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Guest Op/Ed: To Serve and Protect


When I became a police officer, I thought I was going to serve and protect the public. I wanted to defend the vulnerable and punish those who threaten society. After more than three decades of service, my perspective on the role police should play in society didn't change. What did change was my perception of the role public policy plays in protecting and serving the people of our society. Police are sworn to enforce the law, so they can only be as ethical as the laws they enforce. And I believe the laws criminalizing medical marijuana are among the least ethical there are. They have no place in a free society.

As long as medical marijuana remains illegal, police are duty-bound to treat patients, their caregivers and the dispensary owners who risk imprisonment in order to help people feel better—like criminals. Officers enter their homes and arrest them for providing medical care many doctors, including CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta and TV’s Dr. Oz, believe has real potential in the treatment of serious illness. And every time they do it, many of us wonder the same thing: “Why are politicians dictating how these people treat their ailments? Shouldn’t their medical care be decided by doctors and by the patients themselves rather than by police and legislators?”

More than forty years of a failed drug war and a brief flirtation with criminalizing alcohol has proven that prohibition does not reduce use. What it does do is guarantee profits to organized crime, incentivize criminals to turn to force in order to protect their market share, waste law enforcement time and make users less safe than they would be under a system of regulation. You'd think we would have learned that lesson already, but as Mark Twain said, “history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” People — especially patients who use marijuana to treat medical conditions — will continue to use it regardless of the law. If we acknowledge this, the best policy approach then becomes to legalize and regulate marijuana for the benefit of public health and safety.

We have safety regulations for most medicines, but in states where medical marijuana is illegal, producers aren’t required to do any quality control or safety evaluations, and it is sometimes adulterated with other drugs or harmful chemicals. Worse, many patients are forced to venture into the dangerous illicit market in order to acquire their medicine. We're talking about very sick people. We're talking about the elderly. We're talking about veterans who fought for this country and came back deeply emotionally scarred.

In the states where medical marijuana is now legal, on the other hand, dispensaries test and label the medicine for potency and purity so consumers know exactly what they’re getting. Patients go to licensed providers regulated by the state where they know what they're putting into their bodies will be untainted with other substances. They can feel safe and accepted, not ostracized and endangered, for pursuing the treatment they feel is most effective.

Creating a legal medical marijuana system would also allow the state to collect revenue through licensing and fees. That money should go into state coffers, where it can fund public safety, treatment and education, rather than into the pockets of violent international drug cartels and the street gangs responsible for much of the violence on our streets.

By repealing these unworkable, harmful laws, we can re-assert law enforcement's role of protecting people from other people, rather than from themselves. Legalizing medical marijuana will let us focus on violent crimes like murder and rape while stopping the inhumane practice of arresting those who merely want to help very ill people feel better in whatever way they can.

If you believe it's better for patients to have safe access to effective medication without fear of repercussions, and for police to spend their time fighting real crimes, the solution is to legalize and regulate medical marijuana. Please support Amendment 2.

Major Neill Franklin (Ret.) was a police officer for 34 years and is now executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of cops, judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs.


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