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Legalize, regulate and tax


Kurt Hochenauer February 5th, 2014

It might take some time before Oklahomans can hit their pot bongs without at least a pinch of police paranoia, but it’s an encouraging sign that state Sen. Constance Johnson has floated a bill for this upcoming legislative session that would legalize marijuana here.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has long noted that there has never been a recorded case of an overdose death attributed solely to marijuana.

Johnson, a Forest Park Democrat, has started a much-needed discussion at the state Capitol about decriminalizing a substance that even President Barack Obama, who used marijuana when he was younger, recently claimed is not “more dangerous than alcohol.” Johnson has made the point publicly that “marijuana has not killed anyone.”

That’s not the case with alcohol.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of more than 1,647 people died annually from 2006 to 2010 from alcohol poisoning. In Oklahoma, the average was 31 deaths. That doesn’t count the thousands more deaths nationwide and here caused by chronic drinking or accidents related to drinking.

What’s impressive about Johnson’s Senate Bill 2116 is that it presents an extensive and reasonable system for legalizing possession and growing small amounts of marijuana while allowing for its regulation and taxation. Under the bill, those who partake could possess up to an ounce of pot and grow up to five plants. It also would create regulations for marijuana stores and marijuana “cultivation facilities,” which would pay fees and excise taxes.

SB 2116 also emphasizes that one has to be 21 to use pot or participate in its production and that driving under its influence would remain strictly illegal.

The 20-page bill is a pot user’s dream, but — and here comes the downer — it’s unlikely to get much traction in the Legislature even though a recent poll, conducted by Sooner Poll, showed 57.1 percent of Oklahomans favor decriminalizing marijuana to some extent. Law-andorder conservatives will probably — pun intended — nip it in the bud.

Johnson, to her ongoing credit, has been active in calling attention to the “war on drugs” that costs this country billions of dollars a year and has led to Oklahoma’s high incarceration rate. The state leads the nation in female incarceration on a per-capita basis primarily because of drug-charge prosecutions.

Under today’s system, those who benefit the most financially from this futile war include government agencies, which enforce drug laws, and drug cartels, which sell dope illegally and often resort to violent tactics. They are caught in a maddening, neverending clash that bilks taxpayers and often ruins the lives of imprisoned, nonviolent users and minor dealers.

Other states, such as Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational marijuana, and at least 20 states and the District of Columbia allow for medical marijuana in some form. As more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana, it will become increasingly difficult for Oklahoma leaders — conservative, liberal or in between — to justify spending tax dollars to enforce archaic marijuana laws or send nonviolent people to prison for pot offenses.

Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and is the author of the Okie Funk blog.

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

 
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02.07.2014 at 03:29 Reply
Actually the polling numbers were 71.2% support, 57% strongly and the rest somewhat support. If this was any other subject that would be a mandate in the minds of the legislature.

 

 
 
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