PROP 64: Voters to decide whether Colorado moves ahead with legalizing marijuana

Backers say THC prohibition is an expensive sham and has run its course; critics say the change is an unworkable dream that will hurt kids

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 caregiver picks out a marijuana bud for a patient at a marijuana dispensary in Denver on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. Colorado, Oregon and Washington could become the first to legalize marijuana this fall. All three state are asking voters to decide whether residents can smoke pot. The debate over how much tax money recreational marijuana laws could produce is playing an outsize role in the campaigns for and against legalization, and both sides concede they’re not really sure what would happen. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

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.

  • dcooper

    November 6 is just around the corner and Colorado is in play. I know that a lot of pro 64 people are considering third party presidential candidates who are marijuana friendly. But, as we all know, none of these candidates truly have a chance to be elected. Colorado citizens must decide whether Romney or Obama will be more likely to favor a change to federal law which would eliminate current conflicts. I know that there has been a great deal of grumbling regarding the Obama administration closing dispensaries. However, if you will look at those closures you will find that in each case the dispensary was operating outside of existing state law. No dispensary following state regulations has been touched. There is every reason to believe that sales made pursuant to a successful prop 64 would go unhindered. Governor Romney, however, represents a party that is opposed to individual liberties that don’t line up with certain puritanical beliefs. He also represents corporate interests of the sort that made marijuana illegal in the first place. There is every reason to suspect that he would have his justice department prosecute every dispensary worker, owner, andcustomer he could lay his hands on. It is clear that we will be better off with Obama serving a second term. To that end I would urge you to give the president your vote. With the margins in Colorado a vote on “principle” for a third party candidate is actually the same as a vote for Romney. Go vote. Get your friends to vote. Make those votes count toward ending prohibition by voting Obama Biden.

  • kkh

    Although I support the legalization of marijuana, I am voting no on 64. The feds have left Colorado alone with medical marijuana for the most part. If we make it legal the feds will not continue to look the other way. They will put the kibosh on the whole thing and we’ll go back to not even having MMJ.