Voters weigh groundbreaking marijuana initiative

Staff report
Posted

Colorado is in the national spotlight as citizens vote on Amendment 64, which would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by people 21 and older.

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. But Coloradans and people in 16 other states and the District of Columbia have disagreed, allowing marijuana use for various medical conditions.

Federal authorities have begun taking action to close medical-marijuana facilities in some jurisdictions, and federal authority supersedes that of the states. But local and state law enforcement officers greatly outnumber federal agents devoted to drug laws, so Colorado marijuana users might face little chance of arrest if voters approve Amendment 64.

Proponents of the ballot measure say the enforcement of marijuana laws diverts police from more important duties and taints good citizens by tagging them with criminal records. Opponents fear increased marijuana use among young people and threats to public safety as impaired people drive and perform other potentially risky tasks.

Communities around the state would have the power to ban marijuana retailers in their jurisdictions, and several political bodies already have stated their opposition to the amendment, leaving in doubt where marijuana could be sold.

A selling point for Amendment 64 is the prospect that $40 million a year in excise taxes would go toward school construction. But that excise tax does not currently exist, so lawmakers would have to ask voters to approve it in another election. And while the vast majority of the state’s school boards have not taken a formal stand on Amendment 64, the Douglas County board opposes it.

There are many questions and few firm answers about what will happen if Amendment 64 is approved. If voters say yes, the answers will start to come after Election Day.