For the second time in six years, Colorado voters will be asked to “legalize it.”
If it passes, Amendment 64 would make possession of marijuana by people older than 21 legal under state law, and establish a system to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana.
A similar measure in 2006 got only about 40 percent of the vote. Another marijuana legalization measure failed in California in 2010, but supporters of the Colorado initiative say they are confident Colorado voters are on their side this time around.
“This isn’t 2006, and it’s not California,” said Mason Tvert, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is pushing for the plan.
Tvert said the measure is different from the 2006 effort in one major way: in addition to legalizing the drug for recreational use, it would also set up a system to tax the sale of marijuana from legitimate businesses, similar to those currently selling medical marijuana.
“This is a far more comprehensive plan, and Coloradans have demonstrated it’s something they want to see,” he said.
The issue has received an odd mix of bi-partisan support and criticism.
A few Libertarian-leaning Republicans are on board the legalization effort.
Former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo says he’s never used marijuana but finds its prohibition nothing but “nanny-state” interference.
The Republican Liberty Caucus of Colorado also backs marijuana legalizations.
Some conservatives cite states’ rights while talking about marijuana. They also argue that youth access to the drug could be reduced and not expanded if marijuana were legal without a doctor’s recommendation.
Still, the measure is meeting stiff, bipartisan opposition from some law enforcement, elected leaders and others.
Laura Chapin, a spokeswoman for the No On 64 campaign, said the measure wouldn’t even do what it’s supporters hope — legalize marijuana.
“Marijuana still will remain illegal at the federal level. And there is nothing Colorado can do that will affect that,” she said.
If the amendment passes, that conflict between state law and federal law will only lead to trouble, she said. Because the drug is illegal federally, federal agents could crackdown on marijuana businesses in Colorado and some federal grants could be put at risk, she said.
Some of the problems the state’s medical marijuana industry has faced, including a lack of banks willing to do business with them, will only be compounded by the amendment, she said.
Also, Chapin said the idea that current laws are particularly onerous for people who want to use marijuana is a myth. For the most part, she said very few people are arrested solely for using marijuana.
“We don’t arrest people solely for marijuana in this state,” she said.
Chapin said the net effect of the plan will be more young people using marijuana.
“This brings a lot of very serious risks, not the least of which more pot ending up on the hands of Colorado kids”
Adams County District Attorney Don Quick echoed that, saying that the state has already gone to great lengths to essentially decriminalize the use of marijuana, and that Colorado’s medical marijuana laws have made the drug plentiful and easy to access. He said that the legalization measure would only serve to make it more accessible to children because of the lack of controls.
But Tvert rejected that.
“Our campaign cares just as much about keeping marijuana out of the hands of young people, but our current system has failed to do that,” he said.
Concerns about challenges legalization could raise are largely unfounded, he said, especially considering the cost of enforcing current drug laws and the black market those laws have helped to spawn.
The fact is that the policy in place right now has utterly failed.”
Colorado is one of three states considering ballot measures to legalize pot.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.