On Oct. 13, police responded to a Santa Rosa home due to a report from a witness that shots were fired. The police raided the home and discovered an estimated 230 lbs of marijuana in various stages of processing and several firearms. As it turned out, there was no evidence of a shooting. Rather, there was a dispute between the witness and the pot operation about payment and, unbelievably, the witness may have called the cops in retaliation.
The occupants of the house had recently been victims of a strong-arm robbery a month prior in which one person was shot. Evidently, perhaps as a result of that robbery, the occupants armed themselves and fortified the building.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the continued criminalization of marijuana is, in itself, creating more crime, not less. As a society, we must weigh the costs versus the benefits of any legislation. For example, it is arguable that the use of PCP creates a high likelihood of criminal behavior: a person uses and is likely to commit some sort of violent offense. A law criminalizing the use of PCP will increase the market value for the drug and result in a black market; i.e.: higher value and violence, because it's harder to get. We, as a society, have chosen that the criminal behavior deterred with the drug's prohibition outweighs the criminal consequences of creating this black market.
On the other hand, it is without dispute that marijuana use is no more related to violent criminal behavior than, say, beer. Probably less so. Therefore, the underlying benefit sought by prohibition is missing with marijuana criminalization. The costs, however, are severe. Criminalization artificially inflates the value of the plant, thus making it more desirable for strong arm robberies, such as what happened in this case. Moreover, the victims of such robberies cannot turn to the police for protection, so they must take measures to protect themselves.
What if marijuana was legal? First, it is unlikely people would surreptitiously grow pot in their houses in neighborhoods across the U.S. Secondly, growers could rely on the power of the state to protect them, rather than taking matters into their own hands. Thirdly, if the market fixed the price of marijuana and it was reasonably accessible, we would see fewer violent robberies and fewer desperate people looking for a quick score.
In my own practice, over the years I have seen the impact of decriminalization. Clients have told me that, with the onset of medicinal marijuana provisions, the value of marijuana has plummeted by as much as two-thirds. As a result, many small time growers reduced or eliminated their operations seeing little return on their investments. However, in the current legal climate, larger operations can still be profitable, thus creating an enticing target for criminals. And continued violence.
California must follow the lead of Colorado, Washington and, soon, Alaska. We must undermine the market for marijuana to eliminate this senseless violence.