Former Chief Tom Gross: Listen to police when considering legalizing marijuana

Tom Gross
Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Assocation
With the possible legalization of recreational use on the radar, large marijuana companies are looking at a $22.7 billion national market by 2023. (Dreamstime/TNS)

State Sen. Mike Regan recently wrote an opinion article regarding his efforts to legalize the use of marijuana in Pennsylvania. State Sen. Regan describes his own thoughts and how he now believes that a new policy would provide safety, age control and revenues.

He describes this as a simple choice. As I have found in my 45 years of law enforcement, the choice is not so simple.

While many states have legalized marijuana use, this decision must be viewed in light of the benefits and the risks. The expectation of safety, control and revenues has not been realized in those states and we should expect no better. The expectation that adults would legally use marijuana, while children would not, is clearly misguided.

We know that children are using marijuana at a dangerous rate in legalized environments. This use is more difficult to prevent and detect. There is increased use of easily obtained legal marijuana, as well as horrifying accounts of the effects of increased use and extremely potent forms of this substance.

York Area Regional Police Chief Tom Gross talks about his impending retirement at his office Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. He retired in December of 2015. (Bill Kalina - The York Dispatch)

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These consequences have been well documented and need to be fully reviewed during any legalization process.

In a series of hearings, state Sen. Regan’s committee heard testimony from many who stand to benefit financially from legalized marijuana. It is clear that big corporations stand to make big profits and exert profound influence. The state senator himself points out that there is a choice between billions in illegal sales or tax revenues. Again, those states where sales have been legalized have seen increases in illicit sales as well as diversion and regulatory chaos. The criminal distribution has not stopped and arrests and convictions continue.

There has been little comment regarding the effects of marijuana on violent criminal behavior and the experience that law enforcement has with exponential increases in impaired driving due to marijuana use. Enforcement of this behavior is complicated, expensive, and has not kept up with the increases in marijuana impaired accidents and fatalities occurring with legalization.

Finally, while there appears to be an increase in support for legalization of marijuana, we urge caution in considering popular support as a mandate. State Sen. Regan mentions, without reference, a poll that shows 90% of Pennsylvanians agree with marijuana legalization, regulation and taxation.

Law Enforcement professionals have more contact with the public than any other government employees. We have seen the effects of marijuana use and heard from our colleagues in states with legal use. We recognize that societal change occurs, and we will always need to adapt, but we must also have an opportunity to share our experience and knowledge regarding the impact on public safety of marijuana legislation.

The effort to legalize is at significant risk of causing more harm to children, more crime, and more danger on the highways in order to provide more opportunity for more people to get more high more often.

— Thomas C. Gross is the former chief of the York Area Regional Police Department, former acting chief of the York City Police Department, and former executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. He is currently a member of the associations executive board.