Pubdate: Thu, 19 Oct 2006
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Copyright: 2006 Boulder Weekly
Author: Dale Bridges
Cited: Amendment 44


Amendment 44 Would Legalize Small Amounts Of Marijuana

Almost a year ago, the Mile High City passed Initiative 100, making
Denver one of the first cities in the country to legalize possession
of less than one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older.

Or so they thought.

Since that time, local authorities have continued to arrest marijuana
users in Denver, claiming that state laws trump the city's ordinance.

Currently, possession of less than an ounce of cannabis is a class two
petty offense and carries with it a fine of $100. However, the debate
continues over whether or not the police are required to enforce this

"They can stop citing people if they want to, but they just aren't,"
says Mason Tvert, president of SAFER Colorado, the nonprofit
organization that worked to put Amendment 44 on the ballot. "Amendment
44 is a direct response to that, because we don't think cities and
towns should have their hands tied by a state law like this."

If passed, Amendment 44 will expand the Denver ordinance and legalize
marijuana throughout Colorado. Tvert's argument is that marijuana is
actually a safer recreational drug than alcohol and that legalizing
pot will save lives all across the state.

Dr. Andrea Barthwell disagrees with this assertion. She has been
working in the area of Addiction Medication in Chicago for 20 years
and recently came to Colorado to discuss the hazards of marijuana.

"The things we assume about marijuana are not necessarily true," says
Barthwell. "Marijuana acts in individuals in different ways. It is not
something that is calming to everyone. There are things people believe
about it based on their own experiences that for other individuals are
not in fact true."

But Tvert says this is exactly why Colorado needs to pass Amendment

"We believe adults can make intelligent choices about their own
personal marijuana use," says Tvert. "Unfortunately, people's views on
marijuana have been clouded by the exaggerations and myths perpetuated
by our government."

Another concern posed by the opponents of Amendment 44 is that
legalizing marijuana will cause increased drug activity among
teenagers. "Debates about whether (marijuana) is as harmful or to what
degree are esoteric debates that are better left to adults," says
Barthwell. "But when you are trying to establish a system that allows
a young person to make a good decision they really work best in an
environment where the rules are clear. We have good evidence to
suggest that age-restricted access does not work with intoxicating

Age-restricted access has long been applied to the legal distribution
of both alcohol and cigarettes, two legal drugs, both of which cost
the nation millions each year.

However, Tvert says the issue is not about access; it's about

"We are currently telling young people that marijuana is as harmful as
crack and heroin and PCP," he says. "Clearly it's not. So when they
try marijuana, they then don't trust us when it comes to other hard
drugs and assume they're not very harmful either."

Tvert also questions Barthwell's intentions in Colorado. According to
the L.A. Times, in 2005 Barthwell teamed up with GW Pharmaceuticals to
promote a product called Sativex, a mouth spray derived from the
cannabis plant that is designed to alleviate the pain of multiple
sclerosis. Tvert claims this is a conflict of interests.

"She doesn't want marijuana to be legal anywhere because she has a
substantial profit to gain," says Tvert.

Barthwell says she can't speak in detail on the product because
Sativex has not yet been legalized in the United States. However, she
says Sativex "is so far removed from marijuana that it is not

Barthwell also claims that her affiliation with GW Pharmaceuticals has
no relation to her political opinion on legalized marijuana.

"To say that because I support a true pharmaceutical product (made)
from a botanical, I can't comment on whether that botanical is legal
or not is ludicrous. And it's an extension of the tactics that are
often used to discredit everyone that has an opinion that's different
from the proponents of this bill."

Even if the amendment passes, marijuana is still illegal under federal
law. However, both sides agree that the government would have a
difficult time enforcing this policy.

"Generally, the federal government only goes after high-profile drug
traffickers and dealers," says Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky
Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. "This would be beneath
their threshold."

Tvert concurs. "About 99 percent of marijuana cases in the country are
handled at the state and local level. The federal government simply
doesn't have the resources to prosecute all those petty crimes."

One thing is for certain, however Coloradans choose to vote on this
issue, they will be setting a precedent for the entire nation.
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