There was a lot of commotion this week, with the election season coming to an exciting end and focus turning to how new officials and policies will unfold. In Colorado, Amendment 64 passed, which permits recreational use of marijuana. While legalizing marijuana has been a hot topic for a long time, Amendment 64 certainly doesn’t end the debate.
I admit that I voted for Amendment 64, based on my belief and observations that the concept of “medical marijuana” is a misnomer. Having previously lived one block away from “Marijuana Mile” (South Broadway) in Denver, I have seen firsthand that there is minimal health care taking place in the thriving cannabis industry of Colorado. And, while I have no interest in using marijuana myself or expanding the general population’s access to it, I think marijuana is already widely available, so we might as well collect tax revenue to fund our deteriorating educational system (and maybe fix some potholes – pun intended).
My personal beliefs aside, Amendment 64 will raise many more issues than it resolves. Once the Amendment goes into effect, it will allow people 21 years old and up to possess an ounce of marijuana and grow six plants in their homes. This may decrease the number of criminal prosecutions for possession of marijuana, but it will likely open the flood gates to other legal issues.
The most significant problem that exists with recreational marijuana is federal law. A looming black cloud (no pun intended) will exist over Colorado as long as the federal government prohibits its use and possession. The obvious risk this creates is that an individual will have a false sense of security buying and carrying marijuana, because it is allowed under Colorado law. But that person may still be prosecuted in federal court, which is generally much more serious.
An additional issue created by the conflict with federal law is that marijuana dispensaries cannot open bank accounts, because the banking industry is regulated at the federal level. Because any banking activity connected with illegal activity (i.e. marijuana) is considered money laundering, dispensaries cannot accept credit cards or open bank accounts. Thus, you have a multi-million dollar industry that is stuffing its mattresses with cash. And lots of cash usually means lots of crime.
In addition to the federal issues, it is important to recognize the other legal consequences of recreational marijuana. In the west, DUI rates are incredibly high due to minimal public transportation and significant cultural factors. With expanded availability of marijuana, it is essentially guaranteed that the DUI rates will also increase.
Also, just as alcohol and alcoholism has been pervasive in family and employment law, marijuana’s impact will also grow (pun intended). Even though marijuana will now be legal and available, it doesn’t mean that the courts will allow or tolerate its use in family and employment settings.
So, while you may soon be able to buy marijuana freely in Colorado, it remains to be seen just how big of an impact recreational marijuana will really have on the state.