Marijuana Prohibition Deadly

Radley Balko, responding to James Poulos, argues that criminalization of marijuana has been deadly:

Det. Jarrod Shivers is dead and Ryan Frederick’s life is ruined over the prohibition of pot. Officer Ron Jones is dead, and Cory Maye, once sentenced to be executed, now faces a life sentence because of marijuana prohibition. Cheryl Lynn Noel is dead because of pot prohibition. So are Jose Colon, Tony Martinez, 13-year-old Alberto Sepulveda, Willie Heard, Christie Green, Pedro Navarro, Barry Hodge, Salvador Hernandez, Donald Scott, Kenneth Baulch, Dep. John Bananola, Officer Tony Patterson, Vincent Hodgkiss, Anthony Diotaiuto, Clayton Helriggle, Jeffery Robinson, Troy Davis, Alexander “Rusty” Windle, John Hirko, Scott Bryant, Robert Lee Peters, Manuel Ramirez, and Bruce Lavoie. Deputies James Moulson and Phillip Anderson and suspect George Timothy Williams were all killed in a single marijuana raid in Idaho in 2001. Officer Arthur Parga and Manuel Ramirez (a different one) killed one another in another marijuana raid after a family friend suspected of dealing marijuana had incorrectly given police Ramirez’s address as his own.

These are just some of the deaths associated with marijuana raids (all summarized, with sources, here). Then there is the domestic black market violence that comes with marijuana prohibition. And the unnecessary deaths of sick people (like Peter McWilliams) who might have lived if they’d had access to medical marijuana.

Now, I don’t know about the last part.  While I support access to medical marijuana, I’ve never been under the impression that it was curative; rather, it allows people to cope with pain and improves appetite that’s suppressed by chemotherapy.

Of course, when one weighs the consequences of a public policy, both costs and benefits need to be factored in. And, as Poulos notes in an update to his post, the answer to drug raids that kill innocents may simply be to end stupid drug raids, not legalize the thing being raided.

Given that at least our last three presidents, some members of the Supreme Court, a goodly number of Congressmen and other officials all admittedly tried marijuana, however, it’s hard to argue that prohibition has been particularly effective.

Cartoon: Green Change

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Franklin says:

    Preaching to the choir. It’s hard to find any serious support for marijuana prohibition on the Internet.

  2. DL says:

    The idea that “they’ll do it anyway” has never been a sound basis for making something legal.

    Those early arguments for stopping back alley abortions have now produced a culture that has killed more than most nations controlled by evil despots. And now we elect a pro-infanticide president. Evil’s creep is perpetual and each “not so bad” step, is not the real goal.

  3. Jim Henley says:

    James, medical marijuana can enable patients to take medicine that is curative. In McWilliams’ case, medical marijuana kept him from vomiting up his retrovirals. (He was an AIDS sufferer.) Once forcibly prevented from smoking marijuana, he could no longer keep his medication down and he died in short order.

    Beyond the role of medical marijuana in keeping people alive, though, ameliorating the suffering of the sick and injured is a good in itself. My brother-in-law is well down the road of chemo treatment and cancer suffering (stage IV lymphoma). He’s not smoking marijuana to cope, but if marijuana (or heroin!) can help people in his position, I want that option to be available to them.

    As to Poulos’s update, I suppose someone that young can be that naive, but I still don’t think it speaks well of him. Medical-marijuana prohibition rests on a media-political culture dedicated to demonizing pot and pot-smokers. You can not sustain prohibition without (falsely) painting weed and its consumers with exaggerated horror. That demonization simply is going to lead to law-enforcement excesses. I thought conservatives believed that “ideas have consequences.”

  4. Floyd says:

    I balk at Balko’s assertion. The fact is…the use of Marijuana is ubiquitous and effectively legal through lack of enforcement.
    Of course… Any time you legalize something, you reduce crime by definition.

    The question remains… will dopers and sick people be allowed to smoke indoors, or will they have to join the freezing tobacco pariahs ten feet from the entrance with a punitive tax per joint? Remember when doctors touted the medical benefits of tobacco?

    Tragically, we have to deal with the deaths of innocents and police officers in every avenue of law enforcement,yet that does not constitute a legitimate call for anarchy.

  5. jimT says:

    DL –

    In a free society you should not have to have a reason to make something legal. The government should have a sound, thoughtful and defensible position for making something illegal. They do not.

  6. Franklin says:


    I find marijuana usage and abortion to be stunningly different arguments. One of them arguably violates somebody else’s rights.


  7. MM says:


    Putting aside your bizarre analogy, the argument is not to make it legal because “they’ll do it anyway”. The argument is to make it legal because every attempt to ratchet up the War on Drugs becomes increasingly destructive while having no real effect on demand.

    We are destroying lives and spending billions in tax dollars on marijuana enforcement, and there are absolutely zero positive results from this.

    While the Internet is not always an accurate arbiter of real world popularity (Ron Paul!), there is a very large and very real movement in this country that wants to see real change in how we address illegal drugs.

    However the only policy that any serious politician is allowed to have is “If drug use is up, we are losing the war and need more funding. If drug use is down, we are winning the war and need more funding”.

    Heck, just mention advocating drug treatment over jail as a politician and you’ll get hammered for being soft on crime.

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    And, as Poulous notes in an update to his post, the answer to drug raids that kill innocents may simply be to end stupid drug raids, not legalize the thing being raided.

    That only addresses part of the issue. The violence associated with black market trades would likely still remain.

  9. Drew says:

    Steve –

    I’m not sure I got your point. I’ll go first: I have long believed that the byproduct of Prohibition style drug enforcement has resulted in the very same social malformations that alcohol Prohibition created. Hence, I oppose it.

    Are you saying…:

    “The violence associated with black market trades would likely still remain.”

    ….that decriminalization would leave things in a similar state?

  10. Ben says:

    Now, I don’t know about the last part. While I support access to medical marijuana, I’ve never been under the impression that it was curative; rather, it allows people to cope with pain and improves appetite that’s suppressed by chemotherapy.

    Not curative James, but it does more than help appetite. Specifically in the case of McWilliams, it was being used to combat the nausea caused by the multitude of medications he was taking (for cancer and AIDS). Most of the accounts that have been released of the case state that his inability to smoke marijuana while awaiting sentencing caused him to not be able to keep his pills down, which was the direct cause of his death.

  11. Concerned Parent says:

    Three talking points for conversations with news people or politicians:
    1) Between the money spent on finding, arresting, prosecuting, and locking up marijuana users AND the lost opportunity for tax revenue on the individual’s purchase of this widely used product, our national pocketbook is losing out on tens of billions of dollars every year.
    2) To collect taxes from the grow-your-own community, we could consider a $100 per year permit for a dozen plants, splitting the proceeds between the Federal government and the participating State(s).
    3) It’s time to put the criminal drug dealers out of business and let ordinary Americans pay a fee to grow a little marijuana in their own back yards.

  12. Vaporizers says:

    Obama should know these things so he wouldn’t just give a good laugh at it on tv…

    Legalization for medical marijuana!!!