All things considered, 2018 has been a pretty good year for weed in the United States. As Reason's Scott Shackford noted yesterday, Michigan and Vermont both legalized marijuana for recreational use, while Oklahoma, Utah, and Missouri all approved medical marijuana use. Plus, many places are working on expunging the criminal records of those convicted for marijuana-related crimes. And according to a Gallup poll from October, 66 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization.
But it hasn't been all good, man. Around the country, there are policymakers and law enforcement officials who want to keep arresting cannabis users, growers, and sellers, and some of them will say just about anything to preserve the status quo.
Here are 17 of 2018's most ridiculous overreactions to weed:
1. Kansas state rep: Pot is illegal because of African Americans' "character makeup" and "genetics."
Kansas state Rep. Steve Alford (R–District 124) started poorly and just kept digging. "Any way you say it, marijuana is an entry drug into the higher drugs," he said in January. (Spoiler: No, it's not.) "What you really need to do is go back in the '30s, when they outlawed all types of drugs…What was the reason why they did that?" he asked.
"One of the reasons why, I hate to say it, was that the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off to those drugs just because of their character makeup, their genetics and that. And so basically what we're trying to do is we're trying to do a complete reverse with people not remembering what has happened in the past."
Everyone in this blog is now dumber for having read that. Sad fact: Blacks and whites currently consume marijuana at similar rates, but blacks are much more likely to be arrested for it.
2. Jeff Sessions falsely claims that opioid addiction starts with weed.
At a Heritage Foundation event in February, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed weed is a gateway drug to prescription opioid and heroin addiction. "We don't think illegal drug use is 'recreation.' Lax enforcement, permissive rhetoric and the media have undermined the essential need to say no to drug use," he said. Sessions went on to point out the relationship between prescription opioid abuse and heroin addiction. "We think a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs, too," he added.
At the time, Reason's C.J. Ciaramella took note of six studies that say otherwise. You can read about them here.
3. Rep. Joe Kennedy (D–Mass.) suggests legalizing weed would make it harder for authorities to conduct questionable searches.
Before he came out in support of weed legalization last month, Kennedy was not shy about his concerns. Namely, that it would be harder for prosecutors to try cases where cops searched a defendant's car because they smelled weed. "When we decriminalized" weed in Massachusetts, Kennedy told Vox's Ezra Klein in April, "it actually had a pretty big consequence for the way that Massachusetts prosecutors went about trying cases in terms of—because an odor of marijuana was, at last initially, because marijuana was an illegal substance, if you smelled it in a car, you could search a car."
"When it became decriminalized you couldn't do that," he added. "So that was the way that we hadn't—the base case that prosecutors used to search cars for under cover contraband, guns, knives, a whole bunch of other stuff, all of that got thrown out the window."
To paraphrase: The problem with legalizing weed is that it gives police one less reason to harass you.
4. Illinois police dog trainer: Legal weed could force us to kill our drug dogs.
On the list of bad reasons to keep marijuana illegal, this has to rank near the top. According to Chad Larner, training director of a police K-9 academy in Illinois, many K-9 units aren't trained to be social. As a result, legal weed could leave them with little to do, meaning they'd have to be euthanized, as Larner said in May.
Larner's comments sparked a firestorm of controversy. His boss, Decatur Police Chief James Getz, had to assure the Chicago Tribune that "it was a bad choice of words" and that "there are so many uses for these dogs."
5. NYPD officer says lax enforcement of marijuana laws makes him afraid to arrest people for no reason.
It's borderline incomprehensible, but make what you will of this tweet sent out by a New York Police Department (NYPD) union in May:
Now @ Penn Station a man is on the steps as hundreds of people pass smoking marijuana. With over 20 years as a cop I wondered should I arrest him, what if he's illegal, will I get in trouble if he resist, oh Community policing? Will the NYPD back me? NOT! So I justed walked away. pic.twitter.com/B9Ty0tRpMG
— SBA (@SBANYPD) May 18, 2018
The officer's complaint appeared to stem from an announcement earlier in the month that the Manhattan District Attorney's Office would stop prosecuting marijuana possession cases. Also, the New York Daily News had reported that NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio was getting ready to tell the NYPD not to arrest people for smoking weed. As Shackford noted, the man in the photo didn't appear to be harming anyone. The officer seemed to simply be upset that he could no longer arrest people for minding their own business.
