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One huge problem for marijuana legalization petitions like the ones that just passed in Colorado and Washington are that people can’t agree on what initiative should be on the ballot — meaning that various petition drives can’t share resources and that proponents of each have a good reason to hope that the other factions’ efforts don’t succeed. Thus you saw many pro-legalization activists opposing Prop 19 a few years ago because of its flaws — which it certainly did have.
I’ve been trying to get involved in the drive to craft a proper petition for this election, but that went nowhere. Petition drives are underway — the one that our occasional author Debbie Tharp is promoting has only 30% of its 150-day signature collection period remaining — and while I remain pessimistic about getting a winning initiative onto the ballot (and then winning with it), I hope, as ever, that that pessimism is unwarranted.
To me, the problem and the solution are obvious: in our state, the initiative system cements laws passed by even a bare majority of voters into our codes of law that it can be difficult or impossible to amend them legislatively. I understand why we might not want to allow amendments — the power to amend is the also power to destroy — but smart policymaking has to allow for amendments. Disallow amendments and even people who generally agree with a proposal may have reason to oppose it.
The solution is to pass an initiative that requires a core level of minimum requirements in a new program and then allows the legislature to legislate in ways that perfect those laws. (Prop 35 — the supposed anti-human-trafficking initiative of which I was among the most active opponents — had such a provision, but by my reading it only allowed the legislature to make changes that made standards tougher, which will eventually make it a particularly hated piece of legislation (along the lines of the recently diluted-by-initiative “Three Strikes” law.)
The question is, though — how do we come up with a consensus “floor” from which to start? As of today, there’s an answer: copy some other state’s bill. The state I’d nominate to crib from is Colorado.
(Why Colorado and not Washington State, by the way? Here’s what some friends of mine from the Evergreen State had to say today when I wished them congratulations of the bouncing baby law:
- Don’t count the revenue until it’s hatched. Washington has done a really good job of bureaucratizing everything about pot for a whole year, making all political decisions, with no consumer input at all. The result is that there are no stores, there is no revenue, and there is very likely no hope that they will come withing shouting distance of the street market.
- Right, the process here in Washington is absurd and should not be used as a model for other states. California’s Prop 19, which I was proud to help out in 2010, was a better approach, though I’m sure CA can craft something even better. WA will have retail stores soon but there are too many restrictions on where they are located. That’s one of the problems with it here, though there are others. I think it will work out in the end, but there are better ways to do it.
Good to know — although I’m sure that there are some “best is the enemy of the good” Washingtonians who might disagree. After all, the most notable thing about Prop 19 is that, unlike Washington’s law, it failed!
You can get a good sense of what’s in Colorado’s new law from the graphic above. The extremely cool thing about the graphic is that it is produced by the City of Denver — and is being circulated on Facebook (where a friend of mind shared it) by the Denver Police Department itself!
Let’s take a look at one page, which provides an overview for residents and visitors:
Residents & Visitors
How old do I have to be to purchase, possess or consume retail marijuana?
- Answer - You must be 21 and older to buy, possess or use retail marijuana. It is illegal to give or sell retail marijuana to minors.What is the difference between medical and retail marijuana?
- Answer - Only licensed retail marijuana stores may sell retail marijuana, and only to those 21 and older.Medical marijuana requires a state red card, which can only be obtained by Colorado residents with a recommendation from a doctor that a patient suffers from a debilitating medical condition that may benefit from medical marijuana. Medical marijuana patients can obtain marijuana from a licensed center, a primary care giver or self grow. For more information about medical marijuana, please visit theColorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.Where can I purchase retail marijuana?
- Answer - Those 21 and older can purchase retail marijuana at licensed retail stores.Other municipalities in Colorado also allow retail marijuana stores. Please go to each city’s website to determine specific marijuana sale and consumption laws.Where am I allowed to consume retail marijuana?
- Answer - Retail marijuana is intended for private, personal use. Such use is only legal in certain locations not open or accessible to the public. Marijuana may not be consumed openly or publicly.Can I consume marijuana in public?
- Answer - No, it is illegal to consume marijuana in public. This includes but is not limited to areas accessible to the public such as transportation facilities, schools, amusement/sporting/music venues, parks, playgrounds, sidewalks and roads and outdoor and rooftop cafes. It is also illegal to smoke at indoor-but-public locations like bars, restaurants and common areas in buildings.Can I possess marijuana? And how much?
