Dem gov fights le­gal­iz­ing of pot in Colorado

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

DEN­VER | Or­di­nar­ily Colorado Gov. John Hick­en­looper, Demo­crat, en­joys be­ing ahead of the curve — but not when it comes to be­ing the first state to le­gal­ize marijuana for non­med­i­cal use.

Mr. Hick­en­looper, along with a bevy of other top Colorado of­fice­hold­ers, has come out against Amend­ment 64, which would lift the pro­hi­bi­tion on recre­ational marijuana use and pos­ses­sion for adults 21 and older.

Vot­ers in two other states, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton, are also con­sid­er­ing statewide mea­sures to le­gal­ize recre­ational marijuana. All three ini­tia­tives would di­rect the state to reg­u­late and tax the drug in the same man­ner as cur­rent reg­u­la­tions on liquor.

“Colorado is known for many things — marijuana should not be one of them,” Mr. Hick­en­looper said in a state­ment. “Amend­ment 64 has the po­ten­tial to in­crease the num­ber of chil­dren us­ing drugs and would de­tract from ef­forts to make Colorado the health­i­est state in the na­tion. It sends the wrong mes­sage to kids that drugs are OK.”

Mr. Hick­en­looper’s state­ment puts him on the same side of the is­sue as for­mer Repub­li­can Gov. Bill Owens, but at odds with the Colorado Demo­cratic Party, which has ex­pressed sup­port in its plat­form for Amend­ment 64.

Also back­ing Amend­ment 64 are two prom­i­nent Colorado Republicans, for­mer Rep. Tom Tan­credo and state Sen. Shawn Mitchell, in an elec­tion that gives new mean­ing to the phrase “strange bed­fel­lows.”

“Think to your­selves, con­ser­va­tives, who you are sid­ing with,” Mr. Tan­credo said at a rally in fa­vor of Amend­ment 64 last month. “Not just the nanny-staters, but with the car­tels.”

In the polls, vot­ers are dead­locked on the Colorado mea­sure, with sur­veys show­ing sup­port ei­ther just above or just be­low 50 per­cent.

A Pub­lic Pol­icy Polling sur­vey re­leased Oct. 29 showed the mea­sure ahead, 53 to 43 per­cent­age points, with the rest un­de­cided.

Wash­ing­ton’s Ini­tia­tive 502 ap­pears to en­joy the strong­est sup­port: A Strate­gies 360 sur­vey re­leased Oct. 29 shows the mea­sure ahead 54 per­cent to 38 per­cent. Ore­gon’s Mea­sure 80, which trails by a mar­gin of 49 to 42 per­cent­age points, ac­cord­ing to a poll re­leased Oct. 30 by The Ore­go­nian, faces the long­est odds.

Colorado’s Amend­ment 64 cam­paign has pushed the mes­sage that smok­ing pot isn’t just for hip­pies any­more. In a se­ries of press con­fer­ences, the Yes on 64 camp has pro­moted its sup­port from groups in­clud­ing po­lice of­fi­cers, subur­ban par­ents, con­ser­va­tives, med­i­cal per­son­nel and reli­gious lead­ers.

The group has touted sup­port for de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion from fig­ures as dis­parate as rocker Melissa Etheridge and econ­o­mist Mil­ton Fried­man. In July, the group put up a bill­board in Grand Junc­tion, Colo., say­ing “Pat Robert­son Would Vote Yes on 64. Will You?”

The cam­paign has also stressed the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of marijuana le­gal­iza­tion, say­ing the tax rev­enue af­ter 2017 could top $100 mil­lion and sup­port pub­lic ser­vices such as ed­u­ca­tion.

In one tele­vi­sion ad, a graphic shows dol­lars mov­ing from Colorado to Mex­ico and says, “We all know where the money from non­med­i­cal marijuana sales is cur­rently go­ing. It doesn’t need to be that way. . . . Let’s have marijuana tax money go to our schools and not crim­i­nals.”

The mea­sure’s op­po­nents pre­dict that its pas­sage could trans­form Colorado into a North Amer­i­can drug hub, not­ing that the state’s boom­ing med­i­cal-marijuana dis­pen­sary busi­ness has al­ready at­tracted il­le­gal traf­fick­ing.

“[I]f Colorado be­comes an is­land with le­gal marijuana, what’s to pre­vent it from also be­com­ing a mag­net na­tion­ally for marijuana users, grow­ers and dis­trib­u­tors?” said The Den­ver Post in an Oct. 14 ed­i­to­rial op­pos­ing Amend­ment 64.

Amend­ment 64 lim­its sales to 1 ounce, but “it would be next to im­pos­si­ble to pre­vent out-of­s­tate vis­i­tors from buy­ing sev­eral ounces at var­i­ous out­lets and re­turn­ing home,” said the ed­i­to­rial.

The law-en­force­ment con­flicts al­ready present with med­i­cal marijuana would only in­ten­sify, say crit­ics. The Jus­tice Depart­ment said in 2009 that it would leave reg­u­la­tion of med­i­cal marijuana to state au­thor­i­ties but has since con­ducted raids on dis­pen­saries in Cal­i­for­nia and Colorado.

Long­time Den­ver le­gal­iza­tion ac­tivist Ma­son Tvert said Amend­ment 64 would ac­tu­ally de­crease drug crime by in­sti­tut­ing a le­gal marijuana-reg­u­la­tion frame­work.

“We would put drug car­tels out of busi­ness by reg­u­lat­ing marijuana,” said Mr. Tvert, who was the driv­ing force be­hind the suc­cess­ful 2005 med­i­cal-marijuana mea­sure Amend­ment 20. “Right now, it’s en­tirely un­con­trolled. What we’re propos­ing is a sys­tem where we do know where it’s be­ing sold and we can track it.”

Den­ver poll­ster Floyd Cir­uli pre­dicted the Colorado mea­sure would fall short, but agreed that sup­port for de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion is gain­ing more con­verts.

“I give a lot of speeches to civic groups, and I find a sur­pris­ing num­ber of peo­ple who say, ‘It’s time to reg­u­late it and tax it al­ready,’ ” Mr. Cir­uli said. “These are peo­ple in­volved in busi­ness and civic or­ga­ni­za­tions. It’s not just for col­lege students or dop­ers in Pitkin County.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bring­ing down their high: Colorado Gov. John Hick­en­looper

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