Should Pot Be Regulated Like Alcohol? Colorado Voters Will Decide
Colorado state officials announced today that the appropriately-titled Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act qualified for the November ballot, making Colorado the second state, behind Washington, whose voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana this year. The announcement came ten days after the campaign handed in an additional 14,000 signatures -- a response to the 2,500 signatures required after officials determined many of the first wave of signatures, submitted in January, to be invalid.
The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act would amend Colorado's Constitution to make marijuana use -- as well as the possession or sale of up to one ounce of the plant -- legal for adults over the age of 21. Those of-age could also legally grow up to six marijuana plants, with three or fewer being “mature, flowering plants” that may be cultivated for use. The plants, however, must be grown in an enclosed, locked space that is not open to the public or conducting sales. The Act would also create a state licensing system for the commercial growth and sale of marijuana, and allow an excise tax of up to 15 percent, the first $40 million of which would go to public school construction. Local governments could still prohibit marijuana sales, but personal possession and cultivation would remain decriminalized across the state.
A coalition of prominent reform organizations, including NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, SAFER, Sensible Colorado, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and the Marijuana Policy Project support the initiative.
“This is a very exciting prospect for marijuana law reform advocates,” Erik Altieri, NORML’s Communications Coordinator, said in a press release, “Coloradans have already set the example for how to properly implement a state medical marijuana program and now they have the opportunity to lead the country yet again by being the first to end cannabis prohibition in their state. With their state pride and frontier mentality, the Centennial State stands a great chance of being the first state to declare an end to the war on cannabis consumers.”
Colorado manager of DPA Art Way said in a press release, “This could be a watershed year in the decades-long struggle to end marijuana prohibition in this country.”
Colorado residents will vote on the legislation this November. Recent data from Public Policy Polling showed that 49% of Colorado residents favored legalizing marijuana use, compared to 40% who were against it. Up to 68% of residents, however, favored medical legalization.
In 2010, a similar marijuana legalization initiative failed to pass California's ballot. But even if the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act is not favored in the November ballot , its presence will open up discussion about legalization, and help quell misunderstandings about the so-called dangers of marijuana, as well as the idea that marijuana legalization is a "fringe issue." As I recently reported, marijuana is much safer than alcohol, but myths about the drug's harmfulness and its harsh legal consequences often prove dangerous, by driving people who might otherwise smoke pot to drink instead. The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, thus, is a direct (and important) response to the hypocrisy of alcohol's legality.