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Framing the pot question

November 14, 2010

DEA raid on a medical marijuana dispensary in ...
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Whether marijuana legalization succeeds with Colorado voters depends on how it is proposed and how pot would be regulated.

By The Denver Post
Posted: 11/14/2010 01:00:00 AM MST

Ballots from this month’s general election are still being counted in some races, yet marijuana activists already are talking about asking Colorado voters in 2012 to legalize the drug.

Given the sham of a system we now have for medical marijuana, it might be a worthy debate. Still, there are important policy implications to consider in the coming years, lessons to be learned from California’s recent experience with a losing pot legalization measure, and questions that need to be answered.

The first question: Should the marijuana activists be the ones writing drug laws? More precisely, if a question is to go on the ballot, who should write it and with what purpose in mind?

Think about Colorado’s experience with medical marijuana, and the uncertain and messy landscape state lawmakers were left to deal with this past session as they tried to impose reasonable restrictions on pot distribution. The ambiguity in defining medical caregivers and other issues is a result of a purposefully vague constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2000.

This is something to think about as marijuana legalization advocates push their agendas. Is it good public policy for all of Colorado, or is it good public policy for them?

The vote in California earlier this month, in which voters shot down legalization by a 54-46 margin, offers other food for thought. A post-election survey found that 31 percent of those who voted against Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana, actually favor legalization or penalty reduction.

So why did it fail?

One development that hurt the measure’s chances was the declaration by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that the federal government would remain “firmly committed” to enforcing federal drug laws regardless of whether it passed. We can’t imagine the government’s position will change much by 2012, and we wonder how Coloradans would react to such statements.

The other thing that hurt Prop 19 was the perception that it did not tax, regulate and control marijuana, despite proponents’ claims.

Recent news reports in Colorado in which some educators are questioning whether a sharp rise in drug offenses in schools is attributable to medical marijuana could be devastating to legalization efforts. Yet a recent Denver Post/9News poll showed likely and actual voters support marijuana legalization by a slim margin.

We’ve often said the national war on drugs is a failure. But that doesn’t mean we favor mindlessly legalizing general marijuana use and possession at the state level.

Marijuana would need to be heavily taxed, to discourage overuse, and regulated to keep potencies within specified limits. And we’ve long believed those are jobs better handled by the federal government.

Whether legalization ultimately succeeds with voters is going to depend a lot upon how it is framed and controlled.

Read more: Framing the pot question – The Denver Post

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