Commissioners need to reconsider their stance on marijuana shops
After more than two years of experience with medical marijuana, which continues to be widely available despite the inconvenience caused by the county’s prohibition against pot dispensaries, the Mesa County commissioners are once again advocating against commercial marijuana shops in unincorporated Mesa County.
The passage of Amendment 64 has sent the newly elected commission members, led by veteran Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, rushing with unnecessary speed to correct a “problem” that will not even exist for well over a year — if ever.
Amendment 64 allows limited possession of marijuana by adults for personal recreational use. It also authorizes the establishment of retail shops to supply marijuana to the public, as medical marijuana dispensaries do for authorized patients.
Acquafresca told The Daily Sentinel that he figures the new county commissioners will ban the commercial marijuana shops “sometime soon.” He can make that promise with confidence, since the two newly elected commissioners have already committed to outlawing any commercial marijuana dealings in the county.
Commissioner-elect John Justman told the Sentinel, “I’m not really interested in having pot shops in Mesa County.”
Rose Pugliese, the other newly elected commissioner, said she is “all for a prohibition.” She favors an ordinance prohibiting marijuana shops in all parts of the county, the Sentinel reported.
It appears the commissioners-to-be assume that because voters previously rejected medical marijuana dispensaries, they will also reject recreational marijuana shops.
But there is no need to pass an ordinance quickly.
The amendment does not even become law until next month, when the secretary of state certifies the election. It then goes to the Legislature, where rules for regulating pot shops will be created.
The target date for those regulations to be in place is January of 2014, according to the timeline established in Amendment 64.
Even then, it could be months more before any licenses are actually issued for marijuana shops.
Before allowing the newly minted commissioners to make a unilateral decision of this importance, supporters of legalization should demand full public hearings on the issue.
As part of those hearings, the commissioners should clearly state their reasons for the ban they want to impose. Is it based on empirical evidence that a ban is better than closely regulated shops?
The support for Amendment 64 from many in the law enforcement community makes a compelling case for legalization and regulated commercial distribution.
At a pro-Amendment 64 campaign rally in Denver shortly before the election, a group of retired and former law enforcement personnel weighed in with this recommendation:
“As police officers, judges, prosecutors, corrections officials and others who have labored to enforce the laws that seek to prohibit marijuana use, and who have witnessed the abysmal failure of this current criminalization approach, we stand together in calling for new laws that will effectively regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.”
A similar coalition of professionals who have “seen with our own eyes that keeping marijuana illegal damages public safety — for marijuana consumers and non-consumers alike,” also calls for legalization.
They point out that the “only groups that benefit from continuing to keep marijuana illegal are the violent gangs and cartels that control its distribution and reap immense profits from it through the black market.”
In their zeal to curtail the legal distribution of marijuana in Mesa County, the commissioners risk enhancing just such a black market.
Those who are concerned that legalization will expose their children to pot should pay particular attention to this issue. While it is unlikely that any legitimate dealer would risk losing a license for selling to juveniles, black market dealers will make no such distinction.
As the professionals conclude in their letter, “prohibition not only makes marijuana more dangerous than it otherwise would be, but creates new harms that simply would not exist under a legal and regulated framework.”
Unless the federal government acts to quell legalization — and so far it has shown no intent to do so — Colorado will have legal marijuana.
The Mesa County commissioners, and those who live here, need to recognize that reality. They can posture about how tough on drugs they are while the county is supplied by unprincipled and uncontrolled black market street dealers, or they can bring the trade into the open with strict regulations and safeguards to keep pot away from youngsters.
That choice should belong to the people, not grandstanding county commissioners.