Forty years after Nixon coined the term “War on drugs,” popular attitudes on marijuana, at least, seem to be shifting towards legalization. Colorado is one of three states this year to put some form of marijuana legalization on the ballot.
If passed, Amendment 64 would make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Adults would be able to grow six marijuana plants (provided they are kept in a private, “enclosed, locked” space), with no more than three flowering at once. Use of marijuana would be legal, provided it is not used publicly. The amendment creates a framework for regulation and licensing of “retail marijuana stores,” while leaving language on medical marijuana dispensaries basically unchanged. It allows for up to a 15 percent excise tax to be enacted on retail marijuana, and the first $40 million in tax revenue raised each year would go into a special school construction fund.
It also would legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp, which lacks the psychoactive qualities of marijuana. Proponents say Colorado would be the first state to do so.
First off, this is not full legalization, as opponents of the measure have pointed out. Peppermint tea is legal; one could possess a hundred pounds of the stuff and be within the rights of the law. Possession of more than one ounce of marijuana would remain illegal.
Proponents say 64 will redirect law enforcement priorities to more serious crimes, reduce youth access to marijuana by eliminating the black market, foster job creation and increase tax revenue for the state.
Opponents of the amendment range from the typical to the surprising.
There is the reefer madness crowd (http://votenoon64.com), which says legalizing marijuana would harm children, conflict with federal law, increase use of other drugs and increase impaired driving. Gov. John Hickenlooper, Speaker of the House Frank McNulty and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle have all come out against the amendment.
There is also a small band of pro-marijuana groups who oppose the measure for not going far enough. Amendment 64 does not make legal “jailable” marijuana offenses, according to Kathleen Chippi of Cannabis Alliance for Regulation and Education. Nobody in Colorado goes to jail for possessing less than an ounce, she says, so the number of people jailed for marijuana each year would not go down. Chippi also foresees the shuttering of the medical marijuana industry as a result of the light legalization. And she also says that since the amendment allows towns and counties to ban retail centers, the black market would continue to thrive in those areas.
We worry that substantial numbers of medical marijuana patients who opt out of the medical system in favor of the retail one will possibly close some Colorado businesses. We are also concerned about the fact that employers would still be able to fire employees for testing positive for marijuana, even if the use occurred outside of the office. However, we support Amendment 64 and hope that it passes. Legalization, even in small amounts, is a powerful symbolic gesture. If Colorado becomes the first state to legalize marijuana, it would send a powerful message to the federal government, perhaps a powerful enough one to effect a change in the U.S.’s inept drug laws. Should the United States government soften its stance on marijuana, we could see a ripple effect, stemming from fewer people in prison to less violence on the Mexico border. The symbolism is more important than the weak form of legalization offered by Amendment 64, and for that reason alone we think it is worth supporting.