Weighing benefits of pot legalization

Moderated by Rick Badie

Today, we present another conversation on whether to legalize the use of medical cannabis. A former DeKalb County district attorney presents a historical perspective on the prohibition of cannabis and implores the 2015 General Assembly to conduct a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis of legalization for medicinal and recreational use. Meanwhile, a conservative activist supports medicinal use of pot but opposes its use for recreational purposes.

Analyze costs, benefits of legal pot

By J. Tom Morgan

Two states have legalized small amounts of marijuana possession. More than 30 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Recently, The New York Times editorial board called for the decriminalization of marijuana. Kenneth Thompson, the district attorney of Kings County, N.Y., announced he will no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession cases.

In light of the changes in the rest of the country, the Georgia Legislature should examine whether to repeal Georgia’s own prohibition of marijuana possession. Prior to 1937, cannabis was legal and recognized by the American Medical Association as a legitimate pharmaceutical. It was prescribed by doctors in this country and England; Queen Victoria was prescribed marijuana for menstrual cramps.

In 1937, prohibition had ended, and Harry Anslinger, director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, needed a new cause. He convinced some friends in Congress to introduce a bill criminalizing marijuana.According to the Congressional Record, Anslinger gave the following testimony: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others.”

Congress voted to criminalize marijuana.

In 1972, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, chaired by Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Raymond Shafer, recommended the end of marijuana prohibition. Dr. Jesse Steinfeld, the surgeon general, recommended against placing marijuana on the newly created list of prohibited drugs. Still, President Richard Nixon and Congress classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the most dangerous drug category.

Unlike alcohol and tobacco, marijuana does not appear to cause addiction in most persons who use the drug. Yet alcohol possession is legal for persons over 21; there is no criminal law prohibiting possession of tobacco products by persons of any age. Although it is against the law to sell tobacco products to a person under 18, and it is against the law for a person under 18 to purchase tobacco products, there is no criminal law prohibiting the possession of tobacco products by underage persons.

Some argue that marijuana is a gateway drug to more dangerous drugs. Many baby boomers would dispute this assertion. In my experience representing young people charged with possession of drugs such as cocaine or heroin, it was the drug dealer, not marijuana, who convinced them to try the deadly and addictive drug. Additionally, there is no current evidence of disparity of marijuana use by African-American and Caucasian young adults, but African-Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana. Whether intentional or not, the criminalization of marijuana results in racist application.

According to the Pew Research Center, 78 percent of Americans opposed the legalization of marijuana in 1991. Today, Pew reports that 54 percent favor legalization. This number includes 52 percent of baby boomers and 69 percent of millennials. It gets a more favorable rating than Congress and the president.

Because of the development of the adolescent brain and our uncertainty of the effects of marijuana on teenagers, I would not recommend legalizing marijuana possession for persons under 21. However, instead of criminal penalties for underage possession, I would recommend civil penalties that could be enforced with the threat of contempt of court. I would recommend the same for underage possession of alcohol. Young persons who commit these offenses should not be saddled with a criminal arrest on their records for the remainder of their lives.

The Georgia Legislature should appoint a committee to conduct an objective cost/benefit analysis regarding the legalization of marijuana. This analysis should examine the law enforcement costs of enforcing the prohibition, criminal prosecution and the stigma of an arrest on the individual charged with possession, compared with the benefit society derives from criminalization. Ignorance, racism and a total disregard of the scientific evidence should not be a part of the analysis.

J. Tom Morgan, former DeKalb County district attorney, is a private lawyer in Decatur.

Let’s balance medical need with common sense

By Julianne Thompson

During the 2014 General Assembly, Kay Godwin and I, co-founders of the Capitol Coalition of Conservative Leaders, and other conservatives even on the religious right supported the use of medical cannabis for intractable seizure disorder.

My heart broke for children suffering day and night with more thanto 300 violent seizures per week that only had one medical choice, and that was to basically be put in a nearly comatose state by prescription drugs. The accounts of parents who had used medical cannabis oil and had amazing success — in some cases taking the seizures down to less than two per week — were encouraging.

One mother stated she had truly not “met” her daughter until the child was 7, when medicinal cannabis (high in cannabidiol and low in THC) allowed her to function normally, to talk, walk, play and communicate as a normal, healthy child — all without a high and without the hideous side affects of FDA-approved prescription drugs. Conservative Republican legislator Allen Peake, who led the effort in the state House, is both brave and pioneering. He has my respect, and I am proud to have supported the legislation and will continue to support it.One question regularly asked is whether the legalization of marijuana for medical use opens the door to legalization for recreational use. I do not believe that to be the case, nor is it a solid basis for an argument against its medical use. If that argument is used, then shouldn’t we also consider banning morphine, codeine, pseudoephedrine and many other widely-used drugs? After all, they are all abused outside of strict medical uses by irresponsible people.

The fact is, anything can be abused, but when a substance’s medical use outweighs its potential for abuse, it would be foolish, even cruel, to ban its use. And the most important point to make on this hybrid cannabis oil is that it is not smoked, it doesn’t make one high and it is low in THC.

So let’s balance medical need with common sense.

The argument I make for cannabis’ medical use I believe to be true while being opposed to its recreational use. I would never support hallucinogens, narcotics, or traditional marijuana becoming unregulated and open to the public for recreational use due to the potential for abuse we see with vicodin, pseudoephedrine and other drugs. We don’t ban their specific medical use, but we don’t support their use for recreational pleasure, either.

Yes, I am pro-liberty, but also believe my personal liberty should not infringe upon another’s safety; we have the right to live in a safe society. Abuse of any narcotic for pleasure can, and most always does, lead to addiction. Addiction leads to heavier use and opens the door to harder drugs. This is a proven fact and in turn puts public safety at risk. It causes the need for more tax dollars to be spent on police and the courts.

It is important to point out that although I do not support recreational use, I do not believe users should be locked up, either. I fully support drug courts and alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders; I applaud Gov. Nathan Deal for his leadership in judicial reform.

In the time I have spent writing this, I realize what a very difficult subject this is. I will continue to fight for the rights of parents who want the choice of using medical cannabis for their children with intractable epilepsy. But when it comes to recreational use, let’s balance facts with common sense. It is not an easy subject. There are a lot of gray areas, and a diplomatic discussion needs to continue.

Julianne Thompson is co-chair of the Atlanta Tea Party.

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