Marijuana Arrests, Mass Killings, Psychotropic Drugs and Guns — It’s Time to Reevaluate the Conversations

MarijuanaIf it seems like marijuana and the War on Drugs are always in the news, you’re right. Figures from the 2012 FBI Uniform Crime Report: Crime in the United States show that the number of arrests for marijuana alone far exceeds the arrests for violent crime in this country.

While the nationwide total for violent crime arrests was 521,196, there were 1,552,432 for drug abuse violations. Approximately 750,000 of those were for marijuana, with the largest percentage of that number for simple possession (2012 FBI Crime Report).

Although the 2012 marijuana arrest numbers represent a slight decrease from 2011 (at 757,969), they are still very near the all-time high of 853,838 arrests in 2010 (NORML). The arrest numbers have remained high despite changes in state laws and despite the fact that increasing numbers of citizens want to see marijuana decriminalized (PEW). Medical marijuana is currently legal in 20 US states and DC ( Sixteen states have decriminalized it for personal use (NORML) and Washington and Colorado have legalized it for both medical and recreational use.

Nonetheless, according to a statement by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), there is still one drug arrest every 20 seconds in the US and a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds.

“These numbers represent a tremendous loss of human potential. Each one of those arrests is the story of someone who may suffer a variety of adverse effects from their interaction with the justice system,” said LEAP executive director Neill Franklin, a cop for 34 years. “Commit a murder or a robbery and the government will still give you a student loan. Get convicted for smoking a joint and you’re likely to lose it. This is supposed to help people get over their drug habit?”

“Every time a police officer makes an arrest for drugs, that’s several hours out of his or her day not spent going after real criminals. As the country has been investing more and more of its resources into prosecuting drug ‘crime,’ the rate of unsolved violent crime has been steadily increasing. Where are our priorities here?” asked retired lieutenant commander Diane Goldstein (LEAP, 2013).

Indeed, alongside continuous stories of drug raids, convictions, and arrests, there is little mention of the impact this so called War on Drugs is having on the lives of real people. There is also a growing realization that the War on Drugs is preempting not just the resolution, but the prevention of real crimes — with real victims. Amid perpetual media drug war spin, there is little mention of what may well be the most serious drug problem this nation has ever faced.

With the most recent just days ago, a seemingly never ending stream of mass shootings have claimed victim after victim while the citizens of this country sway between calling for change and loudly proclaiming their gun rights. Outrage has grown over gun control laws, but there has been little discussion as to what actually prompts these unthinkable actions.

While our nation has remained fixated on illicit drug use — such as marijuana, which hurts no one — we ignore science, we ignore medicine, and we ignore good common sense. There is more than one very important message that has not been getting out when it comes to drugs.

Psychiatrist David Healy explains: “Violence and other potentially criminal behavior caused by prescription drugs are medicine’s best kept secret. Never before in the fields of medicine and law have there been so many events with so much concealed data and so little focused expertise.” (International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry, ISEEP).

Despite numerous studies devoted to proving (and or looking for) the harmful effects of whatever our government has arbitrarily and conveniently labeled illegal (such as marijuana), there is a serious need for a solid investigation between the relationship between psychotropic drugs and violence (ISEEP). These are just a few notes from ISEEP and things we already know regarding psychotropic drug use and certain related crimes:

  • In the Columbine school shooting, the shooter Eric Harris was taking Luvox and Dylan Klebold had taken Zoloft and Paxil.
  • Michael McDermott was on three antidepressants when he killed seven of his fellow employees in the Wakefield, Massachusetts massacre.
  • Kip Kinkel was on Prozac when he killed his parents and then killed two children and wounded 25 at a nearby school.
  • In fourteen recent school shootings (over 100 wounded and 58 killed), the acts were committed by persons taking or withdrawing from psychiatric drugs.
  • In other school shootings, information about the shooter’s prescription drug use and medical history were kept from public records. (ISEEP)

This news is not new. Although there is obviously more than one issue, including mental health issues, it would appear that there is a possibility that at least in some of those cases, psychiatric medications perhaps had some influence on the chain of events leading up to the shootings. We don’t know that for sure. We do, however, know that some of those drugs have caused problems with violence and suicide in the past; we have known that for a while. Every once in a while there will be mention of such; then you don’t hear much else about it (Breggin, 2013). This issue has not generated a whole lot of discussion or research.

Guns appear to be a whole lot more interesting. I grew up in the Deep South, where just about every family I knew had at least one gun. This is a big country, and attitudes truly vary in different areas; but for most citizens of this country, there is a healthy respect for guns. And I can’t say I am into the gun culture at all, or that we don’t need reasonable laws, but I have also spent enough time around guns to know I have never seen a single one pull its own trigger. As much as we want a quick fix solution, I am not convinced that guns are the problem on this one — at least not the entire problem.

There has indeed been much heated debate. Make no mistake, it is politically correct to talk about the dangers of guns. We can and should do that. There is, however, little discussion of mental health issues and psychotropic drugs or the influence that either might have had on these shootings, and that is a problem.

In the middle of all this, we are inundated with rhetoric on the War on Drugs. We have the largest incarceration rate in the world. Our country fixates on locking people up for what is very likely the most beneficial plant on this earth. That realization is slowly sinking in. At the same time though, we almost completely ignore the possibility that other drugs — the psychiatric medications, for instance — that are supposed to be helping us, could honestly be dangerous. They have very likely been a factor in at least some of the most violent crimes this country has ever seen.

So how did we get from Point A to Point B? Yes, we have a drug problem in this country, but it is not marijuana. The laws against weed have likely done more damage to more people in more ways than most other laws in recorded history. We are so busy talking about marijuana and guns, real drug problems seldom make the news. And this is very likely one of them.

The one commonality in almost every single one of these mass killings (where the information is available) has been the use of psychotropic drugs. I don’t know the answer, but the one thing I do know is that it is way past time to quit persecuting good citizens for the use of a plant that God gave us, and get serious about addressing our real drug and crime issues — starting with a serious investigation of the possible connection between psychiatric drugs and the rampant mass killings in this country.

Regina Garson

Raised in the hill country of central Alabama, Regina Garson has degrees in Behavioral Science, Communications, and English. A long time writer, editor and activist, her career has involved both the social and the hard sciences. She has devoted her efforts to a number of causes including the War on Drugs, equality issues: race/diversity/women, labor and workplace issues, NASA, STEM education, and space development. She is founder and publisher of, which is among the earliest self-help and wellness sites on the Internet. She also publishes a blog, where you can read more of her writing: Regina Garson's Blog. Follow her on Twitter @ReginaGarson, like her on Facebook, and read more of her articles in the archives.


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