Herald-Leader Editorial

Ky. must reassess marijuana policies

August 19, 2014 

In July, Washington became the second state where marijuana could be purchased legally for recreational use.

Folks have been buying pot legally in Colorado since the first of the year, and Reuters reported in April the state expects recreational sales to generate $98 million in revenue this year.

Earlier this month, the District of Columbia Board of Elections voted to put a recreational use initiative on the ballot in November. Alaskans will also be voting on the issue this fall.

Nearly two dozen states and the District of Columbia already allow marijuana use for medical purposes.

Legalizing pot seems to be the newest "in" cause in this country.

Kentucky even took a tiny step in that direction earlier this year when the General Assembly approved the use of oil derived from marijuana and hemp to treat some seizure patients.

This year, too, a perennial proposal to legalize the medical use of marijuana won the approval of a House committee, a legislative first in Frankfort, but went no further.

A statewide poll earlier this year found that 52 percent of Kentuckians favor legalizing medical use of marijuana. So, that particular facet of the legalization debate no doubt will be raised again in the 2015 General Assembly. And given the national trend, along with Kentuckians' propensity for raising and smoking lots and lots of pot illegally, the issue of recreational use is sure to arise soon.

That's why the first action Kentucky lawmakers should take in regard to marijuana in 2015 is to commission a thorough, unbiased, independent study of how legalization — for medical and/or recreational use — would impact the state and its citizens, a step we initially proposed in March.

The questions are many, and the answers are just now emerging in Colorado and Washington.

How much will we save on law enforcement and corrections costs by decriminalizing the cultivation and use of marijuana? How much revenue can be generated by taxing sales? How do we regulate and license growers and vendors? What effect will legalization have on other criminal activity? What are the potential societal consequences?

These are just a few of the questions needing honest, unbiased answers if Kentucky lawmakers are going to be fully informed when the time comes for them to make a decision on legalizing pot. And given the momentum this "in" cause seems to be building around the nation, the answers need to come sooner rather than later.

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