Battle over legalizing pot heats up in Colorado

Amendment 64 would make small amounts of pot legal

DENVER - Colorado is not only a key swing state in the presidential race, it also stands to make history if voters approve Amendment 64 next Tuesday.

           

The Amendment would essentially legalize marijuana for those over 21-years-old.

           

The mayor of Denver has called Amendment 64 a great threat that could make the city the "marijuana capital of country."  And the Governor John Hickenlooper has come out against it as well.

           

"Marijuana prohibition has been a colossal failure by every measure," said Brian Vicente, principal author of Amendment 64 and spokesman for the Yes on 64 campaign.

 

Vicente said legalizing marijuana would eliminate about 10,000 arrests for possession every year in Colorado.

"So police will really be able to focus on serious crime, instead of chasing around adults for possessing small amounts of marijuana," said Vicente.

 

"More pot means more pot," said No on 64 spokeswoman Laura Chapin.  Chapin said legalizing marijuana creates all kinds of problems.

 

"Amendment 64 goes way beyond just allowing adults to use pot," she said.  "It effectively sets up an entire industry.  It allows marijuana growing operations statewide: retail, manufacturing and even transport which has law enforcement very concerned.  How do you magically make sure that all this pot you are growing that people are using recreationally just stops at the Colorado state border?"

 

And she said making Colorado an outlaw on this issue is not going to address the fundamental federal problem.

 

"In fact, when Arizona tried to undo or do immigration reform on its own, the Supreme Court struck that down and that as a state you may not like federal policy, but you do not get to supersede federal jurisdiction with state law.

 

Vicente said Amendment 64 will generate $60 million in new tax revenue per year.

 

"And the first $40 million will go to public school construction every year."

 

"Somebody's going to be making a lot of money here, and it's not going to be Colorado schools," said Chapin.

 

She said the promise of revenue going to schools is empty because of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights in Colorado. 

 

"You can't raise taxes in Colorado unless voters agree to it.  That would require another amendment to the constitution," she said.  "There is reluctance on the part of Colorado voters to amend the constitution.  Colorado constitution is already twice as long as the U.S. Constitution.  It's been amended 152 times."

 

Vicente argues this will take marijuana off the streets and put it behind the counter where it can be tightly regulated.

 

"And out of the hands of the cartel," he said.  "Teens will have less access."

 

Vicente said support for Amendment 64 is still high despite the governor and the mayor of Denver not giving it their support.

 

"My response is they are 100-percent wrong.  They are on the wrong side of history."

 

Colorado is not alone this election year.  Washington and Oregon have similar measures on the ballot next Tuesday.  In 2010, California voters rejected a similar amendment.

 

"At this point, we're pretty comfortable that the voters are going to say no to Amendment 64," said Chapin.

 

The Colorado Education Association has also come out against it.

 

"They've said it's too much of a risk to our kids, and we shouldn't be funding our schools this way, or even talking about funding our schools this way," said Chapin.

 

Vicente said they have both Republican and Democratic support for the Amendment statewide.

 

He also said municipalities can opt out of allowing marijuana stores if they choose.

 

"They can say this isn't for us. But, we feel like a lot of communities will want to capture the tax revenue from this," he said.  "We feel we have a really good shot at winning and making history."