Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer High Time for a Decision

SEPTEMBER 29, 1997:  There's one thing to be said for the recent cloud of controversy raised over the issue of whether State Senator Steve Cohen, a prospective gubernatorial candidate, did or did not smoke marijuana at a party in Nashville. It directs our attention to the legal and social haze that has enveloped the whole matter of pot use for as long as we can remember. It's high time that we, both in Tennessee and in the nation at large, cleared things up.

Simultaneous with the Cohen matter -- aired publicly in a recent issue of the Nashville Scene, a weekly newspaper -- was the news that a huge throng had gathered on the Boston Commons over the weekend to call for legalizing marijuana. Although isolated states have acted through referenda to legalize the use of the drug -- a naturally occurring plant, actually -- for medicinal purposes, its recreational use is still strictly outlawed and subject to prosecution as a felony. Before we get to giggling too much over the Cohen affair, we need to remember that legions of marijuana users are still serving time in state and federal prisons.

That's the crux of the matter. Cohen is too glib by far when he referred to pot use off-handedly as "a generational thing." And we have to say that the Scene is disingenuous and hypocritical to an extreme when it takes Cohen to task for allegedly smoking dope in the company of the newspaper's own staffers!

Let's get serious: Either we acknowledge that marijuana has its purposes (as Senator Cohen notes, Tennessee permitted medical use of marijuana until three years ago when the legislature, in a fit of righteousness, banned the substance utterly) and relax the current state and federal restrictions. Or we implement the Prohibition-like procedures that can repress what now seems to be a resurgence in its use.

We are intrigued by the view -- held by conservative polemicist William F. Buckley, among others -- that the best way of controlling marijuana may be to legalize it and submit it to strict licensing, preventing it from being an entry-level drug to traffic in other illegal substances: cocaine, crack, heroin, methamphetamines.

As thing stand now, we are sending out contrary signals -- creating as much confusion in the minds of young Tennesseans and Americans as the much-maligned hemp plant ever could.

Just Do It

On Monday, when the Shelby County Commission voted formally to reconsider its previous vote to permit local judicial primaries in 1998, it built in an interactive procedure whereby local Democrats and Republicans would be invited to re-submit a scaled-down primary format -- for open seats and for those appointed jurists who have not yet stood for popular election.

We agree with Buck Wellford, the Republican commissioner who has always opposed judicial primaries, that the commission should act independently of the two parties and just vote to ban them outright. And we have sympathy, too, for the view of GOP activist Bill Houston, an advocate of judicial primaries, who told commissioners that with equal justice they could exempt isolated commission seats from next year's primary elections.

Indeed, there's something screwy and irresolute about the commission's slow-acting half-measures. As Shakespeare said: When 'tis done, if 'tis done, it were best it were done quickly. Or something like that. Alternatively: Out, out, damned primaries, as the Bard also approximately said. Sort of.

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