It isn’t gang violence. It isn’t even domestic violence. What is the leading cause of murder in Carson City? According to Sheriff Ken Furlong, it’s marijuana.
“It’s against that law,” Furlong told local ABC affiliate, KOLO 8. “It does change people’s attitude and we do see people dying as a result of it, needlessly, and there’s no excuse for it.
“In the last 13-15 years, all of the violence we’ve seen that has turned deadly, have [sic] been in someway related to a marijuana issue.”
Before you get too excited, thinking Furlong nailed it — the fact cannabis remains a federal Schedule 1 drug and thus technically illegal in the ongoing yet utterly failed war on drugs — that isn’t all he had to say on the matter.
KOLO 8 noted the 2016 deaths of 18-year-old Grant Watkins and 40-year-old Dennis Watkins, Jr. — both killed during transactions involving the sale of cannabis.
“During a transaction, they set it up, ‘I’m going to sell this to you,’ then all of a sudden someone gets shot and killed,” Furlong continued. “It’s not because they were under the influence; it’s because they were doing something deadly and it turned out that way.”
As Furlong explained, the threat to life isn’t due to the drug’s effects on the system, per se, but the ‘culture and crimes’ surrounding it ‘that can be overwhelming,’ as KOLO 8 paraphrased.
“It’s a very cherished culture and people have very strong beliefs,” the Sheriff elaborated. “When you violate someone’s beliefs, you put them in a position where they can act out.”
But Furlong’s complete lack of understanding of all things cannabis — including both medicinal and recreational aspects — didn’t stop there. According to the Sheriff, the community faces repercussions following a law enforcement drug bust — because addicts suddenly have no way to procure their … cannabis.
“We’re watching very closely, not only for a spike in crime, but for people who are in critical need of medical care because of that lack of treatment, based on withdrawal from the drug,” he asserted.
Yes, you read that right. Carson City’s Sheriff-in-charge firmly believes depriving people of cannabis — a plant scientifically and anecdotally proven to save lives — will lead to a crime wave and health crisis of no small proportions.
But what he explained next, as paraphrased by KOLO 8, harkens back to the earliest days of cannabis prohibition and the propagandist classic, Reefer Madness:
‘Sheriff Furlong says unlike other drugs like heroin or methamphetamines that can distort your mind, people using marijuana usually have rational trains of thought which give them the ability to act out and become violent when someone takes away or violates their drug.’
At this point, if you’re having a good laugh, stunned, or shaking your head, you most certainly are not alone.
Obviously, Sheriff Furlong grasps the potential perils in black market trade — but he wholly fails to recognize removing cannabis’ illegality would thus remove the risk of violence. When the State is removed from consensual business transactions, individuals are free to conduct trade as they see fit — if cannabis were abundant and legal, it would be highly unlikely people would continue killing each other over soured deals.
But Furlong’s stupefying lack of knowledge concerning the effects cannabis has on the body, though certainly laughable, also should concern the residents he’s tasked with overseeing.
Mischaracterizing cannabis so broadly as to believe it will warp people’s minds to a heightened frenzy where they’re likely to commit violence is downright dangerous.
For one thing, this inexcusable misperception could color the training Sheriff Furlong decides to give law enforcement trainees and officers. Considering the absolutely epidemic national spate of violence inflicted by trigger-happy cops who already seem to have an irrational fear of the public, training them to further view cannabis users as likely to act out physically is nothing short of dangerous.
If sheriff’s deputies conduct a raid on a residence known for cannabis transactions with the preconception the people inside could turn violent instantly, it’s arguable they would be more likely to misinterpret anything they encounter. This unnecessarily heightened fear that their life could be in peril from a cannabis-crazed maniac would have obvious influence on their decisions for whether or not to employ deadly force.
Sadly, Sheriff Furlong likely isn’t alone among law enforcement in the United States. As long as the drug war remains firmly entrenched in policy and culture, dangerous misunderstandings and lack of knowledge will arguably be the greater source of violence than would the substances be were they not illegal.
In the meantime, while forced to pick apart drug laws state by state, perhaps drug and cannabis education — not fear- and prohibition-based propaganda, but serious education — should be mandatory in law enforcement training.