Dr. Beery and the marijuana debate


By Gary Abernathy - [email protected]



Our story over the weekend sharing Dr. Jeff Beery’s analysis of 50 suspicious, unusual or particularly interesting fatalities he investigated in 2016 as the Highland County coroner brought a not unexpected backlash against his comments on marijuana.

As one law enforcement official pointed out to me, it’s interesting that a story saying marijuana is a bad drug can bring more than 40 comments on our website, most of them defending marijuana use, while a story about a baby allegedly being shaken to the point she had to be placed into a medically-induced coma brought two responses.

People care about what they care about. One of the biggest responses we ever had to a story was a brief mention in a city council story that the local Taco Bell was rebuilding after a fire. The social media celebration was of colossal proportions.

Last week, Dr. Beery released to the media a comprehensive spreadsheet of 50 suspicious or unusual deaths, ranging from car crashes to gunshots to suicides and everything in between. He included columns on the spreadsheet noting the presence or history of various types of drug use. In eight cases, he identified marijuana use or history as a factor. The spreadsheet includes no opinions.

I decided to call Dr. Beery for some additional comments. I had no idea what those comments would be. I reported what he told me, and I made sure to mention that there were organizations and people who disagreed with his point of view on marijuana.

The marijuana debate has never been something I’ve engaged in to any significant degree. But those who commented and claimed that Dr. Beery was way off base, or had no basis for his opinion that marijuana is a “gateway to hell,” were wrong to paint the coroner as some kind of lone nut stranded on an island or stuck in the 1950s.

I know this because of emails I received from people who saw our story and wanted to back him up, people who have been involved in the marijuana debate for a long time.

One came from a woman in Florida named Teresa Miller, who wrote, “I believe there is a link to the legalization of marijuana and increase in heroin overdoses. Statistically in every state that has legalized (marijuana) for any reason, consumption of all other drugs to include alcohol and prescription drugs have increased.”

Teresa operates a website featuring research, data and articles from the past four years on the subject at www.no2pot.org. You may not agree with the findings or conclusions, but it provides food for thought.

But an even more compelling email came from California resident Lori Robinson, who is part of a support group operating a website called www.momsstrong.org designed “to inform and educate those harmed by marijuana. We are not funded by industry or the government, rather by parents as we hope to spread awareness and prevent tragedies like we’ve experienced.”

Teresa’s tragedy was the suicide of her son, Shane, who she found out later had been using marijuana recreationally but then began using it more to treat pain from an injury because he couldn’t tolerate other pain meds.

He ended up suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations, but the medical community denied marijuana was the cause, even though he tested positive for THC, the chemical in marijuana responsible for its mood-altering effect. She said the denial by many in the medical community compounds the difficulty in getting treatment for the problem.

“From his first psychosis break, Shane was dead within twenty-seven months, at the tender age of just 25,” his mother wrote. “I so agree with Dr. Beery, ‘Marijuana is the gateway to hell.’” She added, “I’m sharing my son’s unimaginable fate to make others aware of the harms of marijuana in hopes of preventing more young lives being lost and parents the agony of losing a child.”

You may well disagree that marijuana is a harmful drug or a gateway to heavier drug use, and you may be among those who insist it has medicinal value. There are organizations that share that viewpoint, including NORML, found at www.norml.org, and the Marijuana Policy Project at www.mpp.org.

One woman commented on our story with Dr. Beery, saying, “Beery should come spend a day with my two year old daughter, who suffers from a catastrophic form of intractable epilepsy and see what she goes through on a regular basis. He might change his mind about marijuana has medicinal qualities.”

I am not in a position to dispute those who claim firsthand experience with what they say is marijuana’s beneficial impact. But clearly, Dr. Beery’s position on the subject is hardly heretical. There are obviously people all over the U.S. who have their own firsthand stories of heartbreak and tragedy connected to marijuana and who share their stories freely in an effort to counter the notion that pot is harmless.

Most people who defend marijuana do not even make the medical argument. They just want to smoke it for fun and relaxation. They often say, “What about alcohol? Alcohol is worse!” Could be, but it’s a classic deflection argument – let’s justify marijuana by finding something legal to compare it to that’s worse. If alcohol were made illegal, I doubt the marijuana advocates and users would say, “Oh, OK, that’s fair, we’ll stop smoking marijuana now.”

The pro-pot movement has a lot of facts and studies at their disposal. But as Trump spokesman Kellyanne Conway famously said, there are “alternative facts,” or, better said, there are additional facts. No one, on any subject, has a monopoly on all the facts, because they ignore facts that don’t fit their argument, and because new facts emerge all the time, especially on medical topics.

People who have lost loved ones or who have seen the negative impacts of marijuana should not be dismissed or ridiculed. Their personal experiences deserve to be respected. As a county coroner, Dr. Beery sees what he sees on a regular basis. In 2016, he identified eight fatalities where he believes marijuana played a role, and he believes marijuana use is a serious problem. Why shouldn’t he say so?

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at [email protected]

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By Gary Abernathy

[email protected]

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