Marijuana viewed in mainstream

DENVER—Colorado and the rest of the nation have come a long way in accepting the idea of legalizing marijuana, and that will resonate throughout all of the Americas, marijuana policy experts told a group of journalists from North and South America on Monday.

Speaking at the Inter American Press Association at Denver’s posh Brown Palace Hotel, the experts said people in the United States are embracing the idea of legalizing marijuana as never before.

Its result will have profound impacts on Latin American nations, said Nathan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York City-based Drug Policy Alliance, which has worked for years to push the United States to abandon its so-called war on drugs and find a new solution to its abuse.

“Paradoxically, the United States has become the global leader in trying to figure out responsible ways to legally regulate marijuana, rather than persisting with the failed policy of arrest and incarceration,” Nadelmann said. “We saw the marijuana business begin to go from the underground to above ground, and to be regulated and pay state and local taxes. And do you know what? The sky did not fall.”

Jack Finlaw, chief legal advisor to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, said regulators in this state, like those in Washington State that also legalized marijuana, have been contacted by numerous other states and even some foreign nations on how it’s all working so far.

He said some Colorado officials even have traveled to Uruguay, which is poised to become the first nation on the planet to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Both men said there still are several unanswered questions about this “marijuana experiment,” much of which may have to be addressed in the Legislature or answered in the courts.

Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, who moderated the discussion, said it is an effort worth watching worldwide not only in how U.S. states deal with the issue, but in whether it prompts the U.S. federal government to act as well, particularly when it comes to banking laws and drug cartels.

Before anything happens in Congress on those scores, Nadelmann said many more states likely will follow Colorado and Washington’s example in the next few years and legalize the weed, too.

Only then will Congress and the federal government make serious moves toward national legalization.

In the meantime, however, all eyes will be on people here to see if it all works as planned, Nadelmann said.

“Another 9-11, another fiscal disaster, environmental disaster, the public could become highly security-conscious again, or things could go wrong in Colorado and Washington and the rest of the nation could say, ‘Wait a second,’ ” he said. “Nothing’s guaranteed.”



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