Forum Debates Pros and Cons of Legalizing Marijuana Use

Sheriff Mike Boudreaux speaks at the Cafe 210 forum. Courtesy/Teresa Douglass/TCSO
Sheriff Mike Boudreaux speaks at the Cafe 210 forum. Courtesy/Teresa Douglass/TCSO

On April 11, during Cafe 210’s monthly community forum the legalization of marijuana was hotly debated. On the panel were Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, Tulare County Office of Education’s Craig Wheaton, Operating Manager of CannaCan Help Wes Hardin, CannaCan Help’s attorney Doug Hurt, and Lt. Steve Phillips of the Visalia Police Department.

The purpose of the forum was to discuss the legal, economic and law enforcement aspects of legalizing marijuana in California. Paul Hurley, of the Visalia Times-Delta, was the moderator and veered the discussion away from medical marijuana, focusing on the consequences and benefits of legalizing the recreational use of pot. Hurley said that 20 ballot initiatives were circulating the state right now trying to get enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. One of them will very likely succeed.

Those speaking in favor of legalization outnumbered those against, but the minority held their own. Sheriff Boudreaux was not biting when Doug Hurt repeated several times that no one ever declined a toke because it was illegal. Sheriff Boudreaux and Lt. Phillips were against the recreational use of marijuana and had the statistics to explain why.

Wes Hardin said that Colorado, where pot was legalized in 2013, has had an 89% reduction in arrests, a 9% reduction in property crime, and brought in $40 million in tax revenue last year.

“I don’t know where Wes gets his numbers, but I have different statistics,” said Boudreaux. “There is a significant drop in the age of marijuana users when it is legalized and a greater number of 12- to 18-year-olds smoking pot”

The legal age to smoke pot in Colorado and all states where it is legal is 21.

Boudreaux said marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 32% since Colorado legalized pot. Of all the traffic deaths, almost 20% were marijuana related, that compared to only 10% less than five years ago. Boudreaux continued by saying that marijuana-related emergency department visits increased 29% and that marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 38%. Marijuana-related calls to the Rocky Mountain Poison Center increased 72%.

While it may be legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska to use marijuana recreationally, it is still illegal nationally. Hardin said, even though marijuana is illegal in the eyes of the federal government, his company paid $112,000 in taxes last year and this year is going to be even better. Hardin said he would prefer that the business could use a bank. Being an all cash business puts CannaCan Help at a huge risk and not being able to use banks is the cause of much of the crime surrounding pot.

Lt. Phillips said that the increase in tax revenue would not be a fix-all to our problems.

“The money will not be beneficial to the extent that it will harm us,” he said.

Which initiative will actually be on the
November Ballot

Out of the 20 initiatives floating around California, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) endorsed by Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom is the most likely to succeed.

The AUMA is very similar to the one passed in Colorado, and it allows each county to decide if they want to be a dry county. Hardin said that one-third of the state has embraced the new law while the mountainous regions have not.

Right now Tulare County has approved of two pot dispensaries and residents can grow up to six plants for their personal medicinal use.

Tulare County has been treading water until the initiative passes in November, which it is predicted to do. At that time the state will create codes and guidelines and each county can decide if it wants to embrace the new law or not.

Currently, even though the use and limited cultivation of medical marijuana is legal in California, San Luis Obisbo and Kings Counties have kept it completely illegal.

Despite this, Hardin says that the production of marijuana is alive and well in California. That is exactly why Sheriff Boudreaux and Lt. Phillips are against the legalization of pot. Phillips said that out of 480 backyard pot grows they investigated, not one of them were within the state or county guidelines.

“If growers and users are not obeying the current ordinances, what makes you believe the new ordinances will be followed when pot is legal?” Phillips asked.

Both Phillips and Boudreaux said that when someone is in compliance with their use of medical marijuana then there are no arrests. But those cases are very few.

Most pot grows in Tulare County are criminal operations and Boudreaux has seen the murders that accompany them. Marijuana-related crimes have increased over the years, not decreased.

Boudreaux added that he wished that private citizens follow the laws that exist.

“I’m not here to be the moral police. My focus is on the safety of the community.” he said.

The Criminal Element

A member of the audience asked if the criminal element would go away once pot was legalized. While Boudreaux and Phillips said that decriminalizing pot would not solve all the problems, Hurt and Hardin said it would solve many.

Hurt said that one country, Portugal, has decriminalized drugs across the board.

Decriminalizing drugs means that no one’s life will be ruined because of an arrest on their record. When someone does not get hired because of a felony drug conviction that hurts society and the economy, said Hurt.

Though medical marijuana was not part of the forum, Hurt and Hardin wanted to remind the audience that marijuana is a medicine that helps cancers, immune diseases, seizures and chronic pain.

“That’s why I got into pot, because I think that maybe I will help someone today get their quality of life back,” said Hardin.

Hardin said, “We need to stop the ideological battle of reefer madness and realize that alcohol and prescription pills are the destructive drugs, not pot.”

Hurt added that he can’t think of one person who was buried because of smoking pot, “but we all know someone, or know of someone who has died because of prescription pills. Eat McDonald’s for a month – that will kill you.”

Phillips said no one is arguing about the medical benefits of marijuana. What Boudreaux and Phillips object to is the recreational use of marijuana.

“There will be a huge price to pay if California legalizes pot just like all the problems surrounding alcohol,” he said.

Both Phillips and Boudreaux did not explain why, but they both believe that drug cartels will not go away if pot is legalized and may actually increase. They felt that if pot is legal, it would be creating a black market. They do not believe that legalization will not decrease criminal activity.

Boudreaux added that we have no idea what impact legal marijuana will have on road safety. He felt that serious injury accidents or death will double if the pot initiative passes.

Hardin and Hurt did not agree. They said that businesses involved with marijuana don’t want the criminal element around and would work with law enforcement to rid the county of cartels. Hardin said that cartel product could not make it on his shelves and that all the pot he sells has a documented provenance.

“CannaCan Help has strict quality control of their product,” he said.

They test for potency, pesticides, and possible undesirable microbes. Anything grown by a cartel would not pass muster.

Hardin added that prices would drop after legalization and the cartels will move on to another drug. The incentive will be gone.

Hardin said, “I’ll leave with you with this. Legalization can be done and will be done. We need to do this responsibly and shake hands instead of shaking fingers.”

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