This November, put aside the blue book — Colorado’s thinking green.
Amendment 64, the amendment to legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, has been creating buzz on the state level and beyond. According to an early September poll from Public Policy Polling, the amendment is leading in favor with voters 47 percent to 38 percent, with 15 percent of voters still undecided.
“Amendment 64 makes the use, possession, and limited home-growing of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age and older, establishes a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol, and allows cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp,” according to the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
There are certain limitations associated with legalization, however. Personal possession is limited to one ounce, and the home-growing of up to six marijuana plants.
On Sept. 12, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced his opposition to the amendment in an official press statement.
“Colorado is known for many great things — marijuana should not be one of them,” Hickenlooper said. “Amendment 64 has the potential to increase the number of children using drugs and would detract from efforts to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation. It sends the wrong message to kids that drugs are OK.”
For Betty Aldworth, advocacy director for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, Hickenlooper’s statement came as a disappointment.
“For someone who made his fortune selling alcohol, we’d hoped that Gov. Hickenlooper sustained a clear parallel between why people choose marijuana and why people choose alcohol,” Aldworth said. “To us, it only makes sense to treat them similarly under the law because people use them similarly.”
There have also been concerns in the medical marijuana community about the impact this measure could have on business.
Kayvan Khalatbari, 29, is the owner of Denver Relief, one of Denver’s first medical marijuana centers. Though he acknowledges the dissent from others in his business, he said the distinction between medical and social use will prove important.
“A lot of people in the medical industry are opposed to it because they think it’s going to crush their business or it’s going to bring unwanted federal attention to the state of Colorado,” Khalatbari said. “I would say that it’s probably true to an extent, but if it does pass, [Denver Relief] would not go to social use. We would stay medical, because it’s got that feeling of protection, because we’re helping people that are sick as opposed to just people who want to get high.”
For Khalatbari, Amendment 64 is an important step to encouraging the federal discussion over legalization.
“Long term, I think it’s a great thing, because it’s that big step into the national conversation,” Khalatbari said, “I think if you can equate that to social use, and say that it’s okay to use, you’re going to have so many more people come out, and those stigmas are going to be dropped.”
If passed, Amendment 64 will enact a 15 percent sales tax on the sale of marijuana for social use. The first $40 million of revenue from the wholesale annually will feed into Colorado’s public schools by contributing to the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund.
Despite the potential increase in funding, though, the Colorado Education Association came out against Amendment 64.
“We remain incredibly concerned about the impact of having additional access to marijuana would have on our students and our schools,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the CEA.
There has recently been controversy over the content in the blue book regarding the amendment. Three sentences, including “the use of marijuana by adults may be less harmful than the use of alcohol or tobacco,” were removed from the section listing the arguments for 64.
When the blue book is disseminated to voters, there will be 208 words listed in support of the amendment, and 366 words listed in dissent — a 75 percent differential.
“This was not a loss for our campaign; this was a loss for the people of Colorado, who will not receive the fair and impartial election information promised to them by our state constitution,” said Mason Tvert, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “This is just the latest example of government officials skewing information about marijuana and deceiving the public in order to maintain the wasteful policy of marijuana prohibition.”
Others, including MSU Denver junior Rodney A. Dean, feel that no matter the wording, this amendment would just be introducing unnecessary government interference.
“I don’t think it’s one of the smartest things we could do,” Dean said. “I think there are other ways we can really promote the medicinal uses for marijuana that would not involve so much government intervention.”
For both sides of the debate, however, the status of federal legality remains a concern.
“We’re going to have to wait – we don’t know what the political climate is going to be like,” Khalatbari said. “Whether it’s Obama or Romney, neither of them have been too kind to the medical marijuana industry.”