Amendment 64 could make state the first to allow legalization
Colorado has become the epicenter of the movement to legalize and regulate marijuana, and a proposed amendment on the November ballot that would allow adults over 21 years old to use and grow the herbal drug could have the added effect of delivering the state for President Obama, panelists said Friday at a discussion on the current state of pot reform.
While there is no official coordination, Brian Vicente, a Denver attorney who is working to pass Amendment 64, said the “yes” on 64 camp is using a consulting firm that also is working with the Obama campaign, and that his group has been relaying messages to the campaign’s Colorado staff. Specifically, they’ve shared information from one poll on voter enthusiasm that showed single women under 40, Latinos and so-called “surge voters” in Colorado — all of whom Obama needs a strong turnout from to win the state — are excited to pull the lever for Amendment 64, Vicente said.
“Those people are going to vote ‘yes’ on marijuana because they are tired of the drug war,” he said.
Vicente was one was one of three attorneys who spoke during the discussion — titled “Transitioning from Medical Use to Full Legalization” — at the annual three-day Aspen Legal Seminar put on by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, held Thursday through Saturday at The Gant. The conference attracts mostly attorneys from across the country whose practices deal with marijuana.
Keith Stroup, an attorney who co-founded NORML in 1970, said that with the legalization vote and the robust medical marijuana industry here, Colorado has become the “epicenter” of the movement to change marijuana laws.
“If we are going to make a serious dent in the 850,000 marijuana arrests that occur each year in this country, then we’ll need to move beyond legalizing medical use to legalizing responsible use for all adults,” Stroup said. “As we often times like to say at NORML, it is none of the government’s business whether we smoke marijuana or why we smoke marijuana.”
Vicente said the world will be forever changed if Colorado voters approve the measure on Nov. 6. No other state has taken such action; a measure in California in 2010 lost by seven percentage points. Washington state also has a legalization measure on the 2012 ballot.
“Think about all the clients you’ve represented over the years whose lives have been destroyed by the drug war. It’s countless,” Vicente said, referencing job discrimination and other penalties those who have been arrested for marijuana may face. “ ... The human toll from the drug war, both nationally and internationally — this will be a shot across the bow, this will show that in fact there is a different way to address this issue.”
Vicente noted a recent Rasmussen poll that showed 56 percent of Americans in favor of legalizing marijuana and regulating it like alcohol or tobacco. That’s precisely the message the “yes” on 64 campaign has been pushing since the ballot effort got going two years ago, Vincente said.
“We really don’t talk about legalization, although it absolutely is legalization,” Vicente said. “But what we’ve found is that the public ... can understand a regulatory model like alcohol. It’s worked for decades and decades. It hasn’t led to chaos in the streets.”
Amendment 64 would legalize possession of up to one ounce of pot for adults 21 years and up, and allow individuals to grow up to six plants. It would provide for up to a 15 percent tax on marijuana sales, the first $40 million of which each year would go to public school construction. It also would allow local governments to set up their own marijuana licensing systems and policies, and potentially exclude retail marijuana shops from their communities if they so chose. If passed, the measure would not allow retail operations to open until 2014, giving the state time to figure out the details of licensing.
The time period also would be useful because it will give Coloradans a window to see how the federal government — which treats marijuana as a dangerous drug with no legitimate use — reacts, Vicente said.
The measure also would legalize the industrial production of hemp, and it would not change the current rules related to medical marijuana.
Although a similar measure to legalize pot for all in Colorado failed in 2006, proponents are banking on the fact that people have become more comfortable with pot use with the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado in the last few years.