The politics of pot

Think the major issues related to marijuana use and sales in Colorado were decided over the past year or so, as communities voted on whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries within their borders?

Think again. Marijuana appears poised to play a significant role in the politics of this state again this year.

Voters in the mountain town of Eagle take first shot at the politics of the issue today, when they vote on whether to allow a medical marijuana dispensary to continue operating.

The Eagle Town Board originally approved of such businesses, but last year adopted an ordinance to prohibit them. Operators of the Sweet Leaf dispensary and their supporters petitioned to get a measure on the ballot to let voters decide.

Meanwhile, the head of the Colorado Department of Revenue late last month wrote a letter to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, noting the conflicts between federal law — which makes all possession and sale of marijuana illegal — and Colorado’s legalization of pot for medical uses.

According to The Denver Post, Barbara Brohl, executive director of the Revenue Department, was acting on a bill passed by the Legislature in 2010 that requires the request that federal authorities move marijuana from a Schedule I to the lesser Schedule II, in which harmful drugs are listed as having some medicinal uses.

Two other states, Washington and Rhode Island, have made similar requests. But, in a presidential election year, it’s hard to believe anyone in the Obama administration will want to stir up a new controversy by changing the designation for pot.

By far the biggest political fight in Colorado over marijuana this year is likely to come in November. As reported in The Daily Sentinel last week, a group pushing to legalize small quantities of marijuana for all uses, not just medical ones, appears to have more than enough signatures to get the legalization measure on this year’s ballot.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is expected to submit petitions with 155,000 signatures, nearly double what they need, to the Colorado Secretary of State this week.

The group argues that legalizing the sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana and regulating it through approved retail outlets, just as we do now with alcohol, would be a much safer way to handle marijuana and would provide a revenue bonanza for state and local governments.

Many observers, The Daily Sentinel included, have long believed that the drive to legalize medical marijuana in Colorado and other states was just one step in a nationwide effort to eventually legalize marijuana entirely. Some people undoubtedly derive medical benefits from using pot. But the effort to allow it for medical uses aimed to show it can be legalized safely.

That appears to be what is occurring in Colorado. Some of the same people behind this year’s ballot measure were involved in a successful 2006 effort to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Denver.

It looks like voters throughout the state will get to decide if they also believe pot should be legal for recreational, as well as medicinal use — if they can cut through the haze of overhyped rhetoric likely to be presented by both sides.


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I look forward to November and the opportunity to vote in favor of legalizing marijuana for personal use.

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