Pot measure boils with pros, cons
October 17, 2012
Colorado voters will decide this election whether to amend the Colorado Constitution to legalize recreational marijuana use for individuals ages 21 and older. Amendment 64, if passed, would allow individuals to posses up to 1 once of marijuana as well as allow Colorado residents 21 and older to grow up to six plants of marijuana.
The measure continues to stay ahead in polls conducted by The Denver Post and other polling companies, though it is beginning to lose steam.
According to a Denver Post poll which was released Monday, Oct. 15, 48 percent of the 614 likely voters who participated in the poll supported the measure, while 43 percent oppose it. A Denver Post poll conducted in September showed 51 percent supported the amendment.
Amendment 64 will be appearing on the ballot this year as the proponents of the bill acquired the 85,853 petition signatures from registered Colorado voters that are required to qualify the initiative for the 2012 ballot.
Similar measures are proposed in Oregon and Washington state.
Past, present and future
On Nov. 7, 2000, Colorado voters passed Amendment 20, which amends the Colorado State constitution to allow the medical use of marijuana. The Medical Marijuana Registry program began accepting and processing applications for medical marijuana identification cards on June 1, 2011.
As of July 31, 185,538 new patient applications have been received by the Registry with the total number of patients who currently possess valid Registry ID cards at 101,220.
In 2006, 59 percent of Colorado voters rejected Amendment 44, which would have legalized the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana.
Breckenridge and Denver have both decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for people age 21 and older in recent years.
Possession, production, and sale of marijuana is still prohibited under federal law, and marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which places it in the same category as LSD and heroin.
If Amendment 64 passes in Colorado, state law would conflict with federal law. The Justice Department could file suit to try to block the state law if it deemed the law a violation of federal statutes as it did with the state of Arizona after a law was passed aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration in 2010.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., has not replied to requests for the Justice Department to oppose the measures, as he did in 2010 when he said officials opposed a California measure to legalize marijuana.
Part of the proposed measure in Colorado is that, if passed, the state legislature would be required to enact an excise tax on marijuana sales, of which the first $40 million in revenue raised annually would be credited to a state fund used for constructing public schools. The excise tax would need to be approved by a separate statewide vote.
A budgetary analysis completed by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy showed that if the amendment passes it could generate as much as $60 million in savings and revenue for the state as well as the creation of several hundred new jobs.
While there are a number of issues being discussed in regards to Amendment 64, the main issues for both sides of the argument include the impact the amendment would have on law enforcement, teen consumption, and the health effects of the users of the substance.
Proponents of the bill argue that current state policies criminalizing marijuana fail to prevent its use and availability and contribute to the underground market for marijuana.
“Most of the violence related to marijuana occurs in the black market,” said Tony Ryan, a supporter of the measure and retired Lieutenant of the Denver Police Department who was on the force for 36 years.
Proponents argue if the measure were to pass, it would negatively impact drug cartels and gangs who profit from the black market for marijuana.
Proponents for the measure often compare the negative effects of alcohol to that of marijuana, as does one of the most avid supporters of the amendment: The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
Ryan recalled a colleague who once asked him the question about the last time he had to confront a violent person who was under the influence of marijuana, and Ryan could not recall, but when the colleague asked when the last time he confronted a violent person who was under the influence of alcohol, Ryan checked his watch.
Proponents argue that legalization would benefit law enforcement agencies by allowing them to concentrate their resources to more serious crimes and drugs.
Marijuana remains one of the most enforced drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to Ryan.
“We are not paying attention to the drugs that matter like meth and heroin,” he said.
In regards to increased use of the drug by teens, proponents cite a study completed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention which found that teen use of marijuana, while on the rise nationally, has decreased in Colorado since medical marijuana has been legalized in the state.
The study found that from 2009 to 2011, teen use of marijuana in Colorado dropped from 24.8 percent to 22 percent.
Proponents argue the decrease in teen use is due to the ability of the state to strictly regulate medical marijuana sales and businesses.
Ryan commented that if the amendment passed, Colorado citizens would be making money as opposed to spending it on this issue.
“My suspicion is just like alcohol drives the need for our service, a presumed increase in the consumption of marijuana would drive the need for our services even more,” said Bill Housley, chief of police for the Granby Police Department.
Housley is against the measure along with a number of other officials in Grand County.
The revenue generated for the state from the sale of alcohol pays for about 25 percent of the issues created by its use, according to Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson.
“We are not successfully managing alcohol,” Johnson said. “What makes us think we can handle more?”
If the measure passed and retail stores began operating in the state, the businesses could run into problems because they would not be able to use federal banks.
Under federal banking law, it is illegal for banks to accept proceeds of, or loan money for, activities that are illegal under federal law, which would make marijuana businesses operate as cash only operations.
This would make them targets for robberies and burglaries, according to Johnson.
There would also be no protection for owners of marijuana businesses from seizure of money and property by the federal government.
Another argument by those opposed to the measure is whether amending the Colorado constitution is the correct way to approach this issue.
While there are some holes the amendment has not yet filled, the main argument portrayed by the opponents of the measure is an argument of whether Colorado wants to be defined by this amendment.
“Is that what we want?” Johnson said. “To be defined as the dope-user state?”