The Low Down On Getting High In MO

By: 
Joyce Coates
County Reporter
As of noon on Monday, December 30, 2019, there were 26 people held in the Benton County Jail--six women and 20 men. Among them, ten were arrested on drug-related charges, either as the sole offense or in combination with others; three females between 19 and 38 years old, and ten men ranging in age from 18 to 42. 
Awaiting their days in court, one woman and four men have court dates scheduled within the first two weeks of January 2020, including one awaiting transportation to a mental health facility for treatment to determine his ability to stand trial. Two men have court hearings in early February 2020. To date, there is no information on courts.mo.gov/casenet about court dates for the other man and two other women. 
For this Part II in the Enterprise series on the jail, crimes and arrests and the people involved, Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox shared his professional take on the laws and the impact of the recent legalization on medical marijuana. Part I drew from the sheriff’s weekly reports for a snapshot of criminal activity in the county (“New Jail Will House Variety of Offenders,” December 5, 2019), and showed most arrests are for drug-related offenses.
Sheriff Knox explained how possession and use of marijuana is a crime that carries penalties based in part on volume. For instance, possession and use of 10 grams or less is a misdemeanor resulting in payment of a fine. However, possession of any amount packaged for sale or distribution is a felony, as is possession of 35 grams for use, sale or other distribution. 
On its “Marijuana and Public Health” webpage, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that most marijuana users do not go on to harder drugs. The Sheriff agrees, saying for the most part, many marijuana “purists” are naturalists who do not like hard drugs. Some hard drug users, he added, use marijuana to come down off a methamphetamine high. No doubt, among all the illegal drugs, marijuana is the most available and accessible. Sheriff Knox acknowledges that it is widely used, even if discreetly, by people of all ages, from teenagers to the elderly. Of course, they reduce the likelihood of being detected and arrested by staying off public sidewalks, streets and highways.
Unfortunately, statistics from states where recreational use has been legalized prove marijuana’s negative impact on public safety. Traffic accidents have increased by 60 percent in Colorado since legalization, according to information Sheriff Knox learned from sheriffs there. Even though drivers high under marijuana often drive slower, for instance by 20 miles under the speed limit as Sheriff Knox has observed, their response time is also slower. Much the same as drivers who become extremely high under the influence of alcohol, drivers extremely high from marijuana bobble and weave along the roads and highways, cut across lanes and center lines, and misjudge distance and space. They put themselves and other drivers at risk. A primary difference in the types of “high” is that drunk drivers are more prone to violence, less cooperative with law officers than drivers under the influence of marijuana. Another difference lies in a law officer’s ability to detect level of intoxication (how “high”) in alcohol-influenced drivers based on a standardized .08 percent, whereas there is no comparable measurement for THC levels from marijuana. But the three field sobriety tests are the same for drivers under alcohol or marijuana impairment: the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand. (FYI: “nystagmus” means rapid involuntary movements of the eye.)
Law officers are trained to recognize symptoms of impaired driving, but only about 200 Missouri officers are specially trained “Drug Recognition Experts”—far too few to respond to the thousands of accidents involving impaired drivers each year—about 7,000 in Missouri in 2018. 
Legalized medical marijuana brings new responsibilities, if not problems, for Missouri law enforcement officers, significantly increasing their workload. Sheriff Knox said drug possession is often discovered during routine traffic stops, or when serving subpoenas at residences. Marijuana’s distinctly pungent odor makes detection easier, yet when anyone with a medical marijuana card presents it, s/he cannot be arrested for possession, or detained without other probable cause. A medical marijuana card does not defend against moving violations or driving under the influence of alcohol or marijuana.
Research over the last several decades, and regular pharmaceutical use of cannabis until the 1930s, supports claims about the medicinal benefits of the non-addictive portion of marijuana plants—CDB. Mothers of children with ADHD, epilepsy, autism; military personnel suffering from PTSD; victims of serious and sometimes terminal diseases, among others, swear by the benefits of cannabis. 
As Sheriff Knox points out, although medical marijuana is legal in Missouri, there are limitations. Cardholders can legally cultivate six (6) plants, and eight (8) ounces maximum product. However, one plant produces one pound of marijuana; six plants produce six pounds--but the limit is 8 ounces! What should the legal individual grower do – destroy the excess? Maybe so, but rather, a black market is born. Possession of amounts over the maximum, or sale or other distribution of marijuana are still illegal offenses subject to arrest. The state regulates and handles the administrative side of legal medical marijuana statutes, but local police and sheriffs in all Missouri’s counties are left to enforce the law as it is. Law enforcement must deal with the complexities created by the new regulations, and as well, the rise of another criminal element created by the new rules.
Several states have passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana, and decriminalizing marijuana. As Sheriff Knox noted, as two-thirds of the states go, so follows the federal government. The number of states legalizing marijuana grows steadily; the District of Columbia and the following states have legalized recreational marijuana: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Six states with initiatives aiming for legalization in 2020 include Missouri, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, South Dakota, and New Jersey.
Still illegal at the federal level, DEA.gov (2019) lists marijuana under 21 U.S.C. §813 among Schedule I drugs: “drugs, substances, or chemicals with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” 
Nevertheless, on November 2, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee under Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), passed The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019.  If passed by the full House and Senate and signed by the President, the Act would remove cannabis (marijuana) from the controlled substance list and require all federally sentenced marijuana convictions be expunged. Further, if passed as proposed, a 5 percent tax on state-legal cannabis sales would be used to provide loans and grants to related businesses; i.e., dispensaries, etc., and in state with legal medical marijuana, Veterans Affairs doctors could prescribe marijuana.
Think about the number of persons arrested or serving time before arraignment, pre-trial or trial hearings, etc., for drug-related offenses, about the unsatisfactory quality of their lives and their failure to contribute to their families and the community.  About the impact that laws and the legislative trends at the state and federal level are having in terms of public safety, the economy, and the burdens on our dedicated but underpaid and overworked law enforcement personnel. 
The time may be now for concerned citizens in or out of Benton County Jail to give serious attention to these issues.  
 

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