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Legal Pot for Tennessee?

A recent opinion piece, submitted as a letter in the Memphis Commercial Appeal makes what is becoming a standard argument for marijuana legalization. The premise is that criminal penalties for marijuana do more harm than good. The harms come in two forms, the first is to the person arrested who has to serve a prison sentence for dealing and the second is the money that flows to drug dealers – money that could otherwise go toward taxes and help boost the economy.

To make his case, Bob Honore mentions a man sentenced recently in Trenton for dealing in marijuana. The man received a thirty year sentence, and Honore says, “This is an extremely foolish carbon-copy repeat of the religiously spawned federal Prohibition of beer and other alcoholic products nearly a century ago.” Pretty strong.

The case in question, against Stephen Cook and reported on by WBBJ, came with a conspiracy charge and, as Honore mentions, involved distribution of about a ton of marijuana. What wasn’t mentioned though, was that Cook had a distribution network spanning three states and marijuana wasn’t the only drug involved. Cook was also accused of selling more than a pound of methamphetamine.

And that’s the kind of spin you’ll find on either side of the legalization argument. Without the marijuana charge, the sentence might not have been three decades, but certainly wouldn’t have been nothing.

So what happens if marijuana goes legal? Does a major player like Cook (who recruited friends and family members to staff his operation) simply go out of business and turn legit? Doubtful. There’s no reason to suppose a dealer wouldn’t just switch to cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, prescription pain pills – or any other illegal substance they can sell to make a buck.

Even if Cook stuck with marijuana, there is no proposed set of regulations that would allow someone to smuggle a ton of the plant to sell across state lines.

We need to be careful when we compare the status quo to some imaginary “best case” that comes with legalization. There’s no reason to move quickly or make rash laws we’ll only have to repeal later on.

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