Marijuana Paranoia: Our perplexing attitudes about pot and crime, but what about crime and that other socially acceptable mind-altering substance?

I’m sure some opponents of Walnut Creek allowing a medical marijuana dispensary in town are frothing at this local news: How a shooting erupted in Concord Sunday over an attempt by six suspects (er, idiots) to steal marijuana plants being legally grown in someone’s back yard.

Apparently, a man suffered a flesh wound in the leg, possibly at the hands of his own associates, after he or someone from his crew was caught in the backyard of a home where the residents had a legal right to grow marijuana for medical purposes. You can read more about the attempted pot plant theft, the attempted getaway, and the shooting at

But certainly, the Reefer Madness fearmongers would say, such an incident shows that allowing a medical marijuana dispensary in Walnut Creek will attract similar robberies and other violent crime to our fair city.

And, absolutely, these fear mongers would assert, such an incident provides more evidence that marijuana is a dangerous, destructive, crime- and violence-ridden drug.

It would be silly of me to say that marijuana cultivation, sales, use, and abuse are victimless, crime-free vocations. There is this incident, and, off the top of my head, I can think of two recent homicides in the East Bay suburbs that possibly involved pot deals gone bad. They include the shooting death of 17-year-old Rylan Fuchs of Danville earlier this year and the December 2007 killing of Eric Martin, of Pittsburg, in Walnut Creek over a failed marijuana growing and distribution scheme.

But are there any other mind-altering substances, whose cultivation and/or manufacture, sales, use, and abuse attract crime, including robberies, assaults, and homicide?

Of course!Alcohol!

The stuff of beer, wine, and Grey Goose martinis.

Once again, I’ll repeat that alcohol—mostly in the form of red wine—is my drug of choice. I like it–perhaps too much. But that’s a whole other story.

As for pot, I have not tried it since college. I didn’t like it much then, and have no desire to use it at any time in the future. The smell? Ick.

And who wants to be around a bunch of stoners? If you’re not stoned? Although, I have to say that being around a bunch of people blissed out on weed would be no worse than—and might even be preferable—to being around loud, annoying drunks. Among these drunks, I’m including a very obnoxiously vocal and tipsy silver-haired man in a polo shirt (a lawyer? Bank executive? Real estate entrepreneur?) who was toting a wine glass and making an ass of himself on North Main Street during last week’s Fall Wine Walk. This wine-tasting event, hosted by the Downtown Business Association, was, remember, a fundraiser to benefit local Walnut Creek schools.

Again, what about alcohol and it’s connection to crime and destruction? No wait! Alcohol is legal, so it’s harmless, right? It doesn’t cause death, destruction, or crime, right?

Well, of course, we all know it does. We’re familiar with the fact that alcohol is involved in thousands of traffic fatalities every year across the United States. We also know that long-term alcohol abuse is associated with tragic health consequences, astronomical medical costs, and the breakdown of families and communities.

The U.S. government says about both alcohol and tobacco, which are both legal in this country, for recreational use, to people of a certain age: “Alcohol and tobacco cost society a great deal every year in terms of crime, lost productivity, tragedies, and deaths. … As a result of legal settlements and vigorous public education efforts, many Americans are aware of the dangers of dependence and addiction associated with alcohol and tobacco use. Even so, alcohol and tobacco remain a significant part of the American health problem.”

So, we might be aware that alcohol is a major health problem, but most of us probably don’t think of it as a major crime problem as well. But it is, and like marijuana and other drugs, it contributes to our local, state, and national crime rates. Alcohol, notably, is a major factor in domestic violence.

From the U.S. Department of Justice:

  • About 3 million violent crimes occur each year in which victims perceive the offender to have been drinking at the time of the offense.
  • Another Justice Department study found that that alcohol abuse was a factor in 40 percent of violent crimes committed in the United States.
  • Among those victims who provided information about the offender’s use of alcohol, about 30 percent of the victimizations involved an offender who had been drinking.
  • Two-thirds of victims who suffered violence by an intimate (a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend) reported that alcohol had been a factor. Among spouse victims, three out of four incidents were reported to have involved an offender who had been drinking.

Let’s return to alcohol’s contribution to annoying, life-style crimes in downtown Walnut Creek. As I mentioned in a prior story, the Walnut Creek police reported that 1515 Restaurant and Lounge attracted their attention seven times between late July and late August. Police had to come to arrest drunks, and patrons not cooperating with state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents. Police also had to hear from a father who was alarmed that his daughter got so tanked up on booze at 1515 and/or other downtown establishments that she couldn’t talk or walk, and had to be carried to her car.

