Past time for Kentucky to legalize marijuana

Thomas Vance
Thomas Vance

An interim joint hearing of the Licensing and Occupations Committee will be held at 10 a.m. Friday in Room 129 of the Capitol Annex to focus on the legalization of medical marijuana in Kentucky.

The committee has held many hearings on the issue over the last four years, and we were told in 2012 that we would have interim hearings in the summer and do something in 2013.

This year we have been told by Sen. John Schickel, committee co-chair, that “we will do something next year.”

It is hard to imagine what we could possibly uncover that hasn’t been found by the 26 states and District of Columbia that have already legalized marijuana. There’s plenty of proof of the safety and efficacy of marijuana.

I attended what was billed as a marijuana summit, sponsored by an anti-drug group, in Covington on Dec. 1. During one segment, a speaker regaled us with a story about how he broke California law and got a medical-marijuana program card and how easy it was to lie and get one.

I immediately spoke up: “The citizens of California have had a medical cannabis program since 1996 — 20 years. You must tell me exactly when the harms of marijuana legalization predicted by you guys are gonna show up? How much longer should we wait for these terrible things to rear their ugly heads?”

The reality is that not one of the predicted harms has happened in any of the states with medical cannabis laws or recreational cannabis laws.

What has happened is truly remarkable. Colorado is a perfect example of what a comprehensive marijuana-legalization policy can accomplish. Colorado collected $135 million in taxes from $947 million in sales for 2015. Slightly more than half was from recreational sales. More than 20,000 jobs have been created in the industry and these numbers do not take into account the millions in ancillary economic activity driving the state economy.

Legalizing marijuana, an industry that traditionally belongs to Kentucky, has such far-reaching benefits for our people it is a wonder we were not the first to legalize rather than being one of the last.

Many of our citizens claim they do not trust or believe the federal government, yet on this issue they somehow do, even when the evidence of the government’s deception is indisputable.

The cover story in the April 2016 edition of Harper’s magazine titled, “Legalize it all,” with the subtitle, “How to win the war on drugs” written by Dan Baum recalls an interview with President Richard Nixon’s aide John Ehrlichman.

Baum was asking about the politics of drug prohibition and, as he tells it, Ehrlichman said: “You want to know what this was really all about?”

He went on to say: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Let’s stop this drug-war game, take what works best from those who have already legalized it and build a program that will revitalize our eastern counties and benefit all our citizens.

Thomas Vance, of Alexandria, is a senior adviser for Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access and a retired Air Force master sergeant.