Marijuana legalization leading in early returns

Staff report
Posted

Colorado voters appeared to be giving the go-ahead to widespread legalization of marijuana, according to early election returns available the night of Nov. 6.

At 9:38 p.m., partial statewide returns showed Amendment 64 leading 53 percent to 47 percent.

If the amendment passes in final returns, people 21 and older will be allowed to possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol was behind the drive, and as the name suggests, the amendment will allow the sale and possession of marijuana with controls similar to those for alcoholic beverages.

However, much is unknown, including how the federal government will respond. The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, putting it in the same category as heroin and LSD. Schedule I drugs are those that the government says have no medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Even before the vote, there were stirrings that indicated federal displeasure with Colorado’s existing medical-marijuana provisions. Federal authorities had sent letters to medical-marijana retailers near schools telling them to shut down, and letters to the retailers’ landlords warning of the possibility of asset seizure.

It also is questionable where recreational marijuana will be sold. Communities can bar its sale, and some elected bodies have already taken stands against the amendment.

Voters may have bought the arguments of Amendment 64 supporters, who said enforcement of marijuana laws diverts police from more important duties and taints good citizens by tagging them with criminal records. They may also have been swayed by a plan for an excise tax that could funnel $40 million a year into school construction, although lawmakers would have to let voters decide on the tax in another election.

Opponents of Amendment 64 raised fears of increased marijuana availability for young people, and increased danger to society from impaired people driving and performing other risky tasks.

While the amendment permits marijuana use under state law, it is unclear what changes could occur in employment policies for people who test positive for long-lasting metabolites from marijuana, which linger in the body long after use.

The answers to all these questions should play out in the days, weeks and months ahead.