The skiing town of Breckenridge is creating a national buzz after voters by a nearly 3-to-1 margin legalized the adult possession of marijuana Tuesday night.
Breckenridge voters passed Measure 2F, which removes criminal penalties from the town code for the private possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older. The ordinance also removes criminal penalties for the possession of bongs, pipes and other drug paraphernalia.
It was an avalanche "yes" vote, passing 73 percent to 27 percent.
The decriminalization vote won't change laws prohibiting smoking in public, use by minors or driving under the influence.
"This votes demonstrates that Breckenridge citizens overwhelmingly believe that adults should not be punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol," said Sean McAllister, a Breckenridge attorney who proposed the ordinance. "I believe the implicit implications are that we should have a dialogue about taxing marijuana."
The measure's victory is considered symbolic because it conflicts with state and federal laws. However, supporters of the measure say it inches the whole state closer to full legalization.
Breckenridge Ski Resort officials said Wednesday marijuana decriminalization will not impact their operation.
"In spite of the outcome of this vote, the possession and use of marijuana other than for medical use remains illegal under Colorado state law and using any ski lift or ski slope or trail while under the influence is prohibited under the Colorado Ski Safety Act," said Pat Campbell, chief operating officer for Breckenridge Ski Resort.
"The safety of our employees and guests is our highest priority and we will continue to enforce our policies," he added.
The ski resort's Web site warns that, under the Colorado Ski Safety Act, "You may not use a lift or any ski trail when under the influence of drugs or alcohol."
The decriminalization victory was generating big buzz on Web sites like Huffingtonpost.com.
"One has to wonder whether legal marijuana could be just what Colorado's slumping ski industry needs," blogged Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER, a marijuana advocacy group.
"Ski resorts are offering everything from large discounts to specialty cheeseburgers to attract people to their towns. Perhaps offering skiers and snowboarders a hassle-free environment in which they can relax and recreate with marijuana could do the trick," he added. "As the organizers of the measure pointed out in their press release, the measure could also give extreme sports enthusiasts a safer alternative to alcohol when it comes to post-ride partying."
Many jokingly praised the Rocky Mountain high law.
I know what town is going to have a BOOMING tourist trade!!" a poster called "Mattplastik" wrote on Huffingtonpost.com. "Good for them!! Now, if the rest of this hick country would grow a brain and do the same thing, the recession would be over in a week!! Wow, now I have to learn to ski!! LOL"
But others were more serious.
"My mother was diagnosed with stage iv lung cancer. She is undergoing chemo. She has never been a pot smoker or drug user. She is eating pot crackers every night and actually eating and maintaining her weight through chemo," a poster called preemptivelove wrote. "I don't want to hear a single word from people who say marijuana has no value. It's literally saving my mother's life right now, as without it she wouldn't be able to eat and would wither away in no time. Thanks to California's medicinal marijuana law, and for the Obama administration to leave it alone and take the DEA off of California's back in this regard."
Other cities around the country have taken similar action in recent years, including a measure in Denver that decriminalized possession of marijuana up to one ounce.
Advocates say the Breckenridge proposal goes further than others because it allows paraphernalia as well. Drug paraphernalia possession in Colorado is considered a petty offense. Though "head shops" selling bongs and pipes are common in Colorado, the wares are ostensibly for smoking tobacco. Paraphernalia charges are usually only filed along with possession charges. Both are misdemeanors punishable by a $100 fine and court fees.
The penalties for the misdemeanor offense aren't harsh. But last year, Breckenridge police issued 10 city citations for possession of less than an ounce of pot, three state law possession violations and four violations for drug paraphernalia.
Supporters of the effort say it's not right to leave small-time pot smokers with a criminal record.
The Breckenridge campaign, which had no formal opposition, received endorsements from Breckenridge Town Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron, Fmr. Colorado State Rep. and Breckenridge resident, Gary Lindstrom, and the Summit Daily News.
Measure 2F was placed on the ballot when more than 1,400 people signed a petition supporting it. It only needed 495 signatures to get on the ballot. The ordinance change will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2010.
Several Breckenridge residents heartily backed the local marijuana effort.
"People think it's a waste of time for the police to be prosecuting these people," said Elisabeth Lawrence, 30. Smoking pot, she said, is "not the worst thing in the world to be doing."
Nancy Skaj, a clerk at a Breckenridge grocery store, said the measure could be a boon for ski tourists who don't have clearance for medical marijuana. "With all the injuries people get skiing up here, instead of popping pills, they should just be doing this. It's a lot more natural," she said.
Breckenridge has roughly 3,300 voters.
Now, marijuana advocates says legalization is inevitable.
"I think there's kind of an awakening going on. People are realizing that marijuana's ultimately a less harmful drug than alcohol and we should probably treat it accordingly," said Brian Vicente, Sensible Colorado's executive director. "We've always believed that a system of taxing and regulating marijuana for adult use is better than the current prohibition system."
Vicente said he's heard from supporters in Pueblo and Durango who want to establish a voter campaign similar to Breckenridge's.
"I think Colorado will be one of the first state's to establish a system of regulation for marijuana for adult use," Vicente said. "And I hope it'll happen in the next five years, maybe by 2012?"
Two lawmakers tell TheDenverChannel, though, that doesn't not seem as likely on Capitol Hill.
"The question is sort of buried in there with all the others. Is there possible revenue? I think we'll see a proposal to raise revenue from legalization from both sides of the aisle. We shouldn't legalize something simply because it brings us more revenue," said State Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs.
The Speaker of the House would agree.
"It feels a lot like you're being bribed into voting for the legalization of marijuana based on some number," said Terrance Carroll, (D) House Speaker. "I have not heard anything like that. As far as I'm concerned, we're going to be focused on the economy this session, creating jobs and making sure that families in Colorado make it through this economic downturn."
Carroll said the talk of legalizing marijuana is a "distraction" from the more serious work that must be done when lawmakers return to work on January 13.
"I think that's reading too much into what the people of Breckenridge decided. I mean, their vote was purely ceremonial in a lot of ways. It's like a letter to Santa. I don't see the state moving towards legalization of marijuana anytime soon," Carroll said.
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