1515 Restaurant operates legally, as do some nearly 100 other liquor-dispensing establishments in town. After crying about lost profits due to their 12:30 a.m. closing time, the owners of 1515, Jack and Tony Dudum, received permission from the City Council to stay open a half hour later. They needed this extra time so that they could sell more beer, wine, and cocktails–to earn more money. To stay in business. To turn a profit. That is, they were given permission to dispense more mind-altering substances legally, and for recreational purposes, with profit as a prime motive.

But pot? Well, some city leaders and members of the public have gotten huffy and expressed their grave concerns about C3 Collective—just one venue so far—dispensing pot in town. The owners of this pot club, which has been hit with a lawsuit to shut down, claim they are dispending pot, not for recreational purposes or for profit, but to benefit people with serious medical conditions.

C3 owners may or may not be telling the truth. I will assume they are, until someone proves otherwise. Meanwhile, we have plenty of other venues in downtown that are dispensing the mind-altering substance of alcohol—for recreational purposes and, most definitely, for a profit. I could fill a page with their names, but here are just a few. Besides the above-mentioned 1515, which by the way allegedly caters to an “mature, upscale crowd,” there are the upscale restaurants Prima, Va de Vi, Lark Creek Walnut Creek, and the Walnut Creek Yacht Club. There are also markets and drug stores like Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s (Two Buck Chuck!), Safeway, CVS Pharmacy, and 7-Eleven.

I’m sure in the history of any of these establishments–mostly likely the grocery and convenience stores–someone has come in and tried to steal a bottle or two of something. From my police reporting days, this was a fairly regular occurance at grocery and convenience stores: thefts of booze that amounted to a misdemeanor shoplifting. It might involve someone who is dependant on alcohol, shoplifting a bottle, or kids eager to get their hands on a six-pack or a bottle of hard liquor.

How is this kind of theft so much different from what those idiots in Concord were trying to do, when they were attempting to steal a bit of weed from that legally grown backyard crop?

Marijuana and alcohol: Both mind-altering substances. Both legal, with varying restrictions. Both promise to pleasure the senses, including smell and taste. Both offer the promise of relaxation, escape, and an altered mental state. And, both, when abused in terms of sales, distribution or use, become the source of devastating consequnces.

But why is one substance culturally embraced, celebrated as a symbol of the California good life, and used to entice people into donating money to help local school kids? And why is the other substance treated with contempt and mostly outlawed, when there is no evidence, I can find so far, that it causes society any more harm than the other? I’m trying to figure that one out.

24 thoughts on “Marijuana Paranoia: Our perplexing attitudes about pot and crime, but what about crime and that other socially acceptable mind-altering substance?

  1. I'm a paramedic/firefighter. I have never, not even once, gone on a vehicle crash that was caused by marijuana consumption. Neither have I ever been on a marijuana OD. Nor have I ever met up with a bunch or pot heads bent on any form of destruction what so ever (except for serious Cheetos destruction).
    I cannot say the same for alcohol.
    Marijuana is benign. Alcohol kills.


  2. I have no really strong feelings about this issue other than to say that if an establishment that sellls alcohol was in violation of a zoning code as is the C3 Collective, it would have been shut down immediately. Closed, finished, nada. (Mickey, I don't need a lecture on the merits of getting Congress to legalize the use of medical marijuana)

    Obviously you do have very strong feelings about this issue and it shows in your “editorial” style of writing…..opponents are identified as “Reefer Madness fearmongers”. Does that mean that anyone opposed to allowing a medical marijuana dispensary in WC is a “fearmonger”? I seem to remember from last week's council meeting that Cindy Silva, a cancer survivor herself, asked for input from the local physicians in our two establishment hospitals for the work/study report. If opposed, will they too be identified as “fearmongers”? Could your own personal physician be a “fearmonger” in waiting? Think about it.


  3. In the U.K. pot is the drug of choice for most young criminals and is often reported as being used in quantity before crimes of violence and rape are commited…so much for benign. British police are increasingly testing drivers as a matter of course due to the rise in drug related RTA…benign my arse.


  4. “In the U.K. pot is the drug of choice for most young criminals and is often reported as being used in quantity before crimes of violence and rape are commited…so much for benign.”

    Do you have any data to back up your claim? Is it your statement that the consupmtion of pot would be mutually exclusive for the consumption of alcohol? Do you have any data about the consuption of pot in quantity by young people not commiting crimes of violence and rape?

    Before you can supply more information I would say Thud …. my arse.


