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Marijuana should be legalized nationwide

Editorial Board • Sep 2, 2016 at 1:44 PM

Nashville city lawmakers have joined numerous communities and states in reducing the penalty for those caught possessing or exchanging small amounts of marijuana.

So should every other community and state. If smoking marijuana led to harder drugs like cocaine and heroin, so would alcohol.

Under a new Nashville ordinance, possession or exchange of a half-ounce of marijuana — about what a sandwich bag would hold — is a $50 fine, or 10 hours of community service at the court’s discretion. That’s a significant improvement over what previously would have been an arrest and up to a year in jail.

But there should be no charge whatsoever for marijuana possession no more than there is a charge for possessing alcohol if of legal age. The continued criminalization of marijuana is costing billions of dollars annually to no good purpose, wrecking lives, and consuming the time of law enforcement officers.

It drives an underground economy that generates all manner of crime that hurts, even kills people. It puts otherwise law-abiding citizens in prison and makes them felons for possessing even less than an ounce of a plant material.

As Reason magazine notes, “none of these interpretations involves a specific pharmacological effect of the sort drug warriors seem to have in mind when they suggest that pot smoking primes the brain for cocaine or heroin. As a National Academy of Sciences panel observed in a 1999 report, ‘There is no evidence that marijuana serves as a stepping stone on the basis of its particular drug effect.’ The Canadian Senate’s Special Committee on Illegal Drugs likewise concluded that ‘cannabis itself is not a cause of other drug use. In this sense, we reject the gateway theory.’”

The pundits said crime would go up in Colorado when it legalized marijuana two years ago. But Colorado’s grand experiment with legal marijuana has led to a decrease in drug-related crimes, according to federal data, and the state has collected an estimated $70 million in taxes on legal pot. Plus, some evidence suggests the availability of marijuana is having a positive impact on tourism.

There are legitimate issues raised with legalizing pot. Restricting access to children and establishing what driving under the influence would be with marijuana are among them. But Tennessee lags only California in terms of marijuana production. Its drug problem is with prescription drugs, especially painkillers. And in that regard a study found that in states which legalized marijuana in some form, overdose deaths from prescription painkillers dropped 25 percent.

It’s clear that consumption of marijuana has not been and will not be deterred any more than was consumption of alcohol during Prohibition. The journal Scientific Reports found marijuana about 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Criminalizing has only clogged our courts and corrupted entire nations like Mexico.

Marijuana should be legalized nationwide. It would help empty our jails, save lives, and bring in millions of dollars in new revenue.

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