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POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Marijuana legalization amendment

September 21, 2012

Pro: Prohibition has failed us

Exactly 80 years ago, the people of this great state passed a ballot initiative declaring an end to the misguided big-government policy experiment that was alcohol prohibition. One year later, the federal government followed.

This November, the voters of Colorado have the opportunity to repeat history.

On the ballot is Amendment 64, an initiative that would end marijuana prohibition in the state and regulate the production and sale of the substance.

In many ways, marijuana prohibition is very similar to alcohol prohibition. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their impact on public safety.

In the 1920s, alcohol prohibition led to the widespread proliferation of violent criminal organizations who corrupted politicians and law enforcement officials to illegally peddle booze to otherwise law-abiding citizens.

Similarly, by keeping marijuana illegal for the last 75 years, we have created a black market that helps fuel some of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world. These narcoterrorists, who have operatives spread throughout the U.S., are wreaking havoc on our southern borders and are a menace to American businesses with operations in Mexico and South America.

Amendment 64 would take the marijuana business out of the hands of the drug cartels, by regulating and taxing marijuana in a similar manner to alcohol. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess a limited amount of marijuana and to purchase marijuana at stores licensed by the state.

I am endorsing Amendment 64 not despite my conservative beliefs, but because of them.

Throughout my career in public policy and in public office, I have fought to reform or eliminate wasteful and ineffective government programs. There is no government program or policy I can think of that has failed in such a unique way as marijuana prohibition.

Our nation is spending tens of billions of dollars annually in an attempt to prohibit adults from using a substance objectively less harmful than alcohol.

Yet marijuana is still widely available in our society. We are not preventing its use; we are merely ensuring that all of the profits from the sale of marijuana (outside the medical marijuana system) flow to the criminal underground.

Regardless of what ultimately happens on the federal level, we have an opportunity to stop pouring money into a failed system in Colorado. According to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, we current spend anywhere from $25 to $40 million dollars per year arresting, citing, processing, and prosecuting marijuana offenders throughout the state. A recent report from the Colorado Center on Law and Policy found that savings achieved through eliminating these law enforcement costs, combined with increased tax revenues generated from the legal production and sale of marijuana, would net the state $60 million in the first year alone.

In addition to the economic and public safety arguments for ending marijuana prohibition, I also support Amendment 64 for a much broader, philosophical reason.

Marijuana prohibition is perhaps the oldest and most persistent nanny-state law we have in the U.S. We simply cannot afford a government that tries to save people from themselves. It is not the role of government to try to correct bad behavior, as long as those behaviors are not directly causing physical harm to others.

To be clear, I do not consider marijuana use a good thing for society. I have never used marijuana personally and do not encourage others to indulge. But as the son of a violent alcoholic, I know enough to appreciate that it is irrational to have laws in place that allow the use of alcohol, yet punish adults who choose to use a less harmful and less dangerous substance.

Across the board, our current system of marijuana prohibition has failed. It has failed to protect our kids from drug dealers pushing other, far more dangerous drugs, it has failed to keep our borders safe, and it has failed to use taxpayer dollars in the most responsible and efficient manner possible.

It is time to try something new. Please join me in voting yes on Amendment 64 this November.

Learn more about Amendment 64 and join the campaign at: www.Regulate

Tom Tancredo represented the Colorado’s sixth congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 1999 to 2009.


CON: Legalization will harm us

Colorado is a state that values personal choice and individual rights. As strongly as I believe in these fundamental principles, I also oppose Amendment 64, the proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana use and widespread commercial distribution. Drug policy does not belong in a Constitution where it cannot be readily changed as problems arise.

Amendment 64 would make it legal for anyone 21-years or older to possess and consume up to one ounce of marijuana — equal to about 60 joints or eight pans of marijuana-laced brownies. It would permit retail marijuana stores and growing, testing and manufacturing facilities with unlimited quantities of pot.

Why would more than 200 elected officials at the state, county and municipal levels, organizations, associations, businesses and individuals also oppose this amendment that to some Coloradans seems fairly innocuous?

We are convinced by facts that Amendment 64 isn’t innocuous. Legalizing pot is wrong for Colorado. The reasons include crime, conflict with federal law, its effects on the workplace, on children and school environments, and public safety.

As Colorado Attorney General, it troubles me that Amendment 64 would make our marijuana law the most liberal in the world — not just in the United States. It is not hyperbole to say that we could easily become the top marijuana distribution hub in the country, attracting organized crime and drug cartels to grow here and distribute to other places where it is illegal. Without a residency requirement, out-of-state dealers and users could buy here for use anywhere. Colorado doesn’t want that kind of “tourist.” It’s a problem with medical marijuana, and it will only get worse.

Amendment 64 wouldn’t really “legalize” marijuana. All the activities it sanctions would still be in violation of federal law, which prohibits possession, cultivation, transportation and distribution of marijuana. It sends a mixed and very confusing message to Colorado citizens who could still be prosecuted under federal law, even while believing they were engaging in a lawful activity. The feds can be as aggressive as they choose to be in prosecuting marijuana users, manufacturers and distributors.

Huge uncertainties and potential problems for employers would occur if Amendment 64 passes, especially those who have zero-tolerance drug policies because of safety concerns. Their right to terminate employees who test positive for marijuana use would be severely limited. Moreover, under the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act, employers likely would not qualify for government grants and contracts that go only to employers who don’t tolerate drug use.

Colorado teachers have joined Gov. Hickenlooper and me to oppose Amendment 64 because we are concerned about kids. Scientific research shows that marijuana use negatively affects brain development, behavior, and learning ability, and contributes to depression and suicidal thoughts. There are many kids in rehab for drug problems, and 67 percent of them are there for marijuana abuse. It’s estimated that as many as 800,000 young people in the U.S. are addicted to pot. (Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration - “2009 National Survey of Drug Use and Health”, September 2010). Since the Colorado Legislature sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries in 2010, school suspensions for drug violations have shot up by 45 percent, expulsions by 35 percent and referrals to police by 17 percent. The cost of high school dropouts will far exceed the tax revenues from Amendment 64.

Many law enforcement officials join me in opposing Amendment 64 because of increases we’vey seen in marijuana-impaired driving, which would increase exponentially with greater use. Approximately 10 percent of Colorado’s traffic fatalities are due to marijuana-impaired drivers. (“Drugged Driving Getting Worse in Colorado”, KUSA, Channel, Feb. 2011). Marijuana affects perception, coordination and reaction time — just as alcohol does. You cannot smoke or ingest marijuana without it harming your ability to operate a motor vehicle. And, of course, for those of us who don’t and won’t use marijuana, having more marijuana-impaired people on the road is a pretty frightening proposition.

Proponents of Amendment 64 argue that marijuana is safe, that the state stands to get millions of dollars in tax revenue, that our prison populations will go down and that the War on Drugs is a failure, anyway. Forgive the pun, but they’re blowing smoke. Get the facts on why Amendment 64 is wrong for Colorado. Visit

John Suthers is Colorado’s 37th Attorney General.

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