(Steve Sebelius/CityLife) – The coroner’s inquest in the death of Trevon Cole predictably resulted in the finding the slaying of the small-time marijuana dealer by police was “justifiable.” This despite conflicting statements and a comedy of errors, both legal and tactical, that led officers to Cole’s darkened apartment with heavy weapons on June 11.
Thus it has always been: Coroner’s inquests almost always find officers justified in killings. And in many cases, they are.
The real tragedy of Cole’s death at age 21 is that it didn’t have to happen at all. He, like so many millions before him, is a casualty of the war on drugs.
That marijuana is still illegal in the United States is a mystery almost impossible to fathom. That police still believe marijuana dealers (even those obviously far down on the drug-dealing food chain) are worth their enforcement efforts is yet another mystery.
What’s not so mysterious is that if we treated marijuana the way we treat alcohol — regulated, taxed and restricted to adults — Trevon Cole would not have been selling the drug, and may not have ever come to the attention of the officers who eventually ended his life. If the drug was available in any pharmacy, there would be considerably less profit in selling it on the streets.
(Ask yourself, for example, how many shady characters peddling aspirin you’ve seen recently.)
The arguments deployed against marijuana are so careworn, the fact they still persuade anyone is a modern miracle. Marijuana is a “gateway drug” to other, stronger drugs. (But alcohol isn’t?) Marijuana impairs judgment or reaction time. (But alcohol doesn’t?) If marijuana were legalized, kids would get the “message” that it was acceptable for them to use. (But that message doesn’t get sent with beer, liquor or wine, or with tobacco for that matter?)
The fact is, alcohol and cigarettes are far more dangerous than marijuana. Alcohol and tobacco kill far more people every year than marijuana and, unlike marijuana, they’re chemically addictive. But alcohol and cigarettes are legal and marijuana is not. Why?
Well, for starters, they don’t grow marijuana in the South. They do grow tobacco and distill strong beverages there. But does anybody doubt that if marijuana was a cash crop, the late Jesse Helms would have delivered impassioned stemwinders on the Senate floor, calling for taxpayers to subsidize the demon weed? Of course not.
Of all the substances targeted in the “war on drugs,” the failure against marijuana has been most conspicuous. Prohibition has enriched drug lords and sparked bloody battles in this and other countries. To be sure, the “drug war” has surely claimed more lives than marijuana has.
Add to the roster of those KIAs (and that includes hardworking cops who were doing their jobs, even in a misguided and ineffective effort) the name of Trevon Cole.
The question now becomes this: How many more Trevon Coles are we going to allow to die before the public forces its trembling, fearful “leaders” to enact the sensible reform of legalizing marijuana outright for adults?
The same restrictions now in place for alcohol and tobacco — no driving under the influence, no use or purchase by minors, no public intoxication, etc. — could easily be enacted for marijuana, too. And the resulting taxation would give cash-strapped governments new revenue without new taxes.
It’s too late for Trevon Cole. But we can save other people from his fate, if we insist on reform. Let’s end the bloodshed with legalization now.