Police Chief Doesn’t Realize How Wrong He Is

Whenever Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead speaks of medical marijuana dispensaries coming to the city, he does so with two fingers gesturing quotations around the “medical” aspect of the industry.

“If you say they didn’t legalize marijuana, they just legalized medical marijuana, that’s a complete hoodwink,” Milstead said in a recent meeting with the Mesa Republic. “Not everybody can have cancer. Not everybody’s got a bad knee and their back is blown out.”

The legalization of marijuana for prescription holders has concerned law enforcement officials throughout the state. Milstead said dispensaries in Mesa run the risk of being havens for crime, and the city will likely see an increase in DUIs.
“I just look at other states that have legalized marijuana,” Milstead said. “Their collisions are up, their fatals are up, addictions are up – it just creates more issues for law enforcement.”

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Arizona voters approved its measure in November.

Although overall collisions are down nationwide – and in Mesa – fatal-crash statistics are mixed in states with medical marijuana laws.

Fatal crashes were already on the decline when California passed its law in 1996.

That year 3,989 people died in crashes, and those figures continued to fall until 1999 when 3,559 were recorded, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2009, California had 3,081 fatalities.

The opposite scenario played out in Colorado, which passed its law in 2000. Fatal crashes were on the rise and continued to rise until topping out in 2002 at 743. They then fell to 465 in 2009, according to the administration.

In Mesa, police officials and City Council members have voiced concerns with potential crime associated with marijuana dispensaries.

“If you have something that somebody else wants, somebody will try and break in to steal it,” Milstead said.

Arizona’s program is administered by the Department of Health Services, which has authorized five dispensaries in Mesa, said City Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh, who heads the city’s public safety committee.

City Council members recently completed regulations restricting dispensaries to manufacturing and industrial areas, Kavanaugh said.

“Locating them in more isolated places could potentially increase the risk (of burglaries) just because you don’t have people around,” Kavanaugh said. “Every state that has (dispensaries) has got criminals who will prey on those who grow, dispense or buy medical marijuana.”

However an increase in crime is not always inevitable, said Gus Escamilla, founder of Denver-based Greenway University, where dispensary owners learn to operate the businesses.

“Obviously when medical marijuana and dispensaries open in any market there’s always that concern,” Escamilla said of crime at dispensaries. “However, if you set up a dispensary properly, those issues could be alleviated significantly.”

Aside from proper bookkeeping and documenting, students learn the safest ways to operate a dispensary, including using surveillance equipment and requiring prescription holders to enter to two separate rooms.

In Colorado, the average user is 40 years old, and 90 percent of prescriptions are for chronic pain, Escamilla said. Patients ingest the drug in many forms – cigarettes, sodas, cookies, brownies, candy bars and creams rubbed on the body.

Nationally, police say dispensaries and prescription holders have been the victims of robberies, home invasions, shootings and murders by those seeking the drug.

Another concern for Milstead is that the high price of medical marijuana could push prescription holders to buy the drug much cheaper from local dealers.

“An ounce of medical marijuana is like $200, $230. An ounce of marijuana on the street is like $50,” the chief said. “Is it better to get your marijuana from a cartel which is going to sell it to you at $500 or is it better to get it from some sort of legitimate grower who is going to sell you the same amount for $2,500?”

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