Editorial Cartoon

In January’s General Assembly, legislators will face numerous issues. They will debate and cast votes on numerous measures that will have a great deal of impact on our daily lives.

During the upcoming session, however, legislators will have a great deal more on their plates than normal. In addition to the looming crisis over pensions, there’s now talk of potential shortfalls going into a session during which the legislature will set the state’s spending plan for the next two years.

There’s going to be a lot of hard decisions to be made.

One thing that the legislature must do in not just the coming session, but in future sessions as well, is find a way to produce more revenue coming into the state’s coffers. That seems like an easy thing on the surface, but, in reality, governments are extremely limited in how to do that.

Taxes are the main way. But who can afford more taxes right now? With an economy lagging behind the rest of the nation, especially in Eastern Kentucky, increased taxes on any sector will simply result in a chilling effect on spending. That will simply lead to more economic malaise.

Recently, Rep. Cluster Howard of Jackson pre-filed a bill to be heard in the upcoming session that could result in a less painful way of increasing revenue. But the measure definitely faces an uphill climb.

The bill would allow Kentucky to join the 11 other states that have legalized recreational cannabis use for adults.

According to a statement from Howard, the legislation would govern home use and commercial sales while dedicating a sizable portion of tax and license revenues to the state retirement systems’ unfunded liabilities. The bill, the statement said, would also decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of cannabis and provide free expungements for those convicted of a marijuana-related misdemeanor.

“Other states have shown that legalizing cannabis for adult use is a win-win situation for everyone involved,” Howard said in the statement. “It’s a major revenue generator; it frees up critical jail and prison space; it helps counteract the deadly opioid epidemic; and it gives farmers a major new cash crop.  The longer we wait, the more we miss out on these benefits.”

The benefits versus risks of marijuana can be debated from now until the end of time and there will be no resolution in the minds of those whose minds are already made up on the matter. Whether you agree with marijuana use is irrelevant. It’s happening legally in 11 states in our country and illegally in the rest, including right here in Kentucky.

The only difference between Kentucky and those other 11 states is that the criminal underground is the main beneficiary of the revenue in states like ours.

Whether marijuana use is moral is not a decision for us to make. Evidence tends to indicate that it’s less harmful than other drugs, such as methamphetamine, cocaine or illegally administered opiates, and that addiction is debatable.

We’re not deluded into thinking that Kentucky is going to, all of a sudden, decide that marijuana use should be legal. We’re a long way away from that, unfortunately, but our legislators would be remiss if they didn’t consider it and other revenue-producing measures which don’t unfairly impact the taxpayers. Howard’s bill may not be the answer, but it’s the start of a discussion. Time is running out, however, and the time for a decision is near.

Recreational marijuana may just be one of the answers for which we’re looking.

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