Bill Bratton’s Possibly Inadvertent Truthiness About Marijuana

BY NATHAN RILEY | New York needs to take marijuana seriously.

People are dying because we won’t create legal markets and offer the protection of the law to marijuana sellers.

Commissioner Bill Bratton recently turned an elementary question of law and order into a joke with rhetorical overkill: “People are killing each other over marijuana more so than anything that we had to deal with in the ’80s and ’90s with heroin and cocaine.”

His remark led everyone to scoff. After all, in 1988 during the crack years, there were 1,896 murders in this city. The jump from 45 to 54 in the first two months of this year versus 2014 might seem like small potatoes. But I’m allergic to this kind of reasoning. I remember when the constant increase in AIDS deaths failed to energize the United States, while less than a hundred cases of measles provoked a nationwide health response this year. This country responds to some kinds of crises, while blithely ignoring others.

A marijuana dealer who has been a friend for decades is worried. His friends are being robbed at gunpoint. It can happen to him. They can’t go to the police and ask that messengers be protected. His bosses may have to hire someone to persuade the robbers to stop. Words alone will not do the trick. When people are denied the protection offered by the law, violence is abetted.

The Washington Post wonk column reported that homicides fell 24 percent after pot was legalized in Colorado. Surely the lives saved are more important than Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s unpleasant high after getting zonked by Colorado’s potent weed. After all, she was right as rain the next day, but she blamed her experience on legal drugs. She likely never factored into her candy bar consumption the increased potency of marijuana in recent years.

Tony Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance tried steering the conversation in a constructive direction: “I'm not sure if Bratton intended to make the point that marijuana prohibition leads to violence, but that is what he is saying. It is obvious that the marijuana plant and its use by itself are not leading to the killings. It is the fact that marijuana is illegal and control over the illicit market is what leads to violence over the profit of this plant.”

Notice Newman’s sly observation about Commissioner Bratton’s intentions. Was he saying, “Marijuana prohibition leads to violence?” Whatever his meaning, he certainly provoked a debate. And according to his department, it is true that every one of the drug-related murders this year stemmed from robberies of marijuana dealers.

We should take everyone’s life seriously, and most certainly pot dealers’ lives matter. Ending marijuana prohibition isn’t about making life easier for stoners; it’s a matter of life and death. Everyone should be concerned.