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On the Day Pot Becomes Legal, It’s Reefer Madness Again in Boulder


Bike rack, Table Mesa and 40th Bus Stop, Boulder, Colorado. (Leland Rucker)

Bruce Springsteen put it aptly at his Denver concert last month. “I understand that Colorado just underlined its Rocky Mountain High.” The word’s getting around about our state, the budding Amsterdam of the American West.

On Nov. 6. about 55 percent of Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which allows anyone over 21 years of age the right to have an ounce or six plants of marijuana for personal use.   Even glowing-red El Paso County came out for decriminalization, though just barely. Voters in Denver and Boulder overwhelmingly supported the amendment and were mostly responsible for its passage. Today, December 10, 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the amendment into law.

Colorado voters in 2000 approved a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana for patients with approved cards in Colorado. But it wasn’t until the spring of 2009, following a Justice Department edict that said that the federal government wouldn’t interfere with state marijuana laws, that Colorado erupted in a crescendo of craziness and reefer madness.

Under a volcano of optimism, entrepreneurs – old pot dealers, mom-and-pop businesspeople, everybody, it seemed  – got into the legal medical business. Legislators, caught off guard, for whatever reasons, didn’t deal with state regulations for months, leaving it to local jurisdictions to deal with an onslaught of dispensaries, grow operations and card-carrying patients. Cities reacted in various ways. Some banned dispensaries outright; others, like Breckenridge, completely decriminalized pot within its boundaries.

That crazy period is well documented in Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America’s Most Outlaw Industry, a great book by Greg Campbell, a Ft. Collins journalist who writes of getting a medical marijuana card and growing six plants in hopes of selling to dispensaries amidst the craziness.

Now Colorado has legalized pot, which brings up more than a few grams of questions and even more reefer madness. First, it puts the federal government on notice that more and more of its citizens, even those who don’t smoke pot, are sick and tired of the hypocritical Drug War rat hole down which billions of our tax dollars plunge each year criminalizing the act of smoking a plant anyone can grow and Grandma now uses to ease her chronic pain. Unless President Obama’s Justice Department decides to revisit marijuana’s current Schedule 1 status, the passage of Amendment 64 might ignite a hell of a states’ right battle.

The Obama administration has followed its predecessors, waffling on its pledge not to interfere in states that have approved medical marijuana. Locally it has issued cease-and-desist orders to dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school, even if they were in local compliance. It recently reminded Washington state, which also legalized pot in November, of its Schedule 1 status.

Attorney General Eric Holder has not replied to requests from Colorado congresspeople or Gov. John Hickenlooper, for clarity, perhaps because, when it comes to the Feds and marijuana, there is no clarity, no common sense and no science involved in its decision-making process. For seventy-five years marijuana has been demonized by its Schedule One classification, and for forty of those years the federal government has waged a so-called drug war, with our tax dollars, incarcerating mostly poor and minority pot smokers while allowing the marijuana market in the United States to grow into perhaps the nation’s largest agricultural product. Make no mistake; pot is far more ubiquitous and easy-to-find today than it was in when the government began waging war on it.

Locally, Stan Garnett and Mitch Morrissey, district attorneys for Boulder and Denver counties, announced they would drop all pending marijuana possession cases, while Weld County D.A. (and fierce opponent of Amendment 64) Ken Buck said he would prosecute people up until, well, today.

Boulder’s city attorney, Tom Carr, who was voted out of the same office in Seattle at least in part because of his anti-marijuana policies, recommended the city not allow dispensaries because the window for the state to write its regulations and the city to start issuing business licenses is only a few months away and asked a two-year moratorium before revisiting the situation. No less than Nobel laureate Eric Cornell denounced Carr’s actions, quickly seconded by former City Council member and County Commissioner Paul Danish. Wisely, current council members reminded Carr that 2/3 of the voters in Boulder approved Amendment 64 and that perhaps he should revisit his current thinking.

And then, University of Colorado President Bruce Benson, in a bizarre email sent to alumni late Friday night, wrote that he personally had worked to oppose the passage of Amendment 64 and suggested that the university might lose a billion dollars a year in funding because of its passage, an astounding claim. “The glaring practical problem is that we stand to lose significant federal funding,” Benson wrote. “CU must comply with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which compels us to ban illicit drugs from campus.”

Benson generally keeps his opinions to himself, but he is the guy who authorized CU to spend more than $278,000 to try to stop the 4-20 Smokeout at CU in April. Congressman Jared Polis, in effect calling Benson a liar, pointed out that the university already has banned illicit drugs from the campus and that the amendment’s passage has nothing to do with CU funding. Local entrepreneur and CU donor Brad Feld called for Benson to retract his comments and leave his personal agenda out of CU-alumni communications.

There is more of this kind of lunacy ahead. Even Hickenlooper opposed Amendment 64 before its passage. Who knows what mischief our Republican friends in the state House of Representatives might already be cooking up to subvert Amendment 64 in the legislature’s next session?

All of this is just a reminder that, even here in our broad-minded enclave next to the Flatirons, a significant minority of people with significant power, for whatever reasons, don’t want to see marijuana regulated like alcohol in Colorado. Look for more insanity as reefer madness gives way to the fear of a stoned planet.

December 10, 2012

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