"Marihuana sometimes gives man the lust to kill unreasonably and without motive," warned a 1936 anti-pot pamphlet. "Many cases of assault, rape, robbery, and murder are traced to the use of marihuana." Recently this theme has been revived by prohibitionists seeking to discourage states from legalizing marijuana. In my latest Forbes column, I consider the leading exhibit in their portrayal of cannabis as a murder catalyst:
Between 1911, when Massachusetts became the first state to ban marijuana, and 1937, when Congress made pot prohibition the law of the land, cannabis acquired a reputation as a "killer drug" that drove people to irrational acts of violence. Since 2012, when Colorado became the first state to repeal its ban on marijuana, that quaint notion has made something of a comeback, mainly due to the April 2014 death of Kristine Kirk, a 44-year-old Denver mother of three, at the hands of her husband, Richard.
Richard Kirk's shooting of his wife, which happened at their home during a 911 call in which she described his bizarre behavior after eating a piece of THC-infused taffy, is routinely cited by pot prohibitionists as an example of what other states can expect if they legalize marijuana. Kirk himself, who last week pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, seems keen to blame his actions on a product that his lawyers have suggested left him incapable of forming the intent required to be convicted of first-degree murder. But as is always the case when violence is attributed to a substance used by millions of people who never hurt a fly, the story is more complicated than the cautionary tale told by anti-drug propagandists.