Panezott: Medical pot still against federal law

Salem police chief can’t support dispensaries

SALEM –Police Chief J.T. Panezott spoke out Thursday against the idea of locating any medical marijuana retail dispensaries in the city, saying he’ll recommend council prohibit them.

“Council has a rough road ahead of them in making a decision. I think it’s a bad precedent to go against federal law,” he said.

While the legislature in Ohio has chosen to allow medical marijuana, possession and/or use of marijuana remain a violation of federal law, in any form, whether it’s for medical or recreational purposes.

“I’m not debating whether marijuana can be used as medicine. I’m a cop because I’m not smart enough to be a doctor and I’m too smart to be a politician at this point in my career,” he said.

Panezott added that he’s not trying to make a disparaging remark against politicians, they have some difficult decisions to make. He pointed to comments made by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing about medical marijuana being illegal and Sessions suggesting that if Congress wants to change that, they should pass a law to do it.

Despite the number of states who have legalized marijuana for medical use and some for recreational use as well, the federal government still sees marijuana as illegal — period.

“I think it’s a dangerous precedent for a state to go against the federal government,” Panezott said, adding “it’s too early to tell what’s going to happen with medical marijuana federally.”

The current policy is one of non-interference with states who have legalized marijuana, but if the federal government contacts the local police and says they’re shutting down dispensaries, he said the Salem Police Department will cooperate, as the department always does with all federal counterparts and federal investigations.

Panezott pointed out that when he and his fellow officers all took their oath, the first item they promised to uphold was the Constitution of the United States of America.

He admitted he doesn’t have the authority to enforce federal law on his own. If someone is obeying the medical marijuana law in Ohio, he can’t charge them with anything under state code and federal charges require action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

During a state attorney general’s conference this year, he heard a speech by Lt. Col. Danny McKnight, the Black Hawk Down commander who led Army Rangers into Somalia in 1993. One comment by McKnight that struck Panezott was that “you have to make the hard, right decision.”

Panezott spent 12 years assigned with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and he has a Salem officer who replaced him assigned to the DEA task force in Youngstown.

He hasn’t gotten any guidance from the federal government on what they’re doing about medical marijuana. As for the state, the state approved medical marijuana, contrary to federal law.

City council’s Committee of the Whole recently voted 5-2 to forward a proposed ordinance to city council to allow up to two medical marijuana retail dispensaries in the city.

Panezott said he’s going to recommend council follow current federal law and not allow any dispensaries. The council committee voted unanimously to recommend prohibiting medical marijuana growing operations and processing facilities in the city.