Group Wants Discussion On Marijuana Laws

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Atlanta has long been known as a convention city.  The logistics of having the world’s busiest airport aid in bringing groups of many sizes and interests to meet together here.  A relatively small meeting that will take place Friday and Saturday probably should get more attention than it will.  At least, the group hopes to provoke some thought and discussion among those of us who make Georgia home.

The Southern Cannabis Reform Conference will be held Friday and Saturday to promote changing marijuana laws.  Various groups have been meeting and staging publicity stunts over the topic since the 60’s.  Most have been dismissed as frustrated counter culture hippies that are out of place in our structured law abiding society.  And many of them were.

We will caveat here that this column is not to advocate for or against changing the laws.  Frankly, Georgia’s people will have to have a long conversation among themselves before this would even be within the realm of possibility.  To many, the thought of even discussing the topic would be an abomination with the chance of passage equal to that of operating a successful unicorn farm.

And yet, while Georgians have mostly held tight to this public attitude, two states have legalized marijuana all together and eighteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized “medical marijuana”.  In most, the “medical” part of that title is a mere formality.  It generally only requires getting a doctor to write a prescription diagnosing “anxiety” or “chronic pain” and then using said prescription to get an official card that allows the purchase of weed and marijuana based products at various dispensaries in those states.

In most, the process is highly regulated.  Colorado went so far as to demand that 70% of all marijuana be grown on the site of the dispensary, addressing the concern that the retail legalization was merely codifying a lawful distribution system for the very unlawful activities of drug cartels which now dominate production.

By doing so, Colorado has experienced the growth of an entirely new domestic industry.  And with it, new tax revenues, a new base of jobs, and without any perceptible increase in crime or motor vehicle issues.

It is the contrast between that reality and Georgia’s decision to continue to prosecute individuals for even small amounts of marijuana that will over time capture the attention worthy of public debate.  Under current laws, states such as California, Washington and Colorado make money off of marijuana.  Georgia spends a lot of money because of it.

Quietly and without the word marijuana in the headlines, Georgia has already made tiny steps in closing this gap.  The criminal justice reform passed last year reduced the sentences on many crimes related to marijuana.  At the root of the measure was the desire to spend less money on prisons, but also to remove felony convictions from offenders’ records with minor drug infractions.

Not staining an individual’s “permanent record” over incidents that are now perfectly legal in other states was a primary motivation.   Felony records and long prison sentences prohibit many forms of employment, place a ceiling on upward mobility, and reduce the long term tax contributions a person can make long after an arrest for a small amount of marijuana.  The state now has the official position that many of these prosecutions hurt Georgia’s coffers on both the expense and revenue sides.

Time will likely be required before Georgia is willing to engage in this conversation.  And yet, the thought of Georgia allowing legalization in some form is no longer a guaranteed laugh line.

Just two years ago, the thought of Georgia’s social conservative base allowing legalized gambling here was equally unthinkable.  This year, a bill allowing the Georgia Lottery Corp to regulate video poker machines – and thus giving tacit legislative approval to GLC regulating casino gambling – is sailing through the legislature with little public comment.

Most other states have casinos, and Georgia apparently isn’t willing to let morals get in the way of retrieving lost revenue.  As legalized marijuana becomes more common in other states – states that are creating jobs, growing tax revenue, and shrinking prison budgets – Georgia may also come to a point where it is willing to look the other way on this issue too.

 

14 comments

  1. I personally don’t use the stuff, but I could get some within an hour with just a phone call or two. Marijuana usage is rampant throughout Georgia, legal or not. From a fiscal and small government point of view, I would say it’s certainly time we start looking at reform.

    Perhaps a step in the right direction, at least at the federal level, would be to legalize the production of industrial hemp. Wikipedia covers it pretty well: “In many countries regulatory limits for concentrations of psychoactive drug compounds (THC) in hemp encourages the use of strains of the plant which are bred for low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content or otherwise have the THC removed.[1] Hemp is refined into products like hemp seed foods, hemp oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, and fuel.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Hemp

  2. Noway says:

    Legalize it all. Set up treatment centers for abusers. Prohibition has been demonstrated as not having worked. Watch the cartels collapse overnight.

  3. xdog says:

    “legalize the production of industrial hemp”

    I don’t know anything about the legalities but Mrs xdog can buy clothing made of hemp in Athens. In reputable stores I mean, not in a head shop or seedy convenience store.

    • It’s legal to import products made from the stuff, but you can’t grow the hemp and make the products in the “land of the free”. From my understanding, having talked to importers, there is also a lot of red tape in importing hemp based products.

  4. gchidi says:

    It’s logically inconsistent for alcohol — an intoxicant — to be legal, and cigarettes — a carcinogenic, addictive recreational substance — to be legal, but marijuana possession to be a crime.

    It would please me to see marijuana possession in small quantities removed from being a pretext for search and arrest. The amount of damage done to black and Latino communities because of the criminalization of marijuana defies reasons.

    Less than a mile from my house in Pine Lake, DeKalb County police officers nakedly attempted to frame someone for marijuana possession at a Chevron gas station recently. The only reasons this innocent person isn’t in jail are because a surveillance camera captured a police officer throw a bag of the stuff at the guy’s feet, then shout about how the suspect threw it there … and because the evidence has mysteriously gone missing, conveniently making prosecution impossible.

    I want the names of the police officers responsible for this made public. I want their pictures posted prominently in my neighborhood. After the slew of recent corruption arrests, one can’t be too careful.

    I’m not a drug user. I deplore the use of drugs. But I find it maddening that the supposed conservative advocates for “freedom” and low government expenditures can somehow find some pretzel of logic that equates harsh enforcement and sentencing around drug laws with any real conception of liberty or financial thrift — we have more people in our very expensive prison system because of this than the Soviets did at the height of the Stalin regime, for crying out loud.

    • xdog says:

      I read about the DeKalb County case you mentioned. While I’m glad the guy they tried to frame will walk I wonder how many others didn’t have the good luck to be taped and ended up doing time or getting hit with a fine. Personally I think those cops involved should lose their jobs at least. I also think a grand jury should take a long look at how the cops are going about their jobs.

      I hear the gateway drug argument made about weed a lot. Do a joint today and next week you’ll be putting heroin in a vein. That’s a legitimate concern for some I’m sure, but so what? I bet most alcohol abusers started out with beer or wine and I don’t see people getting all exercised about that.

      I support legalizing or at least decriminalizing weed usage but I know if it ever happens there will be more people driving while baked. Officials would have to make it very clear that operating a vehicle while high carries the same penalties as drunk driving. I’d take some of the revenue the state would gain to pay for the best field tests available to keep people from playing bumper cars.

    • Harry says:

      Nothing like partisan politics smokin to blunt a solution? Nothing like a smokin solution to blunt partisan politics?

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