6. Michigan police took an 80-year-old great grandmother to jail because her medical marijuana card had expired.
A Clare County sheriff's deputy showed up at 80-year-old Delores Saltzman's porch in June for completely unrelated reasons (Saltzman's great granddaughter had lost her phone and ID). But she smelled weed, and Saltzman's explanation—that she was a medical marijuana patient with an expired recommendation—wasn't good enough. Saltzman was handcuffed and hauled off to jail for the night.
The charges were eventually dropped after Saltzman renewed her medical marijuana card. Still, it's highly troubling that the deputy didn't have the common sense not to arrest a harmless octogenarian for having cannabis in her own home.
7. Pennsylvania police killed a man with a bulldozer over 10 marijuana plants.
In July, Pennsylvania State Police found a 10-plant marijuana "grow" operation on state lands, along with two suspects. When one of the suspects fled into the brush, a trooper commandeered a bulldozer and tried to follow him. At one point, the trooper told the worker driving to stop, which is when they found the suspect's body underneath the bulldozer.
The death was clearly accidental. However, it would not have happened if police had not chased the man with a piece of construction equipment over some weed.
8. New Jersey politician warns that if pot is legalized, dispensaries will sell "sex toy oils with marijuana."
A quick Google search reveals that people have indeed tried infusing sex toy oils with marijuana. New Jersey state Sen. Ron Rice (D–District 28) seemed to think this is a problem. If weed is legalized for recreational use in the state, Rice told NJTV in July, there will "be stores that do retail selling of cupcakes with marijuana, candies with marijuana, sex toy oils with marijuana, lipsticks with marijuana—all those kinds of products that kids can get and people can get."
In an email to the Washington Examiner, he said he was worried about "marijuana infused oils, not toys." Though one has to wonder why he made the connection between sex toys and marijuana oils in the first place.
9. California police chief says legal weed could lead to "arrests and homicides."
The majority of cities and counties in the state have banned weed sales since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana. A proposal currently under consideration could remedy this, as it would allow marijuana businesses to deliver weed straight to people's doorsteps, even in places where it's illegal to sell pot.
But Morgan Hill Police Chief David Swing, president of the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA), is not a fan. "This will make it easier and more lucrative to rob a delivery person than a liquor store," Swing told the Los Angeles Times in September, explaining that the proposal would permit delivery drivers to carry as much as $10,000 in cash apiece. "Robberies are the tip of the iceberg. They can lead to other crimes, including aggravated assaults and homicides."
The possibility that delivery drivers will be robbed of cash is a great reason to legalize cannabis banking, which would allow them to conduct transactions the way Uber does. It is a terrible reason to prohibit people from buying pot.
10. Heroic Florida cops prevent a beach-comber from scoring some free weed.
Back in September, roughly 100 pounds of weed mysteriously washed up on several Florida beaches. After Robert Kelley and others tried to take some of the weed off one of the beaches, an onlooker called police. The cops showed up and eventually found 11 pounds of marijuana in Kelley's car. They arrested him and accused him on Facebook of stealing, even though the weed's real owner had yet to come forward. As Reason's Zuri Davis sarcastically pointed out, local residents were able to "sleep soundly…knowing that a hardened beach-comber is off the streets."
11. New Jersey sheriff slams black people for smoking weed.
After New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy was sworn into office, Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino disparaged the new governor's January inauguration speech, particularly taking issue with his views on criminal justice reform.
"[Murphy] talked about the whole thing, the marijuana, sanctuary state…better criminal justice reform," Saudino said. "Christ almighty, in other words let the blacks come in, do whatever the fuck they want, smoke their marijuana, do this, do that, and don't worry about it. You know, we'll tie the hands of cops."
