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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Medical Marijuana and the Drug War

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Medical Marijuana and the Drug War

I will begin with a disclaimer.  My views on the correct role of government in establishing and enforcing drug laws are convoluted and probably not consistent.  As a self described libertarian, I do not want to limit legal activity to those that I don't find offensive.  Even though I believe recreational drug use is both morally wrong and stupid, I would not have a problem with either decriminalizing or legalizing drug use if drug use were limited to adults.  With only personal experience as a guide, I believe that most drug users begin as teenagers.  Most teenagers seem to grow out of usage, but some do not, continuing drug use into adulthood.  In a world of perfect government, parents and government would combine to stop youth consumption while allowing adult use. 

Creating a dual standard based on age would be difficult enough, but the California legislature recently made enforcement even more difficult by establishing a second criterion based on medical need, not age.  The legislature liberalized state law governing the use of medical marijuana requiring counties to issue medical marijuana cards to patients.  While determining age is straight forward, medical need is not.  My guess is that any determined marijuana user who wants a card will get one.  Competitive markets in medicine will see to that.  Two counties, San Bernardino and San Diego, have been fighting the law and as the song goes, they "fought the law and the law won."  Sandra Emerson writes in "Fontana man gets pot back after unjust bust," for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of July 7, 2009 that
[Jason] Monroe was pulled over in November by sheriff's officers in Rancho Cucamonga. They searched his car and confiscated $430 cash and the marijuana, which Monroe uses to combat chronic back pain resulting from a off-road motorcycle accident.

With the help of a public defender, Monroe's case was dismissed.
"I had literally three years of medical marijuana prescriptions. . . I had all my medical records to present to (the court) - everything I needed to legally show that I was in legal possession of my marijuana, and they dismissed my case," Monroe said.

A judge ruled at a later hearing for the police to return Monroe's money and marijuana...

Monroe is the first person in San Bernardino County to get marijuana returned to him after it was confiscated by police.

"Here, let it be told, in San Bernardino County, things have changed and it's legal now," said Monroe, who has been a medical marijuana recipient for the past three years...
Assume that Monroe never rode motorcycles and that the accident was a ruse to get a medical marijuana identification card as an insurance policy against police detection.  The policy implications are clear and do not depend on the accuracy of my assumption; someone will fake injury to get a card.  Uninjured people who would sell or smoke marijuana if it were legal have a way to buy into the legal system.  Feign injury, complain of pain to a willing doctor, and get a medical marijuana identification card. 

Did Monroe open the flood gates?  I doubt it.  It would be too much work for a casual user; a few sellers might find it worthwhile.  Legalized medical marijuana use complicates enforcement making it marginally more difficult to enforce and a little less sensible. 

1 comment:

  1. Andi Thomas27/4/11 7:22 PM

    Note: I have never used drugs but I know many people that have and have done extensive research in the past. I find it ridiculous in a way that stories like this have made it to the big news. I too have varying opinions on drugs and laws regarding them. However, I do feel that there are some drugs that should be legalized and drugs that should never be anything but outlawed. Marijuana is such a silly drug to be fighting over. There are absolutely no addictive chemicals in marijuana to make anyone become addicted or out of their head from using it. In fact, what it does is trigger your “happy” nerves. It is proven that it can lower one’s stress level and reduce their pain levels as well, without hindering you mentally. It’s not like drinking 10 beers and then driving. It’s also not like taking toxic levels of morphine and either passing out or killing yourself. In fact, it’s one of the few drugs that you can NOT overdose on. So in my opinion, it SHOULD be legalized.