law Enforcement Coalition, which represents the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs Association, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association — warn against starting Minnesota down that same problem-riddled path.
“The legalization movement, they start with medical marijuana and they’ll find these very touching stories on how marijuana changed someone’s life. I saw one going around that involved a young kid and seizures,” Ramsay said. “But look at some of the statistics.”
Marijuana is the most widely abused controlled substance in our state and nation with nearly a third of Minnesota 12th graders using it in the past year, the Minnesota Law Enforcement Association reported in 2009. Users do worse in school and at work and more often get into traffic accidents, studies have confirmed.
Further, about 9 percent, or about 1 in 11, of those who use marijuana becomes addicted, a National Institutes of Health study found, debunking the myth that you can’t get hooked on weed. The rate increases to 17 percent, or about 1 in 6, if marijuana use starts during teen years. The addiction rate skyrockets to 25 percent to 50 percent among daily users of dope.
In Colorado, between 2006, when marijuana was first legalized for medical use, and 2011, traffic fatalities involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana increased a whopping 114 percent, according to a federal study released in August. In 2011, the same study found, 7.64 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. were considered current marijuana users while in Colorado the percentage was more than 40 percent higher at 10.72 percent. Among young adults ages 18 to 25, the percentage of current marijuana users was 45 percent higher in Colorado (18.7 percent nationally compared to 27.26 percent in Colorado).
Does Minnesota really want to follow the lead of Colorado, where recreational sales of marijuana became legal on Jan. 1?
“My hope is the pendulum will swing and this Colorado thing will turn out to be a disaster. And then, by the time it gets here, people will realize, yeah, this isn’t smart,” Ramsay said. “Drugs are a scourge on our society.”
Marijuana today is genetically engineered to be far more potent than in decades past. There are far more problems associated with its use as a result. We need to be far more careful.
At the same time, it’s difficult to deny there are elements in marijuana that can bring relief to those who are ill. If Melin’s measure defined such elements and made just them available, perhaps even in liquid or pill form, there’d be little for law enforcement and other opponents to object to.
But it doesn’t. Melin’s bill would legalize the sale of marijuana for smoking to anyone who can argue a medical need. In other states that has been as simple as complaining of back pain. Who could disprove back pain? Her bill would create dispensaries, about one per county, ushering in all their problems. And if someone didn’t live close to a dispensary, the new law would allow them to grow their own plants.
“I’ll take off my police chief hat and say, (as a taxpayer), I don’t want to be paying for anyone to grow marijuana or pay for anyone’s marijuana, period,” Ramsay said.
As sincere and well-meaning as it may be, Melin’s measure isn’t yet right for Minnesota.