The St. Louis County medical examiner's report on the body of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9, found that Brown had "marijuana in his system" when he died, according to a Washington Post article Monday.
This development should not have come as a surprise to anyone who has ever been or known a teenager, but some still expected the toxicology report to be a "bombshell." It isn't.
For one, the presence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in Brown's body says nothing about whether he was intoxicated at the time of his confrontation with Wilson. Depending on how frequently a person consumes cannabis and how fast that individual metabolizes the many compounds contained in the plant, it's not entirely clear for just how long a marijuana user will continue to test positive for the substance.
THC can stay in a person's body for upward of 40 days, according to the National Drug Court Institute.
Infrequent or first-time users of marijuana might still test positive for about four days after the initial use, but frequent users of cannabis may test positive for THC for weeks after the person last consumed the drug.
In an extreme case, a single person who reportedly regularly used marijuana for about 10 years still tested positive almost 70 days after last using it, according to the NDCI.
In other words, just because marijuana was found in Brown's system does not mean he was high at the time he was shot to death by a police officer. It doesn't even necessarily mean he recently consumed cannabis. Such false assumptions often lead to claims that marijuana use is directly linked to criminal behavior. While some studies have found higher marijuana use among criminal offenders, the presence of THC in their systems is often circumstantial, rather than a contributor to the behavior itself.
Even if Brown was high or had recently used marijuana, there is little evidence to suggest Brown would have been more aggressive or confrontational when approached by a police officer because of it. In fact, if Brown were high, a number of recent studies suggest that marijuana would have made him much less aggressive.
Even a study commissioned by President Richard Nixon from 1972 reported this same effect: "Rather than inducing violent -- or aggressive behavior ... marihuana was usually found to inhibit the expression of aggressive impulses by pacifying the user ... generally producing states of drowsiness lethargy, timidity and passivity."
But most importantly, when the discussion surrounding this controversy shifts to Brown's apparent use of drugs -- and marijuana, no less, a substance that has been fully legalized in two states -- it distracts from the real questions at hand: How did an unarmed black teenager approached by a police officer for walking in the street end up being shot six times? Was Wilson justified in shooting Brown? Did Brown attack the officer and reach for his gun, as police claim? Did Wilson's fatal shot to Brown's head come while the teen's hands were up, as witnesses contend? Meaningless and misleading indictments of Brown's character do nothing to provide answers to these questions.