  5. Anon 7:59 a.m.
    You know, I should have given the City Council more credit in this post. They are at least willing to study the issue. And you're right, Cindy Silva made a good suggestion that we could involve local physicians in the discussion.

    I initially agreed with some who said that we need to separate the medical marijuana question from the marijuana legalization debate. Californians decided they wanted to allow people to use marijuana for medical purposes. I think, though, that the people who are against decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana drive the debate over whether individual dispensaries in individual cities. The rhetoric and arguments used to oppose legalization is similar to those used by cities and residents to keep dispensaries out of their communities.

    WIth regard to C3 Collective? I'm not an advocate for this dispensary. I don't oppose it either. From the city's point of view, the Collective is violating zoning ordinances. If that's the case, then they should not be able to operate where they are operating. And it sounds like they did indeed try to work their way in the back door. Another dispensary owner spoke at the meeting about wanting to come into Walnut Creek and to be above-board about his application.

    Yes, I think marijuana should be legalized. And I honestly do not smoke pot. And I don't know anyone who does, even on a regular basis, though I did back in college. Nor do I know anyone right now with a horrific illness that could be alleviated by pot. I don't have any kind of personal stake in this.

    I'm drawn to this issue because it fascinates me how we decide that some things should be legal and other things should not be. And, it truly makes no sense to me that marijuana is demonized and severely restricted in our culture, but alcohol and tobacco are not. And I'm a drinker. But I'm not a smoker.

    As for whether marijuana offers health benefits? Maybe someone with more expertise could comment. It's my understanding, from researching medical marijuana back in the 1990s, that you can't go through the FDA drug testing process because, uh, the federal government deems it as illegal. Maybe that's changed.

    Oh, and my husband, as some of you know, has a mental illness and takes a variety of medications for those. I don't think the neuroscientists and psychiatrists truly know why some psychotropic medications work, but sometimes they do, and the the federal government has given its approval for them.

    I'm afraid there will be more of my rants to come on this topic.


  6. SM,

    This is 7:59…..I enjoy your thoughtful rants but didn't particularly think it was good or respondible reporting to label people who are opposed to medical marijuana dispensaries coming to WC as “fearmongers”. Seems to me that everyone who spoke, pro and against, at the City Council meeting last week were all reasonable in their presentations. Let us hope that this civil discourse continues on this issue!


  7. Kind of a bad argument Soccer Mom. I don't know many people that say alcohol has done all that much good for Walnut Creek. It's a big problem for society in general. That is however not an argument to start having more pot around. Even if alcohol is more harmful, are we using that as justification to allow any other “less harmful” substance or behavior? As to the dangers of marijuana….Walnut Creek had several middle school kids that went to the ER two years ago (one almost died) after eating pot brownies. DUI's and accidents involving drivers under the influence of only marijuana are way up and you left out a few local shootings (Geary Road six months ago), robberies, stabbings and beatings over marijuana from Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill and Lafayette within the past year. Is alcohol worse? By a mile. But adding another harmful and mind altering substance to the mix doesn't seem to make much sense.


  8. There are many good persuasive arguments on why America should legalize marijuana; the problem is that fact has not translated into real political pressure on the people who can change the laws. One of the problems inhibiting legalization is that people that smoke a glass pipe or a hand rolled marijuana cigarette are not considered serious or mature. It is this stigma and the illegal nature of pot that makes people hide their use from public view, therefore reality of who uses pot is different than it seems. Marijuana Legislation is a serious issue and that has profound effects on crime the economy and society. In the end it is up to us to be public about our choices and to voice our opinions to the ones that ultimately decide what is legal. Every hand written letter that makes it to a representative is considered to be the voice of a thousand people who did not take the time to write. Send an email, send a letter, make a phone call and get counted.


  9. Never-mind. Could not resist an opportunity. Let's break this down clearly.

    Opposition is healthy, but when the reasoning for that opposition is based in unfounded principles that attempt to sway public opinion with unfounded rhetoric about public safety and perceived crime related to people accessing safe, effective and natural therapies, it is considered “fear mongering.” I could create irrelevant conclusions and straw man arguments for any business in the area to create unfounded fear in an attempt to create pubic outrage. But it is simply dishonest and unbecoming.

    Thud, your statement is so far out of touch with reality that I do not know where to begin. Why do conservatives always bash Europe until some obscure fact from these far away lands helps bolster their fallacies? The fact that you provide no empirical evidence for your strangely placed and somewhat irrelevant “facts” is troubling. Let us just be honest. California has legalized cannabis for medical use for over 13 years and their has been no apparent rise in these crimes. It is just more unfounded rhetoric from a person who is emotionally tied to the subject for one reason or another. Yawn.

