Pubdate: Mon, 15 Jan 2018
Source: Kansas City Star (MO)
Copyright: 2018 The Kansas City Star
Author: Barry Grissom


Earlier this month, Kansas state Rep. Steve Alford embarrassed himself
by mistakenly repeating racist rhetoric that was originally used by
Henry Anslinger, an avowed racist from the late 1920s, when referring
to use of marijuana by people of color.

I do not believe Alford is a racist. But I do believe, like so many
others, he is misinformed when it comes to the facts and issues
related to marijuana and the history of marijuana prohibition.

Presently marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug under the federal
government's Controlled Substances Act -- right next to heroin. I
think most of us would agree marijuana is not the equivalent of
heroin. Nevertheless, it remains as a classified drug for the purposes
of federal prosecution.

In 2013, the Department of Justice, realizing states were passing laws
that provided for recreational use of marijuana through voter
initiatives, decided to issue guidelines that would regulate the
growing, distribution and sale of the plant and its derivatives to
responsible adults. These guidelines became known as the Cole Memo,
after Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole. The Cole Memo held that if a
state provides its own regulatory measures, much as states currently
regulate the sale of alcohol, the federal government would not intervene.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has now repealed the Cole Memo and is
now allowing U.S. attorneys to decide how they would like to enforce
federal law as it relates to marijuana. U.S. attorneys in places where
regulatory schemes have been implemented and are working -- Colorado
and Oregon, for example -- have indicated there will be no change in
their enforcement policies.

Eight states and the District of Columbia now provide for full
recreational use. Another 20 states allow medical marijuana to be
dispensed to patients. In June, Oklahoma will decide through
referendum whether to allow medical use, as will Missouri this fall.
With Nebraska also considering medical use, Kansas may well be
surrounded by states that allow varying degrees of legalization soon.

The question to consider: Will we use our already-scarce law
enforcement resources to arrest patients who travel out of state and
return with marijuana? Don't we have a wiser and better use of the
taxpayers' money than arresting a veteran who suffers from
post-traumatic stress disorder and chooses not to use pharmaceuticals?
Or the worker who was injured on the job and doesn't want to take
opioids for his pain? Or what about any other person who needs medical
marijuana to help alleviate a medical condition?

We should look to states that have allowed for different types of
marijuana use and see what's been their experience. In this regard,
Colorado is very instructive as to what happens when there is full
recreational use. In 2016 total marijuana sales in Colorado were 1.3
billion -- yes I said billion -- dollars. As a former prosecutor, that
tells me $1.3 billion did not go to criminals but instead went to
entrepreneurs who created over 18,000 new full-time jobs that paid a
living wage with the state taking in tax revenues of over $200 million.

Given our fiscal mess, it would be nice to have an extra $100 million
in revenue that didn't come from income tax increases.

I respectfully suggest we should we have a vigorous debate as to
whether Kansas wants to join the rest of the growing majority of
states that have decriminalized marijuana or whether we choose to
continue down the path of a failed drug policy of prohibition that
continues to waste law enforcement resources.

Either way, let's have a debate that's driven by actual facts rather
than half-truths, outdated rhetoric and innuendo. Otherwise, we'll
find ourselves embarrassed by misinformation, much like Representative

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Barry Grissom is former U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas.
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