Guest Opinion: Focus on serious crimes, not marijuana
Guest opinion

Guest Opinion: Focus on serious crimes, not marijuana

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I began my law enforcement career in Missouri in 1997. I helped develop the first sex crimes unit in the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department and was the first female officer to join the SWAT team.

I later worked as a police officer and gang investigator for the city of Louisiana, Missouri, before becoming the chief of the Winfield Police Department for four years.

Last year, Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow people with debilitating health issues to legally and safely access medical marijuana if recommended by their healthcare provider.

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana is a campaign committee working to accomplish a similar goal. Just like Missouri’s law, their proposed initiative would create legal protections for patients with serious health issues who use medical marijuana under the guidance of a doctor or nurse.

The bill would also allow the legislature to enact a law to regulate and oversee the production of medical marijuana by cultivators and sales via state-licensed dispensaries. Facilities would be held to strict consumer safety standards and undergo regular inspections.

Fears that reforming marijuana laws somehow leads to increasing crime and public safety problems is refuted by the evidence.

In a 2018 study published in "Police Quarterly," researchers looked at the number of crimes solved both before and after passage of significant marijuana policy reforms. The authors of the report wrote that their findings suggest that “right around the time of legalization, clearance rate [the percentage of certain types of crimes solved] trends seemed to increase for violent crime in general.”

My passion for serving my community through law enforcement was rooted in my mission to prevent sexual assault and protect those who have been victimized. Treating marijuana as a criminal issue bogs down our court system and distracts police officers from far more pressing crimes, such as rape and domestic assault.

Since retiring, I now volunteer my time to help change laws that I learned are unjust during my time as an active officer. I joined the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit organization and coalition of people with a background in law enforcement who know that our nation’s drug laws have done more harm than good. LEAP understands that legalizing marijuana actually makes our communities safer.

Missourians passed Amendment 2 to legalize medical marijuana because they knew that the decades of fear-mongering and scare tactics around marijuana were unfounded. Many also take the view that the government should not criminalize people who are simply seeking relief for a serious, often painful, health issue. I agree; the decision to use medical marijuana should be made by patients and their doctors, not politicians.

Just like Nebraska, lawmakers in Missouri’s state legislature had ignored the will of their constituents, many of whom were patients or family members witnessing a loved one suffer. Thankfully, the ballot measure process allowed voters to go around their legislators who clung to decades-old “reefer madness” visions of a totally drug-free world that is simply not possible.

It’s time for Nebraska to turn the corner and join the 33 U.S. states with functional medical marijuana programs. If the Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana campaign succeeds, the will of the people will finally prevail on this critical issue.

Take it from me: As a former police chief, I can tell you that legalizing medical marijuana is the right thing to do.

Betty Taylor is the retired police chief of Winfield, Missouri. She is a speaker for Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of police, prosecutors, judges, and other law enforcement officials working to improve the criminal justice system.

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