Greenwich Police Chief Warns Against Consequences of Legalizing Marijuana for Recreational Use

Letter submitted from Greenwich Police Dept, written by Police Chief James Heavey

I am writing to you in order to ensure you are aware of the likely consequences that will come with legalizing marijuana in the State of Connecticut.

The research and studies from states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use are clear and abundant. The negative effects to community members, especially our youth, far outweigh the “positive” effects of expanding the availability of currently illegal intoxicants.

Although you may not “legalize it for teens,” the increased accessibility of the product you will provide, and the message you are sending to that age group, is horrifying. The negative effects on Connecticut youth alone should discourage your outlook on legalizing marijuana. The teen brain is actively developing and will often continue to develop until their mid-twenties. The use of marijuana during this time frame is harmful to that development. The ability to think clearly, problem solve, and coordinate are all impaired with marijuana use. A decline in school performance and attendance would be a reasonable expectation; it would be especially harmful during the trauma impacting children during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The already increased adolescent mental health concerns throughout Connecticut will surely increase. Impaired driving will be elevated for teens but also significantly for adults, and at this time there is no “breath test” to account for driving under the influence of marijuana. Current proposals to train additional police officers as Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) are woefully inadequate to address the increase of intoxicated drivers that will result from this proposal.

Take a close look at Colorado. From a public health standpoint, marijuana-related hospitalizations have significantly increased and marijuana-related calls to Poison Control have tripled over the past three years. One Colorado hospital saw a 15% increase of babies being born with THC already in their bloodstream. Criminally, one third of Colorado marijuana-related crimes were considered violent in 2017, with firearms seizures occurring regularly. Felony marijuana cases have steadily risen; in 2015 there were 579 cases, in 2016 there were 807 cases and in 2019 there were 901 cases. Currently in Colorado, possessing an ounce or less is legal, whereas possessing 10ounces or more is a felony. Illegal manufacturing has also skyrocketed, more than tripling arrests from 2014 (126 arrests) to 2016 (476 arrests). The state’s homeless population has also significantly increased. A representative from the Colorado Drug Investigators Association related that the state will “probably spend more assets on marijuana now than we ever did” and that “it’s out of control.”

Locally in Greenwich, the Police Department understands the community’s concerns with arresting individuals with substance abuse disorders. The overuse of the criminal justice system to address a mental health concern has been the focus of much discussion. However, the de-criminalization of narcotics substances is not going to reduce the encounters between the police and those with substance abuse disorders. Instead, restorative justice models can be employed to address the problem.

The Greenwich Police Dept has already had success with these types of practices. The Greenwich Juvenile Review Board (JRB), which involves community stakeholders and behavioral health service providers, was created to address juvenile delinquency within a non-traditional criminal justice setting. Mere drug possession is the type of incident that would be suitable for the JRB. The program’s success in reducing juvenile delinquency and substance abuse hinges on its being a preferable option to going to court and facing the judicial process and its potential long-term ramifications. If drug possession, including marijuana, were legalized then the ability to compel youth to change behavior in a beneficial way through this program would be lost.

Working off the success of the JRB, the Greenwich Police dept has used the same type of restorative justice models for adults with substance abuse issues. Police enforcement has shifted investigative attention to focus on the dealers instead of the individuals with a substance abuse disorder. The Department has partnered with the Greenwich Human Services Dept, the Stamford State’s Attorney’s office and Liberation Programs to offer alternatives to individuals caught with simple possession of illicit substances. The aim is to get the subject into treatment. Again, if drug possession were legalized, this program would have drastically reduced traction.

Legalizing marijuana represents too many risks to our community in terms of rising fatalities from intoxicated drivers, increased accessibility of intoxicants to our youth and adverse impacts to our health and community support systems. Current proposals to offset these concerns are far from sufficient and fail to realize the second and third order effects of legalizing marijuana. In the interests of public safety and health, I strongly urge you to reverse course and not legalize marijuana.

James J. Heavey
Chief of Police