Pubdate: Fri, 19 Aug 2016
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)
Copyright: 2016 Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.
Note: Paper does not publish LTE's outside its circulation area
Author: David Allen


"Your libertarian streak is showing."

That's what one of my friends said earlier this week when I told him 
what I planned on writing about today. Well, sure, I may harbor 
libertarian sentiments, but it seems lately that folks at multiple 
points across the political spectrum are willing to consider a 
recalibration of existing marijuana laws.

The days of fearing "reefer madness" are waning. Yes, even in Tennessee.

Playing the role of bellwether on this opinion shift is the Nashville 
Metro Council, which voted 32-4 on Tuesday to move a marijuana 
decriminalization bill forward. Now it heads to committee phase, 
where its nuances will be discussed more thoroughly for further votes.

The proposed legislation doesn't legalize the drug. Rather it would 
reduce the penalty for possession of less than a half-ounce of the 
near harmless substance to a simple $50 civil penalty or 10 hours of 
community service. It's the equivalent of writing a ticket. 
Currently, however, state law treats such possession as a misdemeanor 
- - a life-altering charge - punishable by up to a year behind bars and 
a $2,500 fine.

When first reading about this development, I wasn't sure how a local 
legislative body could skirt state statutes, but proponents of 
Nashville's decriminalization bill insist it wouldn't be much 
different than how littering is treated. According to state code, 
littering also is a misdemeanor, but it is rarely prosecuted as such. 
So there's hope? Possibly. Good. Because it's high time we change our pot laws.

No, I'm not going to argue for full legalization (yet), though 
numerous states are proving that the benefits of ending pot 
prohibition far outweigh the negatives. Colorado, for example, raised 
$70 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales in 2015 alone.

Do you know how much they made off alcohol sales? A paltry, by 
comparison, $42 million. That's amazing. Man, think of all the roads 
that could be paved, bridges that could be updated, or school books 
(iPads even!) that could be purchased with $70 million thrown into 
the state budget. Talk about easy money.

Oh sorry, I said I wasn't going to make that argument.

And no, I won't even make the case for legalization for medical 
marijuana (yet), though more and more studies are surfacing 
highlighting its health benefits, especially for sufferers of 
epileptic seizures and chronic pain. The fact that these people 
cannot easily get their hands on a helpful substance is absurd. Our 
moral preening over the drug is achieved at the expense of others. (I 
should note here that the passage of last year's cannabis oil bill 
was a step in the right direction on this front.)

The greatest value of Nashville's bill is that it undercuts a 
long-standing and egregious misapplication of our criminal justice 
system. As bill co-sponsor Dave Rosenberg (a small-government 
right-winger) put it, "our society has come to understand that the 
most harmful effect of marijuana is marijuana laws."

To be sure, it's ridiculous that 19-year-olds can have their entire 
future jeopardized for being caught with a joint stuffed in their 
pants pocket at a music festival. Give me a break. Equally absurd is 
the fact that law enforcement is required to waste valuable time and 
resources to be complicit in the ruination of those kids' lives.

There will, no doubt, be pushback against the advancement of 
Nashville's decriminalization bill. Change, no matter how positive, 
never comes easily, and the anti-marijuana public relations campaign 
is deep-rooted.

But the Metro Council's willingness to consider this bill is a 
welcome move - one that I hope other locales will watch with open minds.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom