RICHARDSON: A different day coming

March 9, 2014 

One of the most misunderstood issues of this legislative session is Allen Peake’s drive to legalize cannabis for medical purposes (House Bill 885). It passed the House by a wide 171-4 margin. Now it awaits Senate approval.

There are some who believe this will open the door to legalizing recreational marijuana. While that’s a totally different issue, that day in Georgia is coming. The door was opened the day Colorado decided to OK recreational sales.

It won’t arrive in Georgia because of the plight of precious little girls like Haleigh Cox who suffer debilitating seizures dozens of times a day, or the desire to help patients who have found that marijuana eases their crippling pain. No, the same lawmakers who didn’t understand that in its oil-based form, cannabidiol, the plant can be used to treat such disorders, will be clamoring to enact laws that will go the way of Washington state and Colorado. They will be searching for something else that’s as green as a marijuana plant: money.

We live in a world of situational politics, and the politicians who practice that art can flip their moral conscience in the blink of an eye when they see their political futures going up in smoke.

It would be nice to think that the new wave of laws allowing same-sex couples to marry were due to worries about discrimination and unequal treatment. No, lawmakers are responding to voters who have the potential of putting them out of office if their homophobia continues.

We’re up in arms to learn that our government knows who we call and what we talk about, and can track our every move, but those same lawmakers didn’t respond to those worries when the Patriot Act and other legislation was proposed.

Please understand, situational politics is practiced by Democrats and Republicans. What they say today has no bearing on what they will say tomorrow.

The same is true with the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. All eyes are on Washington state, which is just getting its program up and running, issuing its first license to grow and process weed last week. And then there is Colorado. The Centennial State has had a bustling marijuana industry since Jan. 1.

According to CNN Money, Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee “projects revenues of about $610 million from retail and medical marijuana sales from Jan. 1 of this year to June 30, 2015.” The state will “reap $107 million in taxes in the first year of marijuana sales.”

Logic will first catch up on the medical side of the equation. Doctors prescribe drugs more powerful than marijuana every day. Many of the drugs we take already are plant based. After medicinal purposes are further liberalized, recreational use will not be far behind.

Another aspect in the legalization of marijuana debate is crime and punishment. We spend millions of dollars trying to police weed sales and punish the buyers. That expense would largely go up in smoke.

I’m not writing this to expose the logic of legalization. Is there a difference between a doobie and a beer? I don’t have the proper credentials to tell you the answer. While I prefer my mind-altering drugs in a glass, I’m not going to take the Clinton way out and say I “didn’t inhale” in my younger years. What’s the point if you don’t inhale? However, I have an aversion to smoke -- any type of smoke. I get woozy walking behind a transit bus.

My only point of this column is to set a marker in time. See if I’m right or not. It won’t happen right away, but if Colorado, Washington state and other areas start to rack up the tax dollars, some brave Georgia lawmaker will propose it, and the rest will figure out the justification.

One last example. We are supposedly a holier than thou state, the buckle on the Bible Belt. What state’s citizens have been buying lottery tickets since 1993? While I applaud the proceeds going to education, it’s still gambling. But, then again, so is the stock market.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at crichardson@macon.com. Tweet @crichard1020.

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