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MS Federal Judge Worries about Marijuana Legalization

The Meridian Star reports that Mississippi federal district judge Keith Starrett is worried that legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington will have a negative impact. What makes his opinion impactful is that Starrett was one of the first on the judiciary to promote drug courts as a middle ground – instead of incarcerating addicts – and is seen as an advocate for decriminalization. Mississippi’s first felony-level drug court was established by Judge Starrett.

Starrett is a member of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADPC, an organization that lobbied against legalization in CO and WA. He is quoted in the Meridian Star about last year’s legalization in those states. "We dropped the ball in Colorado and Washington," said Starrett, who worked as a member of NADCP to stop the legalization effort in those states. "Our organization played a big part in the defeat of legalization in California, but we were caught flat-footed in the last election."

The judge sees a parallel between how cigarettes are marketed to the public and what will likely happen if marijuana legalization spreads to other states. He predicts as many as 10 states will quickly “go legal” by following the model of the first two.

While it is unlikely that Mississippi will jump on the legalization bandwagon, the prospect of new tax revenue and jobs is tempting. But one difference in our state is the way we set alcoholic beverage laws, with local communities often prohibiting what is allowed elsewhere in the state. Since marijuana legalization is done by grafting cannabis onto the structure used to regulate booze, in Mississippi, we’d end up with mess. The conflict with federal law is an issue as well – anywhere federal money intersects with state (employment, medical and welfare benefits, universities) concerns, federal drug laws apply – adding to the confusion and complexity.

Judge Starrett has demonstrated he’s willing to listen to alternative solutions to prison as evidenced by his involvement in establishing drug courts. We should listen to his warnings as well.

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