Alexander: D.C. Shouldn’t Dictate States’ Pot Policies

Every candidate competing for Tennessee’s U.S. Senate seat appears to favor less federal involvement in state-level marijuana laws — even the Republican incumbent, Lamar Alexander.

“Sen. Alexander believes that Washington, D.C. should not be telling states what to do about the decriminalization of marijuana,” said an Alexander Campaign spokesman in an e-mailed statement.

That statement was issued following news reports about the discussion on federal marijuana policy that occurred at a Nashville debate. Alexander didn’t attend the debate because of prior obligations, his campaign said.

Gordon Ball, the Democratic candidate, and the several minor-party candidates who participated in the debate — including representatives of the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution parties, as well as a self-styled “Tea Party” candidate — all said the federal government should either legalize marijuana, or let the states decide how to handle cannabis for themselves.

The Alexander campaign statement also explained the two-term senator’s personal view that “while there may be some valid medicinal uses for cannabis, he is concerned about the potential abuse and widespread use of drugs for recreational purposes and is carefully watching the de-criminalization process in the states of Colorado and Washington.”

TNReport requested clarification from the Alexander campaign as to whether he supports Congress rolling back federal marijuana prohibitions in order to give states breathing room to set their own policies. The campaign didn’t respond.

Earlier in 2014, Alexander signed on to a piece of legislation that would allow Congress to file a lawsuit against the president, or any other government official, who is found to have failed to “faithfully execute” all federal laws.

As governor in 1984, Alexander signed a law to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee. The law was repealed in 1992 when the federal government stopped supplying marijuana for medicinal purposes

Medical marijuana has been legalized in more than 20 states, as well as in the District of Columbia. Additionally, it’s been legalized for recreational use in Washington and Colorado. Several more states, such as California, Oregon, Maine and Alaska, could be considering legalization in the next few years.

According to 2011 FBI numbers, nearly 650,000 people were arrested that year for marijuana possession.

In Tennessee, the most recent figures from the state Department of Correction show that during the 2012-2013 fiscal year 6,169 people were incarcerated for drug crimes. However, data about incarcerations for specific drug subcategories, such as marijuana or methamphetamine, is not readily available from the state. TDOC reports all drugs in a larger category based on the standards of the National Incident-Based Reporting System, said TDOC Spokeswoman Neysa Taylor in an e-mail.

According to government data from the City of Denver, a year to year comparison from Jan.-Sep. 2013 to Jan.-Sep. 2014 shows that since marijuana was legalized, violent and property crimes have dropped 7.9 percent. The only sharp increase in crime came in the “disorderly conduct/disturbing the peace” category, which saw an increase of more than 200 percent.

Legal pot sales in Washington State didn’t begin until July of this year.