When a Cannabis Consumer Kills, Should Marijuana Take the Rap?

Pot prohibitionists turn a Colorado homicide into a misleading cautionary tale.


Denver Police Department

"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.

Read the whole thing.


NEXT: Birth of a Misconception: Underage Pot Smokers in Washington Are Not Felons

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  1. If having the munchies and wanting to take a nap “gives man the lust to kill unreasonably and without motive” then, yeah, it was teh weed.

    1. Yup. The biggest crime I’m ready to blame on marijuana use is a rash of thefts of Doritos and Ben and Jerry’s.

    2. To be fair, not everyone has the same reaction. Though murderous aggression is not one that I’ve seen.
      It is absurd to act like you can make any conclusions from one incident. It would make just as much sense to blame it on what he ate for lunch that day.

      1. It’s not a reaction I think I’ve seen from anybody. Or ever heard of.

        1. Erratic behavior? I’ve seen that plenty of times with marijuana use. The main reason I personally stopped smoking pot in college was because I became increasingly uncomfortable being high if I was in a setting where I was the only one who was high. Once I stopped, it was really easy to see who was high in those settings – based almost entirely on their behavior.

          It is a psychoactive drug. Different people will have different reactions – and the social context may also produce different reactions at different times for the same person.

      2. if you read the whole thing, even blaming the pot requires him to have psychological issues that a heavy dose of pot aggravated.

    3. or long periods of staring at clouds… or watching bad tv shows

      1. …wait….what?

        /looks for not-empty bag of Doritos

  2. Anything to avoid responsibility.

    1. Yeah. Of course the guy blames it on the weed. He’s on trial for murder and that’s the only defense he seems to have.

      1. That is the main issue here that I see. Whether ‘the weed made me do it’ actually works in court is probably up to his lawyers and kind of irrelevant.

        But the more serious question for legalization proponents is – would he have even been high that night if legalization hadn’t happened? I voted for legalization and still support it. I don’t see enough issues here in Colorado to have changed my mind. But there is little question in my mind — he would not have been high that night if legalization hadn’t happened. And enough concerns about what actually happened in this case – the way the family dispute purportedly unfurled – to simply dismiss it all as completely irrelevant. It is very very possible that Kristine Kirk is a victim of legalization. And that troubles me – on a personal level.

        1. much of this should work itself out, when a few reasonable standards are agreed to by the producers and/or demanded by the consumers. it is still too much of a novelty that you can get it legally, and they seem to emphasize maximum potency. one piece of candy probably shouldn’t make you see things, any more than one beer should get you drunk.

          1. That’s one issue.

            There’s also the issue that we all live in a social setting and we all have to make assumptions about what other people are likely to do in particular situations. That is part of life. When another driver on the road is doing unpredictable things, we call them impaired and recognize that that is a problem.

            In this case it was a domestic dispute. The burden of dealing with an impaired person fell entirely on Kristine Kirk. Whether she didn’t know what was happening or didn’t know how to deal with it or just made mistakes in dealing with it – I see no way that can be ‘fixed’ now or for anyone like her in future. She’s dead. The impaired person is not. That is profoundly unfair.

            If those who want legalization merely throw up our hands and say ‘Shit happens. Freedom is worth it.’ – how inhuman do we become? I’m not small-l libertarian because I believe in an ideology. I’m small-l libertarian (or classical liberal) because the only thing that matters to me personally is other individuals. Kristine Kirk has made me, personally, less certain about my beliefs/actions. And more intolerant of those who ignore an individual in deference to an ideology.

    1. The Original Pol Pot?

    2. Must be why he was into giving Cleveland Steamers

    3. I heart he latter switched to kettle.

  3. Pretty sure another drug that was banned in the 1910s is far more commonly abused prior to murders.

  4. 20 minutes… Nice response time there DPD.

  5. It looks to me like yellow t-shirts are the scourge.

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