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Dave Kolb: As legal use of marijuana rises, illegal use rises, too

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opinion Grand Forks,North Dakota 58203 http://www.grandforksherald.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/field/image/033014.C.GFH_.pot1_.jpg?itok=icEjRDbi
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Dave Kolb: As legal use of marijuana rises, illegal use rises, too
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

ST. PAUL — Police, sheriffs and county attorneys have been united in their opposition to medical marijuana. But why?

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The reason is because medical marijuana laws make marijuana more available to all segments of society. This is illustrated in the graph on Page F3, which shows a higher percentage of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 smoking marijuana on a regular basis in states with medical marijuana laws.

Of course, studies and data always are questioned or answered with conflicting data; so, let’s revert to the common sense of cops on the street.

Medical marijuana laws make it legal for people to grow marijuana, possess marijuana and transport marijuana. Cops know that legal transportation of marijuana immediately and easily will be abused as cover for illegal transportation and sale. This creates an environment where all marijuana is more accessible to everyone.

That’s why every state with a medical marijuana law has more kids smoking pot than Minnesota; every single one of them.

No matter what kind of limits are attempted through dispensaries or controls imposed on how it is consumed, once marijuana reaches a “patient,” it is simply a bag of pot in a car. At that point, no one — including the police — can determine where it came from or where it’s going.

The “legal” container becomes the preferred transportation method of the “illegal” dealer; and the cop on the street is powerless to stop it.

Conversations about medical marijuana often turn into broader discussions about legalizing marijuana and comparing it to alcohol or other drugs. Cops would be the last people to deny the destructive effects of alcohol. They see those effects every day.

Instead, cops oppose expanded marijuana use because they don’t want to see more damage and more destruction. They’re seeing enough already. Some people who are high on marijuana do stupid and dangerous things, and the victims of those things deserve protection.

Medical marijuana laws aren’t necessarily abused by the unfortunate people suffering from diseases, the children with seizure disorders or terminal cancer patients. The laws are abused by the thousands of people who receive marijuana for questionable conditions in other states such as New Mexico or California.

According to Minnesotans for Compassionate Care (a pro-medical marijuana group), bills proposed in Minnesota were modeled after a law in New Mexico. In New Mexico, people with post traumatic stress disorder receive the largest share of marijuana prescriptions.

Cops are very familiar with PTSD. We’re not immune to it, and many of us have colleagues who have had to deal with it. And we are strongly encouraged to avoid alcohol when recovering from PTSD. Of all the strategies and treatments we recommend to our own colleagues to aid in recovery, getting drunk or high on marijuana have never been among them.

Smoking marijuana will trap people in their PTSD rather than help them recover. Labeling marijuana as “medicine” for this particular disorder may be more cruel than compassionate.  

Is there already marijuana in Minnesota? Of course, but a combination of education, treatment and enforcement has reduced its use.

Narcotics enforcement is not a “war” that is won or lost. It’s a continuing process to reduce supply and demand.

Marijuana already is a problem in Minnesota. Under the types of laws seen in other states, the problems would multiply, and more young people would be smoking pot.

Because we see the consequences of drug use, law enforcement is in a unique position to advocate for the people who will suffer the collateral damage of medical marijuana. That includes the additional teenagers who will be smoking pot, their families and their parents. It includes the automobile accident victim and the at-risk veteran who doesn’t recover from his PTSD.

People suffering from diseases deserve compassion as well. A truly “medical” approach would allow for extraction and processing of cannabinoids from marijuana plants in a controlled medical facility. These substances would be distributed in liquid or pill form. Dosages would be controlled without patients self-medicating, and no marijuana plant material would need to be unleashed into our communities.

Law enforcement does not object to such an approach. In February, GW Pharmaceuticals announced that the Food and Drug Administration granted a special designation called “orphan-drug status” to cannabis-based drug development for the treatment of child-onset epilepsy. One drug is called Epidiolex, and another is called Sativex.

Epidiolex was given orphan-drug status to begin testing on children with Dravet Syndrome. Sativex is in Stage III testing with the FDA for the treatment of cancer pain and also is being researched for multiple sclerosis.

Sativex is a spray, and Epidiolex is a liquid. Both have little or no hallucinogenic effect and are still high in cannabinoids.

Marijuana advocates have rejected this approach and insist that smoking marijuana must be allowed in a medical marijuana law. This logic is not applied to any other form of medicine. Opium has medical value when refined into morphine, but we don’t allow people to smoke opium. We also don’t allow people to produce opium or transport it freely around the state.

With research and a smarter approach, Minnesota has a chance to provide relief without the collateral damage suffered in other states. Law enforcement is not the obstacle to such a solution.

A Minnesota police chief, Kolb wrote this column as a member of the legislative committee of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. 

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