Let’s start off 2014 by “sparking up” a bit of controversy. For the third time in five years, I’m going to willingly wrap my hand around one of the third rails of editorial topics here on PoliceOne. It’s time to write another column about marijuana legalization. My reasons for tackling this topic today are threefold.
First and foremost, it’s newsworthy. Since mid-September — when the Senate Judiciary Committee held a daylong hearing on conflicting state and federal marijuana laws — this column has been floating around in my head. On New Year’s Day 2013, legal sale of “recreational” pot became a reality, making today’s column almost a foregone conclusion.
Further, we just wrapped up a homepage poll that yielded some pretty amazing results. Finally, this issue raises some questions to which I would like to see your answers in the comments area below...
That Colorado Dreamin’
On Wednesday, people aged 21 and over became eligible to legally buy marijuana in Colorado (in November of 2012, Washington state voters also chose to legalize marijuana, and retail sales will begin there later this year).
Native Coloradans can buy up to an ounce. Out-of-state visitors can score a quarter ounce — transport out of the state remains illegal, with plackards posted at Denver International Airport indicating a thousand-dollar fine for possession on airport grounds.
Some people estimate that marijuana sales will generate $67 million in annual tax revenue for the state.
According to a press release from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (yeah, those pro-pot police people), “sales will be tightly controlled, regulated like alcohol is currently, and subject to a number of restrictions preventing sales to minors, intoxicated driving, smoking in public and other undesirable behavior.”
I’m not really sure how those restrictions will be enforced. My good friend (and former PoliceOne colleague) Hayley Hudson wrote a pretty great article about her experience on the first day of over-the-counter pot purchases in her home state of Colorado.
In her article, Hayley noted that there are signs with “a bunch of legal reminders” like the image at left posted all around Denver.
Signs are nice, I guess, but we all know that speed limit signs don’t write speeding tickets.
PoliceOne Members Vote
During the final few months of 2013 we conducted a homepage poll through which we wanted to follow up on a nearly identical poll from December 2011.
In both instances we asked the question, “Should pot be legalized, regulated, and taxed?”
Admittedly, our homepage polls are not scientific studies, but they are useful in getting a snapshot of the prevailing views of our members who are most active on the site. With this in mind, the most striking difference between 2011 and 2013 is the significant increase in the number of people who seem to feel that we’re slouching toward legalized marijuana.
In 2011, 25 percent of respondents said that legalized pot is “where we're headed.” Two years later, that number jumped to 43 percent.
Check out the two versions of the poll in the image below, and add your thoughts about the results in the comments area.
This brings me to the third reason for writing today’s column: Your comments.
Three Burning Questions
For some, my choice to even broach this topic is the only thing required to light up the comments area like a giant joint. However, in closing, I want to pose three specific questions — your answers to which I’d like to see you post below.
1.) Alcohol is legal for purchase across most of the country — so-called “Blue Laws” in certain local jurisdictions notwithstanding — but for obvious safety reasons it’s illegal to drink and drive. Enforcement of those laws is highly reliant upon Breathalyzer tests (and FSTs, of course) during traffic stops. With no Breathalyzer for pot, will FSTs to ascertain marijuana impairment behind the wheel be enough to keep Colorado’s roads safe?
2.) There is a legal drinking age in every state in the union, but high school “keggers” continue unabated everywhere. Some people suggest that truancy rates have already increased and grades have already fallen among students who have admitted to smoking pot. How do we keep kids from abusing the substance if it’s legal for retail sale?
3.) Ultimately, this will land in the halls of the Supreme Court of the United States, because the 20-ish states in which medical marijuana is legal — and the two states in which pot is more broadly legal — are in conflict with the Federal Controlled Substances Act, which identified that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Do you see any cases in lower courts right now that may end up setting SCOTUS precedent?
Happy New Year, my brothers and sisters. Stay safe out there.