- Answer - Since Amendment 64 went into effect in late 2012, adults 21 and older have been allowed to possess up to 1 ounce of retail marijuana.How much marijuana can I purchase at one time?
- Answer - Colorado residents 21 and older can purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of retail marijuana at a time. Non-residents can purchase up to ¼ ounce at a time.Can I consume marijuana in a licensed retail store?
- Answer - No, it is illegal to consume marijuana in or around a licensed store. It is also illegal to smoke at indoor-but-public locations such as bars, restaurants and common areas in buildings.Are marijuana “social clubs” or “coffee shops” permitted?
- Answer - No. These businesses are not permitted.What are the consequences if I violate marijuana laws?
- Answer - Penalties range from a fine to a possible jail or prison sentence. Colorado State Statutes and Denver Revised Municipal Code spell out the specific penalties for various violations.Schools, universities and employers are allowed to put in place their own disciplinary actions for marijuana-related infractions.Are the rules different for possession and consumption of edible marijuana than for marijuana that can be smoked?
- Answer - No. Possession laws are the same for all retail marijuana types, and public consumption is always illegal, regardless of form.Can I have marijuana in my car?
- Answer - Yes. Marijuana may be carried in cars but it may not be in an open container and cannot cross state boundaries. It is illegal to use or consume marijuana in a motor vehicle and it is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana.Is there a DUI-like equivalent for driving under the influence of marijuana?
- Answer - Yes. It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana and it can result in a DUI, just like alcohol. Anyone with 5 nanograms or more of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (known as THC) per milliliter in whole blood (CRS 42-4-1301) while driving can be arrested for DUI. The consequences of DUI is dependent on the driver but they can include fines, jail time and a revoked license.Can I take marijuana through airport security or travel out of state with it?
- Answer - No. It is illegal to take marijuana across state lines.Can I consume marijuana on public transportation (buses, light rail) in Denver?
- Answer - No. It is illegal to consume marijuana in public, which includes public transportation.Can I smoke marijuana in a taxi or limousine in Denver?
- Answer - It is illegal to smoke marijuana in a taxi, limousine or any form of government-operated mass transportation.
Can I consume marijuana inside a smoke-friendly hotel room or on a hotel balcony?
- Answer - It is up to the discretion of the hotel if it allows marijuana smoke to be consumed in their smoking rooms (the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act limits all smoking to at most 25 percent of rooms). You should ask the hotel if they allow it. Denver city laws prohibit marijuana consumption on hotel balconies if visible from any public place.Do the laws of Denver apply elsewhere?
- Answer - Denver ordinances only apply within the City and County of Denver. Please go to each city or county’s website to determine specific marijuana sale and consumption laws.Does Denver have additional prohibitions on use or display of marijuana?
- Answer - It is illegal to consume, use, display, transfer, distribute, sell or grow retail marijuana at or within any park, parkway, mountain park (including Red Rocks) or other recreational facility, on any city-owned property (including streets and sidewalks) within 1,000 feet of a public or private elementary, middle, junior high or high school and on the 16th Street Mall (including any city street or sidewalk one block in either direction from the mall).Are there additional restrictions on public consumption of marijuana in Denver that I should know about?
- Answer - On residential private property, retail marijuana consumption in any outdoor location is illegal unless the person is the property owner or lessee or has been granted express or implied permission by the property owner or lessee. On private non-residential property, marijuana consumption is illegal in any outdoor location if it is clearly visible from a public place.
What are the health effects of using retail marijuana?
This regulation doesn’t go as far as I expect I would prefer — but my own preferences can certainly be affected by the facts we learn from legalization! Once we have a foothold, we can experiment — ideally through our legislature — with what does and doesn’t work. The main thing is to first get that initial initiative passed!
Just as you can’t “experiment with marijuana” until you actually have some, you can’t “experiment” with marijuana legislation until you have some in the bag. I hope that 2014 is the year where we can put our differences aside, go with what appears to be the growing public sentiment, and get something even halfway decent onto the books.
And if that doesn’t happen, then I hope that we circulate exactly one signature for the 2016 election: one that says “adopt Colorado’s law and give the legislature reasonable latitude to change it so long as they don’t gut it.” I trust that the benefits — including tax revenues — will convince the legislature to do a good job. Once a floor level of criminal and civil protection is cemented in, they can stop fearing the public so much and listen to public health experts.