    The old “we already have enough controlled substances in town” argument is unacceptable. It is unethical and immoral to continue to imprison people and make criminals out of our citizens for the use of a benign and safe substance. This plant is not dangerous and their is no evidence supporting the theory that cannabis leads to more public safety issues. If anything cannabis consumers stay home and relax much more than non-cannabis users, who are normally driving drunk down my street looking for someone to run over. It is irresponsible to continue to go to war with our own citizenry over something proven for thousands of years to be safe and in some cases extremely beneficial.

    Well, there is my soapbox statement. Those who have heard it all before and loathe my attempt to educate the masses, I apologize. I simply could not resist:). I love a good civil debate.



  10. Mickey…I happen to live in one of those'far away lands' as I'm an Englishman who lives 4 months a year in W.C. so my knowledge and experience is obviously mainly European and to me not as obscure as you foolishly think…so much for us dumb conservatives bashing foreigners hey? As for anon asking me to show facts etc…google it yourself or spend some time here, I've worked with the consequences of marijuana use by criminals.


  11. Thud … you are the one making the statement that pot is not benign because according to you there is causative link to the comission of violent crimes indluding rape. If you want to be taken serious with your statement the burden is on you to provide the data. You can't discharge this burden by asking me to google for it.

    I think it is fair to conclude that you can't back up your statement with data.


  12. Thud,

    So let me get this right. You are here 1/3 of the year? You know people who have raped and killed by smoking a joint? here is what I found on the google:
    False Claims

    McCaffrey asserted that drug abuse problems in The Netherlands are “enormous” (Associated Press, July 13, 1998). In fact, the Dutch have no more drug problems than most neighboring countries which do not have “liberal” drug policies. Further, by virtually all measures the Dutch have less drug use and abuse than the U.S. ‹ from a lower rate of marijuana use among teens to a lower rate of heroin addiction among adults.

    McCaffrey also claimed, to a room full of journalists, that “The murder rate in Holland is double that in the United States… That's drugs.” He cited these figures: 17.58 murders per 100,000 population in the Netherlands, he asserted, vs. 8.22 per 100,000 in the U.S. (Reuters, July 13, 1998). For decades the U.S. has had significantly higher crime rates than other industrialized democracies. This has been reported at least annually by most newspapers and news magazines in the U.S.

    Whatever the reason this fact eluded General McCaffrey and his staff, it did not elude the journalists to whom he spoke. In less than 24 hours, the world's media caught and corrected McCaffrey's mistake. They showed that he had arrived at his Dutch figure by lumping homicides together with the much higher number of attempted homicides, and that he had not done the same for the U.S. figures. Thus, the Drug Czar had compared the U.S. homicide rate with the combined rates of homicide and attempted homicide in the Netherlands. The correct Dutch homicide rate, the international press reported, is 1.8 per 100,000, less than one fourth the U.S. rate (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, July 13, 1998; Reuters, July 14, 1998). Even this error might have been forgotten if McCaffrey had not gone on to attribute this newfound murderous streak in the Dutch national soul to their drug policy: “That's drugs” he said, apparently unaware that there has never been any evidence that marijuana ‹ the only drug the Dutch ever decriminalized ‹ is a cause of murder.

    Source: Reinarman, Craig (2000), Drug Legalization: Current Controversies Scott Barbour (Ed.), . San Diego: Greenhaven Press. pp. 102-108.


  13. The US has a relatively long tradition of surveys on drug use and the American figures consistently appear to be higher then those in the Netherlands. A comparison with the Netherlands using identical measurement instruments revealed that in the 1980, US school children clearly were starting to use cannabis earlier and in far greater relative numbers than Dutch ones [Plomp, Kuipers & van Oers, 1988]. More recent figures show that ever use among Americans aged twelve years and above is over twice as high as it is in the Netherlands [16]. Clearly then, the US as the prototypical example of a prohibitionist approach towards cannabis is more in the lead with respect to cannabis consumption than the Netherlands, being the prototypical example of anti-prohibitionism.

    Source: Dirk J. Korf University of Amsterdam – TRENDS AND PATTERNS IN CANNABIS USE IN THE NETHERLANDS, Hearing of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Ottawa, November 19, 2001


  14. If we look at and compare those countries that have had a very punitive model for dealing with drug abuse, such as the United States, and those European models where they have had a decriminalization approach, we would see this.

