A Ballot Push To Legalize Marijuana

Jan 26, 2012

Pro­po­nents of mar­i­juana have argued for years that the drug is safer than alco­hol, both to indi­vid­u­als and soci­ety. But a bal­lot pro­posal to legal­ize pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana in small amounts in Col­orado, likely to be on the Novem­ber bal­lot, is putting the two intox­i­cants back into the same sen­tence, urg­ing vot­ers to “reg­u­late mar­i­juana like alco­hol,” as the bal­lot proposition’s title puts it. Given alcohol’s long and check­ered his­tory — the tens of thou­sands of deaths each year; the social rav­ages of alco­holism — back­ers of the pro-marijuana mea­sure con­cede there is a risk of look­ing as if they have cozied up too much, or are com­pa­ra­ble, to old demon rum. “Why add another vice, right?” said Mason Tvert, a co-director of the Cam­paign to Reg­u­late Mar­i­juana Like Alco­hol, which has led the bal­lot drive. “But we’re not adding a vice — we’re pro­vid­ing an alter­na­tive.” The goal of legal­iza­tion, Mr. Tvert added, is not to make access to mar­i­juana eas­ier, but rather, “to make our com­mu­ni­ties safer by reg­u­lat­ing this sub­stance, tak­ing it out of the under­ground mar­ket, con­trol­ling it and bet­ter keep­ing it away from young peo­ple.” The debate here and in Wash­ing­ton State — where mem­bers of a pro-legalization group have also sub­mit­ted what they say are more than enough sig­na­tures to secure a spot on the bal­lot — is premised on the idea that mar­i­juana has become, if not quite main­stream, then at least no longer alien to the aver­age voter. Med­ical mar­i­juana is already legal in both states. But greater famil­iar­ity with mar­i­juana could be a double-edged sword, oppo­nents say. Med­ical mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries, espe­cially in Col­orado, have exploded in num­ber in the last few years — some with medical-sounding names, oth­ers gar­ishly sug­ges­tive in their names and imagery of the intox­i­cat­ing sub­stances on sale within. More than 88,000 Col­orado res­i­dents have med­ical mar­i­juana cards, accord­ing to the most recent state fig­ures, with young men in their 20s and 30s — many of them suf­fer­ing debil­i­tat­ing pain, accord­ing to their doctor-signed cer­tifi­cates — dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­re­sented. And many Col­orado com­mu­ni­ties have been actively debat­ing med­ical mar­i­juana — and say­ing no to it. Eighty-five Col­orado com­mu­ni­ties have banned or halted open­ings of dis­pen­saries, through pop­u­lar vote or through their city coun­cils or com­mis­sions, and where a munic­i­pal­ity posed the ques­tion to vot­ers, mar­i­juana has lost 88.1 per­cent of the time, accord­ing to the Col­orado Munic­i­pal League, an asso­ci­a­tion of city gov­ern­ments. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment, mean­while, in states from Cal­i­for­nia to Mon­tana, has also been crack­ing down on med­ical mar­i­juana grow­ers and sell­ers who pros­e­cu­tors say have gone beyond what is allowed in their states. Some crit­ics of legal­iza­tion say that med­ical marijuana’s growth, and the abuse of med­i­cines that leak out to become recre­ational, fore­shadow the dan­gers if acces­si­bil­ity is increased. Washington’s mea­sure would be a statu­tory legal change, while Colorado’s would amend the State Con­sti­tu­tion. “It’s largely state-sanctioned fraud,” said Colorado’s attor­ney gen­eral, John W. Suthers, a harsh critic of the med­ical mar­i­juana sys­tem who is speak­ing out against the bal­lot mea­sure. “We have thou­sands and thou­sands of peo­ple lying to doc­tors, say­ing they have a debil­i­tat­ing med­ical con­di­tion.” And some doc­tors are going along with the ruse, Mr. Suthers said, “prac­tic­ing sub-standard med­i­cine by actu­ally clos­ing their eyes.” Sup­port­ers of legal­iza­tion agree that med­ical mar­i­juana — now