In 2014, Colorado and Washington (collectively “Weed States”) were the first states in the Union to legalize the recreational consumption of marijuana. A number of other states have legalized the consumption of marijuana for medical purposes with a license – which can essentially be obtained by anyone with a pulse and the ability to say the word “ouch.” For a current map of United States' marijuana laws click here. Critics of marijuana prohibition have many arguments in support of legalization, but the most compelling ones state that legalization will reduce the number of criminals in overpopulated prisons, decrease government spending, and increase tax revenue. For further discussion on arguments in support of legalizing marijuana click here. The Weed States have already reported these benefits in less than a year of legalization. This begs the question, regardless of the obvious reasons for or against marijuana legalization, what are the consequences of legalizing marijuana as it pertains to the one duty required by our government – jury duty?
Marijuana seriously impairs a person’s cognitive function. Marijuana is a fat soluble, mind altering, highly toxic drug that remains in the body for up to a month, according to the anti-legalization organization, Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (“CALM”). For further discussion on CALM’s arguments against legalizing marijuana click here. Marijuana affects primarily the brain and sexual organs. Because efficient sexual organs are not necessary to a trial by jury, the primary concern is on marijuana’s effects on the brain. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (“NIDA”) states the major effects marijuana has on the brain are relaxation, increased sensory (i.e. brighter colors), laughter, altered perception of time, and increased appetite. Some less common effects are drowsiness, depression, anxiety, fear, distrust, panic, or even hallucinations in some instances. According to the NIDA, marijuana impairs a person’s ability to form new memories and to shift focus. For further discussion on marijuana’s effects on the brain click here.
Even though a juror under the influence of marijuana may have a hard time being serious, focused, and logical, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that high jurors (drunk jurors too) are not improper to sit on juries. The court held in Tanner v. United States that jurors voluntarily consuming alcohol and drugs did not qualify as an “outside influence” that is deemed improper to influence a jury decision by Rule of Evidence 606(b). For the full Tanner opinion click here.
Regardless of your opinion on marijuana legalization, “high” juries are bad public policy. Sober juries often have difficulty paying attention and focusing 100 percent of the time during a trial, and the public often criticizes the lack of intelligence possessed by jurors under the current system as it sits today. Imagine the criticism to follow if “high” juries become common practice. Jurors under the influence of marijuana will only find paying attention during dry, boring trials even more daunting. Now, a juror hallucinating that he or she is on a magic carpet ride may make their experience on a jury more enjoyable, but it will not deliver the justice that is believed to be associated with a trial by jury. Clearly, it will never be the case that all the people in states where marijuana consumption is legal will be high all the time. But, at a minimum, legalizing marijuana together with U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence may have at least some negative consequences that impact the jury system—the effects of which may be catastrophic.