THC & Smoke Rings

Apr. 16, 2022.

In 1973, the state of Oregon decriminalized cannabis — also known as marijuana — signifying the beginning of a fight for total legalization throughout the United States. Many states, following this action, began to decriminalize marijuana, and this has ultimately led to its legalization in many U.S. states and territories.

Currently, 37 states have legalized the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, 18 states have legalized the recreational use of cannabis and 27 have decriminalized the use of cannabis completely.

The topic has grown increasingly popular within community conversations and legislative hearings, especially concerning its effects on college campuses such as UT. Several legalization and decriminalization bills have been voted on in Tennessee, but none have been passed.

Tennessee remains as one of the 19 states that can inflict jail time upon those who are charged with simple possession of cannabis. In a Gallup survey performed in February, nearly 68% of U.S. voters were in favor of legalizing cannabis.

Tennessee’s legislative bodies have not acted in favor of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana, however, low-concentration THC products containing less than 0.3% Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol content were legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill.

UT Police Department (UTPD) Chief Troy Lane explained the current extent of cannabis use on campus, despite its illegality.

I would venture a conservative guess that well over three-fourths of our drug cases involve marijuana, even if we also confiscate other drugs. If I think back, not just at my time at UT, but going back the 33 years I’ve been in law enforcement, I would say that marijuana has been the constant and steadily increasing over the years as it is much easier to get, and — even though illegal — has seemed to become more socially acceptable,” Lane said.

In the past five years, UTPD has handled 423 total drug related offenses, with 47 of these offenses involving firearms.

Lane would not hesitate to say that legalizing cannabis would likely decrease crime and incarceration rates, as well as aid in improving health related to its alternative drug treatments and tax revenue.

While there is a trend of crime in states that have legalized or decriminalized cannabis, there is not enough evidence to definitively rule a correlation between the two.

Lane described the crime risks that have occurred in states that have legalized cannabis use.

“Studies of other states that have legalized marijuana show other concerning issues that can arise. For instance, even in states that have legalized marijuana, it becomes a cash heavy business, as most or all financial institutions are forbidden from accepting cash deposits known to come from drug trade,” Lane said.

“This is because at least for now, marijuana is still classified as a drug at the federal level. Since most financial institutions … are federally insured, they cannot knowingly accept proceeds linked to drug activity. This results in large amounts of cash being stored, carried or laundered through other businesses and makes the whole process ripe for robberies and other related crimes.”

In addition to this potential effect, Lane believes that some of the most common negative impacts surrounding the legalization of cannabis to be on cognitive development of youth, increased rates of use and traffic safety.

Several professionals and members of the community believe that the decriminalization and legalization of cannabis will have a widespread positive impact on the community, while others believe that it will lead to abuse of harsher substances.

Emilio Looper, a graduate student at UT studying political science and sociology, explained the effect that legalization would have on the court system and the greater Knoxville community.

“If you look at the data for marijuana charges, especially in the Southeastern states, you’ll see that the people who are mass incarcerated are disproportionately people of color. These neighborhoods are over-policed and these people are treated unjustly, when white people do similar things all the time and face very minor charges or no charges at all. The decriminalization specifically would help to prevent injustice from happening,” Looper said.

In 2021, African Americans were arrested at an average rate of approximately 3.73 times more than white individuals, despite their average rate of marijuana consumption remaining the same.

Looper believes that many people’s lives have been negatively impacted because of the marijuana charges that they have faced, and that alcohol is much more harmful than marijuana in terms of health. He calls for action among legislators and hopes that legal repercussions can be revoked in the future.

Regardless of individuals’ stances on the legalization of cannabis, there is important conversation about the topic happening throughout the Knoxville community. Contacting local legislators and having your voice heard is a great way to get involved and make a difference.

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