Colorado readies retail regulations while feds dither

CDC research shoes 41,682 alcohol-related deaths and 0 marijuana-related deaths.
Leland Rucker | Boulder Weekly

When retail cannabis shops open in Colorado, most likely in 2014, adults will be able to buy it over-the-counter in Nederland, which recently approved an ordinance governing the sales of retail marijuana within its borders. “We passed what we feel is a solid piece of legislation that works for the town,” Mayor Joe Gierlach said of Ordinance 720, which was passed by the town’s Board of Trustees in a 6-1 vote.

That’s good news for cannabis consumers around here who are ready to give up the black market. In Boulder County, Superior and Longmont have already banned retail sales, Louisville is still considering retail, and moratoriums in Lafayette, Lyons and Erie expire Oct. 1.

It looks like every area of the state, save perhaps the eastern plains, will have some towns offering retail products. Breckenridge, which decriminalized cannabis consumption several years ago, will have shops, and Telluride, Steamboat Springs, Durango, Carbondale, Frisco, Leadville, Eagle and Aspen are expected to offer retail outlets, too. Manitou Springs is leaning toward accepting retail, and it would instantly become a magnet location after Colorado Springs banned retail sales in July.

Several cities — Thornton, Westminster and Parker among them — have also already banned retail sales, but others are waiting to see what happens on a state level and with other cities. Ft.

Morgan’s moratorium extends to Dec. 31 of this year, Aurora’s goes through May 2014, and Broomfield’s until January 2015.

But as Colorado moves toward opening retail cannabis outlets, the federal government continues its basic opposition to cannabis law reform. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement of changes to federal sentencing policy, in light of the general change in American attitudes toward the war on cannabis. (Since then yet another Rasmussen study indicates that 82 percent of the American population believes the drug war has been a failure, and just 4 percent say the U.S. is winning the War on Drugs.)

Those who had hoped that Holder’s plan might signal a thaw in the White House’s drug war policies found out differently last week. When a CNN reporter asked White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest if getting cannabis off the list of Schedule I drugs was on the White House agenda, Earnest said that the president, though serious about not going after low-level users in states where it’s now legal, hasn’t even thought about rescheduling.

And the federal government continues, against all available evidence, to point out only cannabis’s dangers. The National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), which has as its mission statement “to lead the nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction,” told Politifact last week that there is no evidence that alcohol is any more toxic to humans than cannabis.

This came in a piece Politifact published that looked at the claims of a television commercial aired by the Marijuana Policy Project for NASCAR audiences that suggested that marijuana was less toxic than alcohol. The organization looked to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, which reported 41,682 alcohol-related deaths in 2010, and no deaths from marijuana ingestion, as well as Dr. Robert Grable’s study of toxicity levels of all illegal drugs, which found cannabis to be 100 times less toxic than alcohol or cocaine. Politifact concluded that the statement was “mostly true.”

Politifact’s story also included an email response from NIDA that said, “Claiming that marijuana is less toxic than alcohol cannot be substantiated, since each possess their own unique set of risks and consequences for a given individual.”

It’s not hard to find studies or statistics to back either side of the cannabis argument, but comments like this are good reasons why people have soured on the drug war and don’t offer a lot of hope that the federal government will loosen its grip, even if the commander-in-chief is a former cannabis user.

Meanwhile, what of Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, whose change of attitude towards medical cannabis was documented on his Weed special earlier this month? After a lengthy study, Gupta offered convincing evidence that cannabis should be studied seriously as medicine, and he admitted on national television that the federal government has been basing its cannabis policies solely on politics and not on science.

For as mainstream a figure as Gupta to admit this was pretty bold, and it got a lot of media traction. But no one else has spoken up, media are on to something else, so Gupta is left with recognition of a different kind.

Boulder’s Helping Hand Herbal dispensary has named a special indica strain, Gupta Kush, after him. Indica strains are naturally higher in cannabidiol, or CBD, which is what researchers believe might be the key to cannabis’s medical benefits. Gupta joins a limited list of luminaries like Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg/Lion and Barack Obama, all who have strains named after them. Let’s just hope Gupta’s research and brave admission don’t just go up in smoke.

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