12. Jamaican musician gets eight-year sentence for weed he says he bought legally.
After being busted last year while driving though Mississippi with three pounds of weed, Jamaican-American musician Patrick Beadle claimed he had bought the marijuana legally in Oregon. He was eventually charged with drug trafficking (despite little evidence) and convicted in July. In October, Beadle was sentenced to eight years behind bars without the possibility of parole.
Even if Beadle had bought the marijuana illegally and planned to sell it, eight years is a disproportionately long sentence. He did not harm a person nor damage any property. Yet he and his family will lose nearly a decade of his life for the high crime of traveling through the wrong state with several pounds of dried plant matter in his car.
13. Don't legalize weed because, well, children!
A tavern owner in Staten Island, New York, is worried that legalizing marijuana for recreational use will "be a disaster." In an October op-ed for SILive.com, Larry Liedy said he was concerned about the creation of "a drug culture I don't think we are ready for."
"Young people in their early teens, and even younger, will be blatantly subjected to people smoking pot around them. They will be subjected to dealers looking to entice them into the drug world," he wrote. "Do our kids really need more negative influences?"
Liedy also expressed concern that when legal dispensaries close at night, black market "dealers will be out in full force." His argument makes complete sense as long as you don't think about it. "Dealers will be able to raise their prices twice as much as the legal clinics because of the desire and the need to get high. This will create a major profitable black market for the sellers," he wrote. "This creates a field day for the suppliers. Other countries, like Canada, Cuba and Mexico, will be importing illegal marijuana to our borders and ports. We now have a drug culture. Our children will now be in jeopardy."
That's not quite accurate. As Reason's Jacob Sullum pointed out in 2014, survey data from Colorado showed that marijuana legalization did not lead teenagers to smoke more pot. And while it's conceivable that legalized weed could lead to increased underage consumption in some places, that's still no reason to ban it. As Sullum argued in 2016: "If Americans were denied access to everything that is appropriate only for adults, we would all be reduced to the status of children."
14. NASA ordered a SpaceX safety probe because Elon Musk smoked some weed.
In September, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk took a hit from a joint during an appearance on comedian Joe Rogan's podcast. He wasn't breaking the law, as the podcast is taped in California. But his behavior "rankled" some high-level officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), The Washington Post reported last month. The paper said his actions "prompted the agency to take a close look at the culture of" two companies it contracts with: Musk's SpaceX, as well as Boeing.
It's unclear why the safety probe was even necessary. There's no evidence to suggest that Musk or any of his SpaceX employees go to work high. Plus, Musk was merely lighting up (and legally doing so) on his own time. Had he done the same in private (maybe he does, who knows?), NASA probably wouldn't have found out or cared.
15. Comical report says the financial costs of marijuana legalization far outweigh the benefits.
"For every dollar gained in tax revenue," Colorado Christian University's Centennial Institute claimed in a report last month, "Coloradans spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the effects of legalization."
There are a host of reasons why the report is misleading, which you can read about here.
16. Florida's Joe Arpaio says weed is killing people every day.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd declared on Fox & Friends earlier this month that marijuana is killing people daily. "There absolutely is a price to pay for pot," he said. "It's not a minor, nonviolent felony. It's ruining families and killing people every day across the United States."
Judd provided no evidence to back up his claim, probably because there isn't any. Though it's possible to overdose on weed, the Drug Enforcement Agency said in 2017 that "no deaths from overdose of marijuana have been reported." Judd made some other cringeworthy claims during the segment, which is really worth a watch if you need a laugh. You can read more about it here.
17. Michigan police stole a woman's car over $10 worth of weed.
In July, Crystal Sisson of Detroit visited a medical marijuana dispensary and bought about $10 worth of weed. It didn't take long for Wayne County Sheriff's deputies, who had watched her go in, to pull her over. The cops found the weed and issued her a citation for "illegally occupying a place where controlled substances are sold." They also seized her car, which she had to pay $1,200 to get back. Earlier this month, Sisson filed a civil lawsuit against Wayne County, alleging that her rights had been violated.