Amendment 64 raising a lot of questions for local governments
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — Federal reaction to the legalization of marijuana for personal use may be driven as much by political considerations as by legal factors, said attorney Sean McAllister, a long-time advocate on the cannabis front.
Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 by a large marging. The measure legalizes adult possession and cultivation of marijuana and directs the state to establish a system to regulate the commercial sale of marijuana for personal use. The ballot measure got 50,000 more votes than President Barack Obama in his reelection bid, and McAllister reckons that the adminstration may not be keen on alienating progressive voters by cracking down on the state.
He said he expects Colorado officials to acknowledge that the voters have spoken and to move forward with implementation of the amendment. Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado Attorney General John Suther spoke with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder late last week about the issue, which could put state law at odds with the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Amendment 64 backers ran an organized and well-financed campaign, spending about $1.8 million to get the measure passed. McAllister said there was little organized opposition, with opponents spending only about $200,000 on their fight against the amendment.
Nearly 70 percent of Summit County voters said yes to the measure. The biggest win for Amendment 64 was in Pitkin County, where 75 percent of the voters said yes. The county by county breakdown of the vote paints an interesting demographic picture of Colorado, with a close vote in some Front Range counties, overwhelming support in the mountain resort areas and opposition centered in the state’s rural eastern counties. See the full results at this Denver Post web page.
“I hope there will be licensed retailers in Summit County,” Breckenridge resident Lynda Brenckle said via Facebook. “This is the first step in getting our government to realize that the war on drugs doesn’t work, it simply drives it underground,” Brenckle said, adding that most adults that use pot are responsible, participating members of society.
“It will also make it less of a stigma for people to be able to get help if they do have an addiction. The fears of a smoke cloud hanging over our state are ridiculous. It is still illegal for those under 21, so enforcement and education will be key,” she said.
While some opponents said they believed passage of Amendment 64 could have a negative impact on tourism in Colorado, but most people think any effect will be negligible, or perhaps even positive.
“Yes, it will add to tourism. Weed users will like the freedom; non-users will love the contact high of talking about it,” Breckenridge resident Tara Flanagan said via Facebook.
The Breckenridge Town Council will likely have an early chance to discuss the issue at its Nov. 13 meeting, when Mayor John Warner plans to bring it up under “other matters,” toward the end of the session. Warner said the council has gained a few relatively conservative members since the last time the town discussed marijuana issues, and that he wants to hear from them.
Beyond that, Warner said that, despite legalization of marijuana for personal use, he doesn’t think there will be a retail cannabis experience on the town’s enormously popular Main Street shopping drag. If and when retail marijuana sales happen, they’ll likely be relegated to less conspicuous spots, similar to medical marijuana dispensaries.
Some of the existing medical marijuana use will likely be displaced when the new law takes effect, calling into question whether there will be a great deal of additional demand for new retail space.
Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said it’s also possible that there will be an emphasis on cultivation, rather than commercial retailing. Stiegelmeier said she thinks strict regulation of marijuana sales will help, in the long run, to reduce the availability of marijuana to kids.
“When I was in that age, 18 to 21, it was easier to get marijuana then to get alcohol,” she said, adding that the proliferation of medical marijuana in Colorado doesn’t seem to have had any negative effects.
Sheriff John Minor said he doesn’t expect that legalization will change much in terms of law enforcement. Summit sheriff deputies haven’t focused on small-scale marijuana offenses for quite some time, he said, adding that most marijuana-related calls these days have to do with grow operations in residential areas.