Marijuana vote leaves questions
When Colorado voters approved the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, not everybody was stoked over the approval. To date, marijuana remains illegal under federal law; if that weren't enough of a downer, the state may not gain tax revenue if voters were to deny a ballot measure seeking an excise tax.
In Woodland Park, Debbie Upton, coordinator of North Teller Build a Generation, is upset over the vote. “This will make my job and the coalition's job harder. All the factors will be in place for increased use, not just for youth but for all…availability, price reduction and increased acceptance toward the substance and its risk,” Upton said. “Our local youth rate of marijuana use already increased in the last few years, so I can only imagine what the increase will be with the passing of recreational use.”
Upton's concern is echoed by Ernie Martinez, president of Colorado Drug Investigators Association. In an email, Martinez writes: “Last night we witnessed an event that will have significant impact on our state and country as well as could determine the future we pass down to our children.”
Martinez cites the organization's partnership with Healthy and Drug Free Colorado, Colorado`s police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys and other anti-legalization groups to oppose the measure.
“However, this effort could not compete with the millions of dollars poured into the campaign to legalize marijuana from out-of-state sources,” Martinez adds.
For Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger, the vote leaves too many questions. “According to the Federal Drug Administration, marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, so how is legalization in Colorado going to work?” he said. “There are no legal guidelines for what level of THC equals the intoxication level of alcohol.”
For law enforcement, the lack of scientific information about marijuana complicates things. “We don't know how THC is ingested, what effect it has on the body and how the drug is eliminated from the system,” he said. “We don't know how THC attaches itself it to the body, don't know how long it stays in the body.”
The issue gets more complicated with the state's failure to properly regulate the medical-marijuana industry. “We have one person doing background checks for people who want to open dispensaries in southern Colorado,” he said. “We have cartels transporting drugs from our state to other states. We are arresting people who have six medical-marijuana cards, so the system is not working.”
As well, it's still up in the air if Colorado is to generate tax revenue from the sale of marijuana. According to TABOR stipulations, voters must first approve an excise tax for the sale of marijuana.
On the plus side, if voters approve the tax, the amendment designates the first $40 million collected to be used for constructing schools.
As a result of the vote, John Suthers, Colorado's attorney general, has scheduled a meeting with the U.S. attorney. “Suthers is on top of this,” Ensminger said.
The time line for implementation is lengthy. While the amendment requires the state's Department of Revenue to establish regulations by July 1, local governments, ordinances and regulations are required by Oct. 1.
Municipalities may issue prohibition or a moratorium but the issue of legaliza