The Cannabis 'Get Out of Jail Free' card for Murder
The latest disturbing legal ruling about weed and criminal responsibility
In favor of legalized recreational cannabis? Consider the possible fallout from a California judge who yesterday gave only 2 years probation and 100 hours of community service to a woman who fatally stabbed her boyfriend 108 times.
“She had no control over her actions,” the judge concluded, because she had a psychotic episode from the weed she smoked with her boyfriend.
Reminds me of the public outrage over the 2017 murder in France of Sarah Halimi, an elderly Jewish woman who was killed by her radicalized 27-year-old Muslim neighbor. Before throwing her to her death from her apartment balcony, he had beaten her savagely for 30 minutes with his fists and a telephone, all the while chanting verses from the Koran and shouting "Allahu Akbar" [God is great]. A lower court declared he was not criminally responsible because he was undergoing “a psychotic episode due to cannabis consumption.” That controversial decision was upheld by an appeals court.
In the French case, the murderer was a habitual cannabis smoker since his early teens. The court ruled that was irrelevant. As long as there was cannabis induced psychosis at the time of the murder, his “voluntary discernment had been abolished.”
It is not novel for murder defendants to argue that drug or alcohol use meant they had “diminished capacity” and could not therefore form intent to kill. Some have been high-profile cases, as the retrial of Manson Family member, Leslie Van Houten, in which the defense claimed her extensive LSD use had diminished her capacity to make rational decisions. That was persuasive enough to deadlock the jury. She was eventually convicted on a third trial and sentenced to life.
The cannabis murder defendants, however, are not simply arguing that the drug interfered with their rational decision making and that they should be guilty of a crime less serious than premeditated murder. Their lawyers have successfully argued that cannabis-induced psychosis can be a temporary but totally disabling affliction that exonerates them of any responsibility for what they did during that mental break.
The French murderer, for instance, was sent to a mental institution. He was not treated with any medications since psychiatrists had concluded he had no underlying mental illness other than the one that turned him into a savage killer one afternoon. In under a year, he was free on day passes, on his way to a full time release, with no criminal record.
Twenty-four states have legalized recreational marijuana. The only restriction is that buyers must be twenty-one (eighteen for medicinal use). Eleven more are considering legalizing cannabis this year (bills are pending in seven state legislatures and four states - Florida, Idaho, Nebraska and South Dakota - will let voters decide in November referendums.
There is a rush to legalize weed. The states like the revenue from taxes and many voters think that cannabis is a relatively safe drug. The mainstream media generally ignores its downsides. Or at the most, admits that possible health risks are not fully known.
Yale’s medical school issued a recent and largely overlooked fact sheet titled “Cannabis and Psychosis.” Yale concluded, “Studies have shown that THC in cannabis can cause short-term psychosis until the drug is metabolized in the body. If exposed to cannabis in adolescence, research shows individuals are 2-4x more likely to develop a schizophrenia spectrum disorder, than if you were not exposed….Today’s cannabis tends to be more potent (higher levels of THC) than several decades ago. 15% of new cases of psychosis are attributable to cannabis use.”
A five-year European medical study found that daily users of “high-potency cannabis” were five times more likely to develop psychotic disorders than those who had never used the drug. That study is reinforced by nearly a dozen others during the past decade, all of which have concluded that cannabis use by adolescents is a statistically significant contributing factor in triggering or worsening the symptoms of serious psychotic mental illnesses.
Legalization proponents argue that the number of crimes committed under the influence of marijuana is small compared to the those done by people intoxicated from alcohol. That ignores, of course, that alcohol is much more widely available, everywhere from the corner liquor store to sporting events. What happens one day if cannabis is as easily accessible?
My concern is that the potential fallout, such as avoiding prison time for a murder committed while in a cannabis-induced psychosis, is not even a remote part of the discussion in today’s debate. Would it not be better to first figure out and weigh the risks before legalizing the drug.
After the judge issued the probation sentence in the California murder trial yesterday, the victim’s father warned that the ruling set a dangerous precedent. “He just gave everyone in the state of California who smokes marijuana a license to kill someone.”
Only time will tell if that case is an aberration or will become more common place as legal weed rolls out in America.