Pubdate: Mon, 09 Sep 2013
Source: Standard-Examiner (UT)
Copyright: 2013 Ogden Publishing Corporation
Author: Bubba Brown


As the pro-marijuana movement continues to gain national traction 
following an important concession from the Department of Justice, 
multiple local law enforcement agencies are adamant that enacting any 
measures to legalize the drug would mean treading down a dangerous path.

Recently, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the DOJ would 
not challenge state laws passed last year in Colorado and Washington 
state that allow the distribution and recreational use of marijuana. 
The announcement comes just months after a poll released by the Pew 
Research Center showed that a majority of Americans support 
legalizing the drug.

The tide shifting more in favor of legalization has certainly not 
escaped the attention of local police, some of whom say they'll do 
anything they can to make sure the marijuana laws in Utah never change.

"Will we fight to keep marijuana illegal in the state of Utah? 
Absolutely," said Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson. "Right to the 
bitter end, I'll fight to prevent that from coming into this state. 
There are so many social ramifications of it, as well as legal and 
criminal ramifications.

"I'll tell you, it's discouraging, the fact the Department of Justice 
is picking and choosing which federal law it wants to enforce or 
doesn't want to enforce."

Local police opposition to marijuana stems largely from a belief that 
if the drug were legalized, it would cause substantial harm to 
society. Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson pointed to problems in 
countries that permit the drug and said states that legalize it will 
soon begin to suffer from the same ills.

"When you talk about domestic violence, child abuse, economic and 
financial issues of needing that next fix or feeding that addiction, 
they're very prevalent in (countries that have legalized it)," he 
said. "These states that have legalized it recently haven't seen the 
affects of that yet, but undoubtedly they will.

"... Even as it is, with marijuana illegal, drug use and the need for 
that addiction to drugs contribute to so many crimes. Legalizing it 
would only aggravate that much further."

One of the largest societal problems police officers cite with 
marijuana is that it serves as a gateway drug. The belief is that 
legalization would not only mean more people using pot, but more 
people using harder, more dangerous drugs.

"I do a program in our jail, where we bring inmates in to talk to 
kids," Richardson said. "Every one of those inmates started somewhere 
with their drug problem, and guess what was the first drug they 
tried? They all start (with marijuana), and the theme is common 
across the board. It's not that these kids, 13 years old, walked in 
there and said, 'I'm going to try meth.' They don't do that. They 
start smoking dope."

However, advocates deny the gateway effect, as well as the idea that 
legalization would create more drug addicts. Many believe 
legalization would actually be a step toward solving societal 
problems associated with the drug.

"Continuing to put people in jail at great public expense is actually 
creating more problems than it's solving," said Morgan Fox, 
communication director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national 
legalization lobbyist organization. "I think a lot of these law 
enforcement officers, particularly, tend to exaggerate the harms 
associated with marijuana use. That's not to say it's completely 
harmless - no drug is - but the harms associated with marijuana are 
far less than other drugs and very much less than alcohol."

Additionally, Fox said, legalizing the drug would not necessarily 
mean an increase in marijuana users.

"What we've seen in other countries that have relaxed their marijuana 
laws is that they've seen a short spike in use rates that eventually 
levels off to use rates that are less than what they were before the 
change in law," he said. "I think we can expect to see the same thing 
here. But the point is that even an increase in marijuana use among 
responsible adults will not create many social ills at all - nothing 
that we can't avoid."

Of course, the marijuana argument also features another element - the 
drug's potential medical benefits. Both Richardson and Thompson agree 
that allowing medical marijuana leads down the same dangerous path as 
legalizing it for recreational use.

"I think that's a bunch of - I have not read one study that validates 
what they're purporting with medical marijuana, number one," 
Richardson said. "Number two, they can synthesize THC (the main 
psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) out of marijuana and use it in 
a capsule form and use it in a controlled pharmaceutical method. But 
they don't do that. What they want to do is get a license to smoke 
and give it to their buddies."

Thompson said he wouldn't argue with a doctor who prescribed 
marijuana or touted its medical benefits, but he worries medical 
marijuana could create dependency in users similar to prescription drugs.

"These people didn't want to become addicted to (prescription) drugs, 
but because of a legitimate injury or illness, they became addicted 
to prescription drugs," he said. "Legalizing marijuana is the same 
thing . I think it leads us down the wrong road. And that's just my 
personal opinion. I don't pretend to have all the answers."

Despite the national surge in support of legalization, it seems 
unlikely Utah will change its marijuana laws anytime soon. Local 
lawmakers, such as Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, have recently 
expressed opposition to legalization, and Thompson said he'd be 
surprised if marijuana is ever permitted in the state.

"I think Utah is a sensible state," Thompson said. "While our 
legislators have always done a few things that make us all go, 'What 
were they thinking?' on an overall picture, we have good legislators 
in Utah. They're really good people who are able to get past the 
emotion surrounding an issue and look at the facts. They have been 
sensible and reasonable. I believe that's why it's unlikely Utah will 
legalize marijuana."

However, if legalization ever happens in Utah, Richardson said, 
officers would double down on preventing associated crimes.

"Legalization of marijuana in the state would just mean we'd lose 
(the ability to fight) it on a certain level," he said. "You're still 
going to get associated downfalls with it. You're going to have DUIs 
and other associated crimes, and that's where we'd double and triple 
our effort."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom