For one state representative from Eastern Kentucky, legalizing recreational marijuana is an economic issue, not a moral one.

Prior to the start of this year’s legislative session, Rep. Cluster Howard, D-Jackson, prefiled a bill that would help fund the state’s ailing Kentucky Employees Retirement System’s nonhazardous pension fund and the Teachers’ Retirement System fund by allowing the sale of marijuana.

According to Howard’s bill, those 21 and older would be able to purchase cannabis from licensed marijuana retailers, of which each county could have two. Smoking in public would also be banned. If passed, the lawmaker said the state could bring in close to $800 million in revenue from marijuana sales, calling it “a hell of a lot more than what we’re raising now, which is zero.”

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has publicly supported the legalization of medical marijuana. In fact, his spokesperson told reporters last month that the state is ready for cannabis for medicinal purposes but cautioned that Kentucky must prove it can do so responsibly before taking other steps.

We agree that if state lawmakers opt to legalize marijuana use of either sort — still illegal under federal law — it is best done gradually.

However, we couldn’t resist linking the similarities between this current hot-button issue and the “failed experiment” that began a century ago. On Jan. 17, 1920, the nearly 13-year Prohibition Era — banning the production, sale and transport of any “intoxicating liquor” with an alcohol content of more than 0.5%, wine and beer — began with the passage of the 18th Amendment.

At the time, supporters of Prohibition — much like those who oppose marijuana usage today — believed it was a moral issue and predicted it would boost the economy. But Prohibition had the opposite effect on the nation. Not only did thousands of brewery, saloon and distillery jobs disappear, but so too did about 14% of federal, state and local tax revenue derived from alcohol commerce.

In need of revenue after the Great Depression hit, Congress repealed the 18th Amendment on Dec. 5, 1933. For us it may be difficult to imagine what Prohibition was like. But then again, perhaps 100 years from now folks will be saying the same thing about marijuana legalization. After all, more than 30 states currently allow its use for medicinal purposes and recreational use is legal in 11.

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