Nuanced Measure Sparks Debates Over Law-Enforcement Resources, Cartels

Locals from law enforcement to elected officials to marijuana business owners say they don’t know how to feel about a ballot measure asking voters to legalize limited amounts of cannabis and regulate the drug “like alcohol.”

The statewide question would amend the Colorado Constitution to allow people over the age of 21 to consume and possess marijuana and provide for the licensing of cultivation and manufacturing facilities as well as retail stores.  The measure also directs state lawmakers to levy a tax on the sale of marijuana, directing the first $40 million in revenue generated annually to be directed to the public school capital construction assistance fund.

But the nuanced proposal has wide-reaching implications ranging from law-enforcement issues to education impacts, and many local officials and business owners say they can see many sides of the issue.

“Keeping it criminal at this point is probably a waste of time,” Summit County Sheriff John Minor said.  “I have mixed feelings on this thing all the way around.”

As do local medical marijuana dispensary owners, who say they don’t know how the ballot measure could impact their businesses.

“My answer, up until ( recently ) was, I don’t know what to wish for,” said Charlie Williams, owner of Alpenglow Botanicals in Breckenridge.  “I know I can live with what I’m doing and work in this framework.  If I have to change radically, I don’t know what it’s going to cost.”

Williams said he plans to vote against Amendment 64.

Jerry Olson, owner Medical Marijuana of the Rockies in Frisco, expressed similar uncertainty about how the measure would impact existing marijuana businesses, but said he supports the amendment.

“I don’t know if it will be good or bad for my business and I really don’t care,” he said.  “We’re going to quit wasting our resources on cannabis and instead we’re going to make cannabis a resource.”

Proponents of the amendment say legalizing and regulating marijuana would weaken a strong black market for the drug that feeds millions of dollars to drug cartels, eliminate a senseless drain on law-enforcement resources and limit young people’s access to marijuana, while creating a new tax revenue source.

“Marijuana prohibition has failed,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Yes on 64 campaign.  “It’s been ineffective, wasteful and it’s caused way more problems than it’s solved.  It’s time for a new, more sensible approach.”

Amendment 64 is projected to save approximately $12 million in criminal justice costs in its first year, according to an analysis from the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.  More than 10,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, according to an October report from the Marijuana Arrest Research Project.

But opponents of the legalization amendment say the measure would increase youth access to the drug and has no place in the state’s constitution.

“It effectively establishes Colorado as the marijuana capital of the United States,” Vote No campaign spokeswoman Laura Chapin said.  “There’s an inherent conflict with federal law …  it could drag us into a very long and expensive series of court battles that, at least at this point, we probably wouldn’t win.”

Law-enforcement officials are concerned that, rather than keeping Colorado dollars out of the hands of cartels, the measure might attract the cartels to Colorado.

“Put yourself in their shoes,” Minor said.  “Would you want to keep smuggling tons of stuff across the border or would you want to just go across the border ( yourself )?”

Opponents have also indicated in the possible logistical problems of keeping the drug inside Colorado’s borders and regulating an industry the banking sector won’t back due to federal law.

As an amendment to the Colorado constitution, it would take another constitutional amendment to revise 64 to address unexpected problems or to repeal it all together.

Amendment 64 is one of three constitutional amendment proposals voters will find on their ballots this year.




Source: Summit Daily News (CO)
Author: Caddie Nath

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