DA makes pitch for legalizing marijuana
For years, legalization of recreational marijuana has largely been a Democratic issue that hasn’t received much bipartisan support.
Earlier this month a Pennsylvania State Senator, Republican Mike Regan, introduced legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana in the Commonwealth.
He has found an ally in Warren County District Attorney Rob Greene.
Greene called Regan to discuss the provision. He declined to say whether he may be involved in any future legislative advocacy. “My call to him was to thank him for having the courage to address this issue,” he said.
“This should not be a Republican or Democrat issue,” Greene explained, “but as a Republican, I support more freedom and less government; I trust people to make their own choice without government interference and without Big Brother telling me what I can and can’t do, especially if I am not hurting anyone else.”
Greene’s support for recreational legalization isn’t just philosophical, it’s very practical and flows out of his experience as the county’s top prosecutor.
“The current ‘war’ on drugs is not working and we cannot incarcerate our way out of this mess,” he said. “Meth, heroin and hard drug usage is at an all time high and law enforcement should not be wasting its time and resources on a plant that is much less harmful than alcohol.”
He acknowledged the “fear that some people have” regarding marijuana and its use but pointed out that “marijuana — legal or illegal — is here now and it is not going away.”
Greene equated prohibitions on marijuana to prohibition on alcohol 100 years ago, “which exponentially increased gangs, organized crime and violence.
Legalizing marijuana would be a huge shot to drug dealers and cartels which would free up time and resources for law enforcement to focus on the hard drugs that are wreaking havoc in our society.”
He explained that law enforcement is “more and more” seeing small local grows — “growing a plant or two in their basement, backyard or even, yes, their front porch.”
But that’s not where the majority of the marijuana is coming from in his view. It’s coming from out of state.
“We assume from major drug cartels from Mexico or other crime organizations which buy marijuana in other U.S. states — 18 U.S. states have legalized adult use — and bring it to Pennsylvania to sell,” he said. “This is creating nationwide crime organizations that thrive on violence and the black market. If marijuana were legalized it would eventually put an end to this type of drug trafficking, but currently it is a thriving business in a dark world.”
He said that black market will only continue “and get worse until the ‘Holy Rollers’ and politicians wise up and make adult use marijuana legal.”
Regan said in a legislative memo that there has been a decline in marijuana possession arrests and Greene said he’s “sure there is a notable decrease.”
Part of that is how the county DA’s office — Greene is the county’s chief law enforcement officer — is handling the cases that do come forward.
“My office drops most personal use cases to a disorderly conduct or permits the defendant to come back in a month or two to be tested and if they are ‘clean’ we will drop the charges,” he explained. “Law enforcement does not want to make arrests for small amount of marijuana cases when they know it is inevitable that at some point marijuana will be legal…. This is a trend that is not only true in my office but all over Pa.”
He estimated that 80 percent of the law enforcement community supports legalization.
“I can honestly say most law enforcement that I talk to are in favor of legalization or decriminalization,” Greene said. “Law enforcement would much rather arrest the hard drug users that are committing acts of violence than the pot smoker who is watching Cheech and Chong eating Cheetos on the couch.”
Officers, he continued, “are the ‘good guys’ and when you arrest someone for something that the majority of Americans are in favor of, it is not exactly building trust and respect; it’s encouraging hate and rebellion.”
While it’s Greene’s job to view this issue from the law enforcement side, his motivation for legalization extends to those he’s prosecuting.
“Many users of ‘hard drugs’ have told me that they can now use marijuana, medical marijuana, they no longer use meth, heroin, etc.,” he said. “Will legalization increase the demand for marijuana? It depends on what study or research you buy into.
“Drug overdose deaths have dramatically gone down in states that have legalized marijuana,” he added, citing a study showing a decrease in heroin use in states where marijuana is legal. One of the barriers, he explained, is how marijuana is categorized by the federal government – it’s identified as a Schedule I drug. He said that makes research like this federally illegal.
“This defies logic, but the pharmaceutical lobby who is one of the biggest supporters of marijuana prohibition obviously does not want people cured with medicine that an individual can grow on their front porch,” he said. “It’s all about money.”
Legalization, he indicated, would make the end product safer for the user.
“Some dealers are lacing marijuana with other drugs, including fentanyl, to make a ‘better product’ and build repeat business,” Greene said. “This is killing kids and adults. If we legalize marijuana a consumer will know exactly what they are getting and how it will affect them.”
Greene said the “problem” is that it’s “easy for someone in my position or a politician to ‘play it safe’ and say marijuana is bad or to not say anything at all; it is not exactly politically correct to be in favor of legalizing weed. But marijuana is here, it always has been here. What we are doing is not working so why not legalize it, regulate it, maybe make some money off of it and treat it similar to alcohol?”