Pot legalization measure leads voters to debate safety, economy
By John Ingold
The Denver Post
LITTLETON — If Colorado voters in November approve Amendment 64 — which would legalize limited possession of marijuana — the state will enter territory that is uncharted, a national drug-policy expert said.
"It's tremendously uncertain," said Kevin Sabet, a former official with the Office of National Drug Control Policy who opposes legalization. "It's never been done before. So the question Coloradans have to ask themselves is: Do we want to be guinea pigs?"
At debates across the state this month, proponents and opponents have been going back and forth on that question and more. Would legalization increase teen marijuana use? Would it help the economy? Would it hurt public safety?
The amendment would legalize marijuana use for adults 21 and older and allow them to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes. The measure also would allow for legalized marijuana stores, which could sell marijuana to adults. Local governments, though, could ban such stores from their jurisdiction.
The campaigns "for" and "against" squared off Wednesday at the University of Denver and Thursday in Fort Collins.
Thursday, Sabet and others also debated before a meeting of the Littleton R Block Party political group.
"We should have an honest debate," said Mason Tvert, one of the initiative's proponents, at the Littleton debate. "And honest debates begin with evidence. There just isn't any evidence of problems associated with marijuana laws as they change."
Tvert said legalized marijuana would pull a black-market economy into the light, causing the cartels and violent drug pushers who thrive on that economy to wither. Marijuana is already widely available, he said.
The measure would allow the state to regulate it and receive tax revenue from its sale, Tvert said.
But opponents of Amendment 64 criticized Tvert's argument, saying that legalized marijuana will lead to greater use by young people and more people driving stoned. To Tvert's arguments about cutting into the black market, Sabet said: "We would still have an underground market; they would only be targeting kids, though."
Ken Buck, the Weld County district attorney, said the federal government could crack down if Colorado legalized marijuana. But, even if it didn't, more liberalized marijuana laws would hurt the state's reputation.
"Our brand will go from business-friendly and healthy to Rocky Mountain high," Buck said.
Shaleen Title, an initiative proponent, said supporters of the amendment do not want teens to use marijuana or to see anyone abusing drugs. But, she said, the criminalization of marijuana takes resources away from substance-abuse treatment.
"The criminal justice system is taking up treatment spaces," she said.