Cannabis prohibition does more harm than good

Cecily Friday Shamim | The Tennessean

In 2016, with 23 states allowing some form of medical cannabis and three states legalizing recreational use, in addition to the District of Columbia, it’s hard to believe that we are still spending taxpayer dollars on arresting and incarcerating people for cannabis.

The latest Gallup poll in 2015 showed 58 percent support in the the-tennessean-squarelogo-1424241966785United States for full legalization of cannabis. Given this, it’s important to understand what the continuation of prohibition means for our communities. What are the costs of maintaining these policies?

For Josh Hill of Texas, cannabis prohibition turned into a nightmare for him and his family.

Hill had confessed to child welfare services that he smoked cannabis in the evening after his child was in bed. They removed his daughter, Alex, who was placed into foster care, only to be killed by her caregiver. [More on this story here.]

Veteran Andrew Schwab’s four children were seized by the state of Kansas because he had attempted to move to Colorado in order to treat his PTSD with medical cannabis. He is still fighting the state of Kansas in the courts to get his children back.

In Tennessee, Michael Brooks’ children were seized due to his use of cannabis oil to treat his Hepatitis C. Before he used cannabis oil, Brooks’ condition became so severe that he was bleeding from his eyes as a result of a secondary condition.

He was using all the traditional pharmaceuticals prescribed by his doctor to no avail. When he began using cannabis oil, he experienced a dramatic improvement and was able to get off all his prescription medications. Brooks has discontinued his treatment using cannabis oil in order to regain custody of his children. His symptoms have returned.

Certainly in cases where legitimate concerns of neglect and/or abuse are present, the welfare of a child should be paramount. But if the sole reason is cannabis, should that be considered endangerment? Ask the many Colorado residents who also happen to be parents if this is an issue with responsible users.

Another danger posed by prohibition is the use of lethal means to enforce the laws. In Florida, the family of Jason Wescott is seeking justice after he was killed in a SWAT team raid executed at his home over $2 worth of cannabis. He was unarmed. In South Carolina, 19-year-old Zachary Hammond was shot in the back twice by a police officer conducting a cannabis bust.

Confidential informants are another tool used by law enforcement in the war on cannabis.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance “informants work for law enforcement, often secretly, to entrap people on drug charges in exchange for a reduction of their punishment.”

Andrew Sadek, a college student caught selling $80 worth of cannabis, was turned into an informant after making a deal with law enforcement to avoid a 40-year sentence. Sadek was forced to make arrangements to sell cannabis to three other people. He was found later in a river with a bullet wound to the head.

In a similar situation, 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman, who had recently graduated from Florida State, was turned informant after, according to reports, “she was busted with marijuana and Ecstasy.”

Hoffman was sent alone on a “buy and bust” and was given $13,000 to buy Ecstasy, cocaine and a gun. The men shot Hoffman five times and dumped her body into a ditch. There are no known deaths attributed to the consumption of cannabis.

Not only does cannabis prohibition pose a risk to consumers, it puts law enforcement at greater risk.

Similarly, when alcohol prohibition began, there was a significant spike in violence toward law enforcement.

This begs the question: Does cannabis prohibition actually do more harm than good? The results of enforcing these laws have made the answer to that question evident.

Cecily Friday Shamim is the executive director for the Tennessee Cannabis Coalition.