legal in 16 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia — has led to abuses, and that many vot­ers are angry and dis­gusted with how things have unfolded. And that, they say, is the very prob­lem that legal­iza­tion would fix. Ban­ning or improp­erly reg­u­lat­ing a sub­stance that large num­bers of peo­ple will use any­way failed in the 1920s with alco­hol — with the spread of speakeasies and cor­rup­tion dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion — and is fail­ing now with mar­i­juana, they say. “Peo­ple don’t like the hypocrisy and the dis­re­spect for law,” said Ali­son Hol­comb, the cam­paign man­ager for New Approach Wash­ing­ton, a group back­ing the bal­lot mea­sure, called I-502. But Ms. Hol­comb said that hypocrisy is pre­cisely where the com­par­isons with alco­hol and Pro­hi­bi­tion become apt. Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans dis­re­garded the law in the days of Al Capone, and mil­lions are doing so now with mar­i­juana. “That’s what pro­hi­bi­tion fos­ters,” she said. “We counter that not by going back­wards, but by going for­ward.” The specter of California’s vote in 2010, when vot­ers said no to legal­iza­tion, and 2006, when a sim­i­lar mea­sure failed in Col­orado, hangs over this year’s debate. And there is also divi­sion within the pro-marijuana com­mu­nity. A pro-legalization group in Wash­ing­ton, Sen­si­ble Wash­ing­ton, is argu­ing to vot­ers that pass­ing I-502 would cre­ate a false sense of secu­rity for mar­i­juana users, since pos­ses­sion still remains a fed­eral crime. The group also objects to a driving-under-the-influence stan­dard in the pro­posal that it says would not fairly mea­sure impair­ment, and that almost any med­ical mar­i­juana patient would fail, hours and per­haps even days after con­sum­ing cannabis. “We are greatly con­cerned that inno­cent peo­ple risk con­vic­tion, and are left with­out a defense. In fact, this issue has cre­ated a huge rift in the anti-prohibition on cannabis move­ment in our state,” said Troy Bar­ber, a steer­ing com­mit­tee mem­ber at Sen­si­ble Wash­ing­ton, in an e-mail. But things in Col­orado have also sig­nif­i­cantly changed in the six years since the last ref­er­en­dum here. Med­ical mar­i­juana providers now have money to back cam­paigns with adver­tis­ing — in stark con­trast to the effort in 2006, which had almost no finan­cial back­ing — and are mostly sup­port­ing the bal­lot drive, said Jason Lauve, a spokesman for the Asso­ci­a­tion of Cannabis Trades for Col­orado, a trade group for med­ical providers. State tax rev­enues from med­ical mar­i­juana sales have risen sharply as well, up to $5 mil­lion for the year end­ing June 30, 2011, from $2.2 mil­lion for the year end­ing June 30, 2010. The pol­i­tics of the states’ rights move­ment, mean­while, which holds that state author­ity should, in gen­eral, trump fed­eral juris­dic­tion — argued by many lib­er­tar­i­ans and Tea Party groups — is adding its own quirky ele­ment to the mix. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ron Paul of Texas, the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, has made the argu­ment for state author­ity on drug laws, among other issues, a repeated refrain of his cam­paign. “I think the fed­eral war on drugs is a total fail­ure,” Mr. Paul said in Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates’ debate in Novem­ber. “Why don’t we han­dle the drugs like we han­dle alco­hol?” Mr. Paul asked. “Alco­hol is a deadly drug.” Source: New York Times (NY) Author: Kirk John­son Pub­lished: Jan­u­ary 26, 2012 Copy­right: 2012 The New York Times Com­pany Con­tact: letters@​nytimes.​com Web­site: http://​www​.nytimes​.com/

2dde82b0a5taken.jpg 150x99 A Ballot Push To Legalize Marijuana

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A Bal­lot Push To Legal­ize Marijuana

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