On July 2, Eric Perez turned eighteen. On July 10, his family mourned his untimely death.
Mr. Perez suffered a medical emergency while being held at a detention center in Florida. Despite vomiting and crying for help, Mr. Perez was left to suffer for over six hours before receiving medical attention. Tragically, by the time he was seen by emergency personnel, it was too late. So what was Mr. Perez doing in a detention center to begin with? The non-violent act of possessing a small amount of marijuana.
On the night of June 29, three days before his eighteenth birthday, police stopped Mr. Perez for riding his bicycle without a night-light. Police searched Mr. Perez and found the marijuana. Mr. Perez was on probation for a “years old” robbery charge and was cuffed and sent to a detention center. It was in this detention center that he breathed his last breath.
Let’s engage in a thought experiment here. Say Florida had a taxed and regulated system of marijuana distribution for adult, non-medical use. In that scenario, Mr. Perez is never arrested for possessing a small amount of a relatively harmless drug. He may even be praised for choosing to ride his bicycle as opposed to driving a car. Perhaps he’s given a ticket or sent to drug education for underage possession of marijuana. Either way, in this hypothetical, Mr. Perez is not in jail during his medical emergency, thus providing him a better chance of receiving prompt medical attention. Mr. Perez could still be alive.
Even a policy that simply decriminalizes the possession of only a small amount of marijuana would have been preferable. Fourteen other states have already removed the possibility of jail time for possessing a small amount of marijuana and replaced it with a simple civil violation. If Florida were one of them, Mr. Perez would have been given a ticket and sent on his way. Again, all indications point to the fact that had his medical emergency happened on the outside, he would have stood a much better chance of surviving.
Unfortunately for Mr. Perez’s family, we do not live our lives in hypotheticals. Policy decisions carry with them very real consequences. When it comes to our current marijuana policy, those consequences tend to lean towards the tragic — lost lives, destroyed families, and government waste. Until we replace our failed marijuana policies with more sensible and less destructive alternatives, we will continue to see stories like Mr. Perez’s.