Opponents, supporters of Amendment 64 speak out | PostIndependent.com

Opponents, supporters of Amendment 64 speak out

The campaign season for the Nov. 6, 2012, election is here, and the Post Independent wants to make sure readers have plenty of information before casting their vote.

This month we are publishing opinion columns written by candidates for U.S. Congress, the state Legislature, Ninth District Attorney and the Garfield Board of County Commissioners, as well columns for and against the Garfield Open Lands and Rifle sales tax ballot questions.

Today we present columns by individuals representing groups that support or oppose Amendment 64, a constitutional amendment that would regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Later in October, the Post Independent Editorial Board will publish its endorsements of candidates and ballot questions.

The last day to register to vote is Tuesday, Oct. 9.

For an archive of these stories, coverage of campaign forums and other election issues on the local, state and national level, please visit http://www.postindependent.com > News > Elections.

Betty Aldworth

Voters have a big decision to make this November. In fact, it is very similar to a decision Colorado voters had to make exactly 80 years ago. In 1932, the people of the state considered the pros and cons of alcohol prohibition, ultimately choosing to end that failed experiment.

This fall, the question is whether to continue the possibly even more irrational policy of marijuana prohibition.

The similarities between alcohol prohibition and marijuana prohibition are striking: Both policies were devised to control the behavior of adults, but neither reduced consumption of marijuana or alcohol. In both cases, prohibition has enriched cartels, empowered gangs, and made otherwise law-abiding adults criminals.

There is no arguing whether limited law enforcement resources would be better spent combatting violence and other crimes that actually cause harm to others. Instead, 10,000 Coloradans are arrested, prosecuted and burdened with criminal records each year.

In addition to wasting law enforcement resources, our state is quite literally throwing away tens of millions of dollars each year that could be collected in tax revenue. The Colorado Center on Law and Policy estimates that Amendment 64 would produce more than $100 million in tax revenue annually, with the first $40 million going toward improving Colorado’s crumbling schools and building new ones when necessary.

Amendment 64 makes the private use and possession 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 for the legal cultivation and processing of industrial hemp.

But more than that, Amendment 64 is an evidenced-based approach to repair the terribly flawed policy of marijuana prohibition that is based not on fact, but on fear.

In 1971, President Nixon handpicked a national commission and tasked it with taking a hard look at marijuana. They approached the subject objectively and produced a comprehensive report. Their conclusion? The harms of marijuana are quite limited, and the use of marijuana by adults should not be considered a criminal offense.

Many studies have since supported that conclusion, and yet reefer-madness-style scare tactics are still our opponents’ only arguments.

We have learned that the so-called “gateway effect” is an effect caused by marijuana prohibition, not marijuana itself. Any objective examination of the facts demonstrates that marijuana prohibition is the worst possible policy for children. It has created a situation in which underground marijuana is almost universally available to teens, and those teens who inevitably seek it out are often exposed to other, more dangerous drugs.

Moreover, there is now evidence that regulating marijuana might be better for teens in Colorado. Since our state established a tightly regulated medical marijuana market in 2009, marijuana use among high school students has dropped 11 percent in the state, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, where marijuana is entirely unregulated, it increased 11 percent.

Our opponents argue that Amendment 64 will increase traffic accidents, but there is no evidence that suggests that will be the case. It will remain entirely illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, and the state Legislature will maintain its ability to regulate impaired driving.

As a last resort, our opponents try to scare voters and business leaders with unfounded claims that passage of Amendment 64 will affect the workplace, despite the fact that the measure explicitly grants employers the right to maintain all of their current employment policies.

It is time to replace the ineffective and wasteful policy of marijuana prohibition with a more sensible approach.

Please vote “yes” on Amendment 64 to regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Betty Aldworth is advocacy director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Michael McCallum

Coloradans in Glenwood Springs and throughout the state enjoy bragging rights about great weather, outstanding scenery and recreation in our ski areas and hot springs. We’re proud that Colorado cities and towns are routinely named to “Most Livable” lists.

But passing Amendment 64 would give Colorado another dubious distinction. We would become known as the “Marijuana Capital of the World.” And that would be bad for our town, our state and business.

For these reasons the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, of which I am the board chair, passed a unanimous resolution opposing Amendment 64.

Business groups and individual business leaders are among the more than 200 elected officials, educators, law enforcement officers and community organizations that have joined to oppose amending Colorado’s constitution to legalize marijuana.

Amendment 64 would make it legal under state law for anyone 21 or older to possess and use up to one ounce of marijuana. Marijuana retail stores and growing, manufacturing and testing facilities would be permitted. No residency requirement or medical need would be necessary.

The Mountain States Employers Council analyzed the effects of Amendment 64 on Colorado businesses and concluded that it “could be a disaster for Colorado employers.”

Employers are concerned about how increased marijuana use will affect their workplaces.

Amendment 64 states that it is not “intended to require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale or growing of marijuana in the workplace.”

However, off-duty marijuana use would be protected, and it could make it difficult for an employer to discharge an employee or refuse to hire an individual who tested positive for marijuana use without risking a lawsuit.

This is a huge safety issue. Marijuana is a mind-altering drug that impairs judgment, coordination and reaction time. Employees who use marijuana and then operate company equipment or vehicles could be a danger to themselves and others.

And, since urinalysis testing for marijuana is still inexact, it’s possible that someone who used marijuana hours, days and even weeks before coming to work would still test positive for marijuana’s mind-altering ingredient, THC. Employers who do drug testing and base hiring and firing decisions on the results would be targets for discrimination lawsuits unless they can prove that the drug use actually took place on the job.

Legalizing recreational marijuana use at the state level would put state law in direct conflict with federal law, creating confusion for both employers and employees.

The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 prohibits awarding government contracts or grants to employers that tolerate drug use among their employees and don’t make a good-faith effort to maintain a drug-free workplace. So Colorado employers would find it tough to compete for government business against companies in states where marijuana use remains illegal under both federal and state law.

Bad image, safety concerns, legal confusion and continuing federal sanctions are all compelling reasons for business to oppose legalizing marijuana. But most compelling is that Amendment 64 could hurt our efforts to recruit and retain new business for Colorado, damaging our economic recovery – and that hurts all Coloradans.

Join the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, business groups, individual business leaders, government leaders, educators, law enforcement officers and community organizations from across Colorado in opposing Amendment 64.

Michael McCallum chairs the board of directors of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

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