A gentleman’s C for the pot task force


I’ve been reading the recommendations of the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force. They mostly remind me of Mark Twain’s description of Wagner’s music: “It’s better than it sounds.” But just barely.

Some of the proposals, like the one requiring that the THC content of commercially sold marijuana be printed on the package, are sound. Ideally the alcohol content should be listed on every bottle of beer, wine and Scotch sold too. It’s vital information if you want to drink or smoke responsibly.

But then there are proposals that are just plain silly — like the recommendation to limit the amount of pot someone can purchase in a single transaction to something less than an ounce, and maybe to as little as 1/8 of an ounce. It’s a dumb idea regardless of the limit.

Say the amount of pot that can change hands in a single transaction is limited to 1/8 of an ounce. What’s to stop a buyer who wants to buy an ounce from having each of eight 1/8-ounce packages rung up separately — except maybe an epidemic of carpel tunnel injuries among clerks at recreational pot shops?

Of course, the legislature could write a law limiting a buyer to only one 1/8-ounce transaction a day at a particular store. In that case, what’s to prevent a buyer from going to several stores? Of course, the legislature could write a law limiting a buyer to only one 1/8-ounce transaction a day anywhere in the state — and you could spend tens of millions of dollars setting up and maintaining a statewide computerized database to track the sales — and the marijuana users, of course. At that point, a silly law becomes an invidious one.

If you want to know how ludicrous and offensive this sort of petty nanny-statism is, assume that you were only allowed to buy a single 12-ounce bottle of beer or a 2-ounce bottle of hard liquor per transaction in a liquor store. The 1/8-ounce limit is an obvious and clumsy attempt to subvert the intent of Amendment 64, which explicitly allows a person to possess an ounce of marijuana. It was universally assumed before the election that one ounce was the amount a person would be legally allowed to buy at one time. The main thing this sort of intellectually dishonest “regulation” accomplishes is to breed contempt for law.

Then there is the recommendation that marijuana smoke be brought under the state’s no smoking in bars and restaurant regulations, which appears to be intended to prevent the emergence of Amsterdam-style cannabis coffee houses, where people can smoke pot and sip espresso. Like the 1/8-ounce-per-sale recommendation, the proposal is both silly and bad policy.

It’s silly because a coffee house could get around the no-smoking rule by offering customers vaporizers instead of joints or bongs, or by serving cannabis fudge or canapés. It’s bad policy because now that it is legal to smoke marijuana, users should have places where they can smoke legally in a social setting, just as they have places where they can drink legally in a social setting.

Again, do the thought experiment. Assume that consumption of alcohol were banned in restaurants and bars were outlawed. That’s essentially what the task force is recommending for pot. The proper recommendation would have been to prevent pot-smoking in smoke-free restaurants, but allow it in cannabis coffee houses.

However, the single most onerous recommendation to come out of the task force was the recommendation to, as The Denver Post put it, “create an ‘unbiased, fact-based’ state website to educate people about marijuana and that would create a committee to identify marijuana topics that Coloradans need to know more about.”

Unbiased and fact-based, my keister. The state of Colorado has already provided smoking-gun evidence that it cannot be trusted to be an honest information broker insofar as marijuana is concerned. That was conclusively proved last September when the Legislative Council, the standing committee of the Colorado legislature responsible for putting out the State Ballot Information Booklet (aka The Blue Book), the guide to ballot issues that the state sends to every registered voter before every election, arbitrarily deleted the three arguments that Amendment 64 proponents considered to be their strongest. The Legislative Council offered no explanation for why it did this, which is hardly surprising since the deletion was a brazen and deliberate abuse of state power intended to dishonestly influence the outcome of an election.

The last people on earth who should be entrusted with running an “unbiased, fact-based” website about marijuana are the elected officials and bureaucrats who have been disseminating misinformation and suppressing dissenting views about marijuana for the last 76 years. To expect these guys to run an “unbiased, fact-based” website is delusional.

The task force would have produced a considerably higher quality work product if it had kept in mind that the official name of Amendment 64 was the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012.”

Its misfires mostly involved attempts to regulate marijuana in ways fundamentally different from how alcohol has been regulated since the end of prohibition, and which would be rejected out of hand if applied to alcohol today.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.