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January 12, 2012

Noticing the state/local divide over marijuana policies

The tension between federal pot prohibitions and some state medical marijuana legalization is well known to readers of this blog (and seem only likely to grow in the future).  But this AP article, headlined "Many US Communities Are Blocking Medical Marijuana," highlights some of the tensions between state and local authorities.  Here is how the piece starts:

More and more states are saying yes to medical marijuana. But local governments are increasingly using their laws to just say no, not in our backyard.

In California, with the nation's most permissive medical marijuana laws, 185 cities and counties have banned pot dispensaries entirely. In New Jersey, perhaps the most restrictive of the 17 states that have legalized marijuana for sick people, some groups planning to sell cannabis are struggling to find local governments willing to let them in.

Dispensaries have also been banned in parts of Colorado and have run into opposition in some towns in Maine.

Local politicians have argued that pot is still illegal under federal law, that marijuana dispensaries bring crime, and that such businesses are just fronts for drug-dealing, supplying weed to people who aren't really sick.

Cities and towns are prohibiting dispensaries outright or applying zoning ordinances so strict that they amount to the same thing. The ordinances typically set minimum distances between such businesses and schools, homes, parks and houses of worship.

January 12, 2012 at 10:29 PM | Permalink


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There seems to be relatively consistent resistance to the cannabis industry from police department spokespersons across the nation. This may be due to the type of training which still prevails in state's which have decided to regulate cannabis use. In California rookie narcotics officers are required to take course work offered through the California Narcotics Officers Association. This organization vehemently denies any medical efficacy from marijuana and advocates that the cannabis movement is a fraud. One lone exception is Los Angeles Chief of Police Charlie Beck. He opined, at a hearing on dispensary regulation, that "well run" dispensaries were not involved with increased crime rates, but that any business that dealt largely with cash sales could prove tempting to criminals. To back up his contentions, he had an internal survey compiled which determined that banks were robbed twice as often as cannabis dispensaries even though they were out-numbered by the latter. This author performed a survey of local government officials in California where regulation had been in place for more than a year. Without exception, the opinion expressed was that there actions had reduced crime.

Posted by: b lange | Jan 13, 2012 8:21:10 AM

I recently graduated from Police Academy (2010) in a non-medical marijuana state.
We were taught to enforce the law.

As far as changing the law, police have found nationwide that the hard druggies nearly always consume pot as well, all to the detriment of themselves and of society.

According to a DOJ study (2009),
4%... of youth ages 12-17 who did not use marijuana sold drugs,whereas
45%.. of youth ages 12-17 who did use marijuana sold drugs.

Marijuana use was a better predictor than alcohol use of *every single delinquency studied*, i.e.:
1> school suspension,..2> vandalising property, 3> major theft,
4> attack / assault,.... 5> gang affiliation,
6> carrying handgun,.. 7> being arrested. ----------http://www.uscourts.gov/fedprob/June_2009/index.html].

Today in Colorado," U.S. prosecutors in Colorado started a crackdown against nearly two dozen medical marijuana dispensaries located within 1,000 feet of schools." Why would they be so coincidentally close to schools?

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 13, 2012 10:52:24 AM

I have always imagined that drug legalization would look more like the way that the sex-oriented trade is carried out than the way that the liquor trade is carried out. Stores selling marijuana would be concentrated in cities and areas that tolerate them, while other cities would work to exclude them altogether. Shops would be discrete places where people would pop in to buy marijuana and leave without hanging around, much like the local adult book store. I don't have a problem with that, although I expect that cities' resistance is based more on unfounded fear than anything else.


I tried to follow the link provided for the DOJ study, but it doesn't seem to work. I just get a "Page Not Found" and a generic menu for the Administrative Office of the US Courts. Is there an alternate link?

According to what you wrote, the DOJ (not exactly an unbiased observer) found that "marijuana was a better predictor than alcohol use" of delinquency. Perhaps that's because marijuana is illegal, so people who use it are already breaking the law and presumably would be less concerned about laws than people who refrain from marijuana use. I'd be surprised if children who sold marijuana did not also use it. And I would imagine that marijuana is a pretty good predictor of "being arrested", since people who possess it can be arrested simply because they possess it. I'm curious whether the study actually ventured a theory about the mechanism by which this association arose, because marijuana isn't exactly famous for making people suddenly want to go out and break laws. But I'd imagine that the association comes about for the same reason drug dealers tend to be so much more likely to resort to violence, extortion, and other criminal activity: by prohibiting marijuana, we've pushed its trade into the hands of criminals and made criminals out of the people who use it.

These studies are of little use if there's no control for comparison. If the DOJ doesn't compare its findings to a community where marijuana is legal, regulated, and where accurate information about it is disseminated, then it just has a bunch of rather useless statistics.

The closest thing we have to a control group is the country of Portugal, which has decriminalized drug possession and use (including "hard" drugs). Their experience has found rates of HIV infection "crashing" and overdoses dropping. There does not appear to be a corresponding rise in crime or delinquency, either. The DOJ would spend money wisely to conduct a similar study of Portugal and compare it to the United States, though cultural differences may make that comparison difficult.

Posted by: C.E. | Jan 14, 2012 6:52:03 AM

Nov 2008 DOJ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention,
"Juvenile Justice Bulletin"

I can email it to you if you provide an address.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 17, 2012 11:27:10 AM

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