COUNTERPOINT: Should Illinois legalize recreational use of cannabis?
No, police foresee problems like those being experienced in other states
By CHIEF JAMES R. KRUGER JR.
There are logical, data-driven reasons that the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police opposes the potential legalization of recreational marijuana. In short, we would anticipate more traffic fatalities, more accidents, and more petty crimes and more hospitalizations due to people under the influence. This is not what we want in Illinois.
The members of our association are responsible for the public safety and well-being of all the residents of travelers to our state. Legalization of marijuana presents an overall potential for an increase in crime. There has been much said by others about a potential reduction in crime based upon the belief that police officers will not be concentrating on lower-level marijuana possession arrests, thus allowing more time for the investigation of more serious criminal activity. But our Colorado and Washington colleagues have told us that the opposite is true. The gangs and drug cartels are criminal business enterprises and where there is the loss of one market, they will and have found another. We can only look to the fentanyl and opioid crisis to see that. The one law these criminals do follow is the law of supply and demand.
The second is the issue of public health. While we are not subject matter experts in that field, our colleagues have been approached by their businesses and chambers of commerce, where they have very close relationships, and have been told that the business owners in their communities are concerned with potential employee injuries and workers comp claims, leading to losses in productivity and erasing any potential increases in the alleged economic boost that recreational marijuana would bring to local economies. We must recognize that the TCH level in marijuana today is much greater than what it was 10 or 20 years ago and that with the availability of food containing marijuana, this also places children at risk.
The third and most worrisome issue expressed by our membership is traffic safety. We have analyzed the data coming out from Colorado since marijuana was legalized there, and we have spoken to chiefs as well as representatives from Rocky Mountain HIDTA (High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area). Fatal traffic crashes are on the rise in Colorado and unfortunately, they are also on the rise in Illinois without recreational marijuana. A recent article from the Denver Post cited that between 2013 and 2015, while the presence of alcohol in fatal crashes grew 17 percent, those testing positive for marijuana jumped by 145 percent. HIDTA Also found that of 394 highway vehicle seizures of Colorado cannabis, most were illegally diverted to five different states, of which Illinois was one.
While it has been widely reported that there is a field test or breathalyzer readily available for law enforcement to test whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana, thereby becoming a dangerous driver, our research continues to show that these instruments only show the presence of THC and not the actual nanogram levels in a person’s blood stream. Reliable field instruments are not ready yet and they are expensive, thus giving us the only option of taking a motorist to the hospital for a blood draw and waiting weeks for a lab result.
Another startling fact in the article is that a lab in Colorado that tests for marijuana found 80 percent of results were for active THC use within hours of when the sample was taken. That diminishes the argument of those who correctly say that because THC stays in the blood stream for a week, it is not evidence of a real risk to the motoring public.
To drive this point closer to home I want to relay an account from my own community taken directly from a recent police report:
“While conducting speed enforcement on northbound Rt. 83 at 31st St., I observed a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed. I activated my hand-held radar unit at the vehicle and it indicated the vehicle to be traveling at 79 mph in a posted 55 mph zone. I subsequently stopped the vehicle and made contact with the driver. As I spoke with him, I smelled a strong odor of cannabis coming from inside of the vehicle. I asked the driver to exit his vehicle and walk to the rear of it. I advised him of the odor of cannabis and he advised that there was no cannabis in the vehicle. While searching the vehicle, I located a clear plastic baggie, which contained a green leafy substance, inside of the center arm rest storage compartment. When I showed the baggie to him he advised that he thought he had gotten rid of ‘all of that.’
“I advised the driver that I would be issuing him some citations. He then asked if I would return the cannabis to him when I was done because it was ‘some good s—.’ I advised him that possession of cannabis was illegal, to which he replied that it was almost legal.”
Some proponents of recreational marijuana have drawn the comparison to prohibition. But I would respectfully ask you to not be lulled to the draw of fast easy money for instant gratification without any regard to the lasting effects or the unintended consequences. That’s called something entirely different.
For reasons of known public safety problems that would occur, along with unintended negative consequences that are likely with legalization of recreational marijuana, the Illinois Chiefs and chiefs in states where marijuana has been legalized all say that Illinois should wait at least until the outcomes in other places are better known and understood, because the early reports and data are not encouraging.
James R. Kruger Jr., is president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and chief of police in Oak Brook, Ill. He wrote this column at the request of the Illinois Business Journal