    In the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and now in Great Britain decriminalization of simple marijuana possession has enabled them to decrease the use of cannabis. The reason is very interesting. They reckon that because the forbidden fruit syndrome was not attached to a decriminalized substance like cannabis, they found that use, particularly among youth, declined quite substantially, which is very interesting. When one looks at harder drugs, there is not a shred of evidence to show that cannabis is a gateway drug. In fact, where drug use had been decriminalized, they found that hard drug use actually was static or had declined. This is also a very interesting fact.

    When drug use in European countries like the Netherlands was compared to the United States, it was found that the use of harder drugs like cocaine was about 2% in the Netherlands and about 11% to 12% in the United States. Therefore the harder, more punitive actions do not work when the objective is to decrease the use of hard drugs.

    Europeans, Australians and now the Brits have done the same thing. A pilot project to decriminalize the use of marijuana was done in Brixton to see what would happen. They found that drug use declined. There was a massive saving to their judicial forces. The same thing happened in south Australia where decriminalization was so effective that it is now looking at applying it to the entire country. Where it has worked it has been extremely effective.

    Source: Mr. Keith Martin (Esquimalt–Juan de Fuca, Canadian Alliance) Parliamentary Debate


  15. In some countries, law enforcement agents exercise discretion in following the letter of the law regarding cannabis. In the Netherlands, for instance, possession and use of cannabis is a misdemeanor; however, a widespread policy of non-enforcement has resulted in de facto decriminalization. Cannabis there may be purchased in licensed ” coffee shops”; however, these shops must be supplied through illegal channels.

    In the United Kingdom, law enforcement officials have expressed similar intentions: in 2002, police commander Brian Paddick in Brixton, England, instructed his officers not to arrest those found in possession of cannabis, and instead to issue on-the-spot warnings and confiscate the drugs. This move caused considerable controversy, though it had a positive effect on the crime rate of the Brixton area and resulted in a re-evaluation of the criminal status of cannabis in Britain: Cannabis was reclassified from Class B to Class C which, while it does not effectively decriminalize the drug, does eliminate the power of arrest for possession. Class C is considered to be a category of less harmful drugs, and includes pharmaceutical tranquilizers and anabolic steroids. Possession and trafficking are still punishable by law, though to a lesser extent than when cannabis was classified as a Class B substance.



  16. mickey…I think you will find the Paddick experiment was a total failure which led to him leaving the force,as for Holland I can't comment as I don't live there…not even for a third of the year.


  17. Your irrational and intolerant rhetoric only bolsters my stance. Here is some more food for thought:

    1. Studies find alcohol use contributes to aggressive behavior and acts of violence, whereas marijuana use reduces the likelihood of violent behavior.

    Alcohol is clearly the drug with the most evidence to support a direct intoxication-violence relationship.

    2. Alcohol use is prevalent in cases of sexual assault and date rape on college campuses. Marijuana use is not considered a contributing factor in cases of sexual assault and date rape, as judged by the lack of discussion of marijuana in sexual assault and date rape educational materials.

    A Harvard School of Public Heath study found that 72 percent of college rapes occurred when the female was too intoxicated by alcohol to resist/consent. Source:

    Comparisons between alcohol and marijuana with respect to sexual assault are very difficult. This is because it does not appear as if marijuana is a significant contributing factor. The best way to “prove” this is through observation that many organizations dedicated to studying and educating about sexual assault do not list marijuana as a substance associated with incidents. Here is a good example from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network:

    Note their description of alcohol: “Alcohol is the most commonly used chemical in drug facilitated sexual assault. In large part this is due to the fact that alcohol is easily accessible and a chemical that many people use in social interactions.” Given the fact that marijuana is also “easily accessible” and used widely in “social interactions,” it is quite telling that marijuana is not even listed at all on this “Drug Facilitated Assault” page.

    Another example: A Web site sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services lists alcohol, but not marijuana, as putting a person at risk for unwanted or risky sexual activity:
    Cannabis reduces likelihood of violence during intoxication…

    Source: Hoaken, Peter N.S., Sherry H. Stewart. Journal of Addictive Behaviors. 28, pages 1533-1554. Drugs of abuse and the elicitation of human aggressive behavior. Dept. of Psychology, University of Western Ontario. Dept. of of Psychiatry, Dalhousie University.

    3. Alcohol use is highly associated with violent crime, whereas marijuana use is not.

    About 3 million violent crimes occur each year in which victims perceive the offender to have been drinking at the time of the offense.

    Two-thirds of victims who suffered violence by an intimate (a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend) reported that alcohol had been a factor.

    Among spouse victims, 3 out of 4 incidents were reported to have involved an offender who had been drinking.

    Source: U.S. Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics. National Crime Victimization Survey 2002.

    These are facts. Not hyperbole.


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