It’s time for Tennessee to legalize marijuana

Editorial Board • Dec 14, 2017 at 12:00 PM

A committee of the Tennessee General Assembly is prepared to recommend that next year, lawmakers should legalize medical marijuana, which would make Tennessee the 30th state to do so. But the legislature shouldn’t stop there. It should join the 22 states which in part or whole have decriminalized marijuana.

The continued criminalization of marijuana is costing the nation billions of dollars annually to no good purpose, wrecking lives, and wasting the time of law enforcement officers and clogging our court system.

It drives an underground economy that generates all manner of criminal activity and puts otherwise law-abiding citizens in prison and makes them felons for possessing small amounts of a plant material that study after study has proven to be no more dangerous than alcohol.

The committee has spent three months researching the viability of legalizing medicinal marijuana and has all but finished drafting legislation for the 2018 session that would legalize cannabis in certain forms for medicinal purposes. All well and good. But the legislature doesn’t need a committee to understand that the next step is legalizing recreational marijuana. So why wait until more Americans are harmed and more money is wasted on a losing cause?

The debate on this issue should be over. Alcohol is 114 times more deadly than marijuana. Prohibition ended 84 years ago, and so should the “war” on marijuana, also a losing battle. Tennessee lags only California in terms of marijuana production. The 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. Nobody ever died from overdosing on marijuana.

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, but there has been a decrease in drug-related crimes, even as the state has collected more than $100 million in taxes on legal pot.

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 the continued criminalization of marijuana has 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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