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Our Opinion: Avoid haste on marijuana legalization

Our Opinion: Avoid haste on marijuana legalization

News Tribune editorial

January 19th, 2014 in News

Let's not be too hasty about legalizing marijuana in Missouri.

Attempts to ease marijuana restrictions for recreational or medicinal use are included in a proposed state law and in 13 initiative petitions cleared for the signature-gathering process.

The Missouri efforts follow separate legalization laws in two states, Colorado and Washington.

Proponents are prompted by the adage to "strike while the iron is hot."

We encourage the opposite approach, particularly because if Missouri is patient, it can learn from an exemplary case of federalism in action.

Federalism is the constitutional concept outlined in 10th Amendment that powers not granted to or withheld from the federal government belong to the respective states, or the people.

Although federal law criminalizes the use and sale of marijuana, the Obama administration has elected not to pursue prosecution.

(The wisdom of so-called nullification laws by states is a topic for another day, with one of those other days being Tuesday in this forum where we discussed Missouri's effort to avoid federal law on gun control issues.)

Because the U.S. government has elected to ignore defiant states, other states have a golden opportunity to observe the ramifications of legalizing marijuana.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis popularized the idea that, under federalism, a "state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."

Two states have opted to serve as laboratories, conducting different experiments. Colorado permits people to grow their own marijuana plants; Washington does not.

Opponents of marijuana legalization believe these experiments are dangerous or destined to fail. "This is a bad experiment. It's going to cost us in terms of social costs," James Capra, chief of operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, told the Washington Post.

And, although some doctors support limited use in some situations, other medical and mental health professionals have concerns about the long-term health hazards caused by marijuana use.

The states' experiments are bound to reveal more about the social and health implications.

Rarely has a more compelling argument existed for Missouri to adopt a wait-and-see approach. With test cases elsewhere, proceeding with a potentially dangerous experiment here would be hasty, risky and foolish.