Pubdate: Sun, 27 May 2012
Source: Summit Daily News (CO)
Copyright: 2012 Summit Daily News
Author: Gary Lindstrom


It was not long ago that marijuana was a relative non-issue in
Colorado. Times sure have changed. These days, it is being talked
about everywhere - the Legislature, the media, the water cooler at
work, and the dinner table. And rightfully so. It is about time we had
a serious discussion about the efficacy of our current marijuana laws
and whether it is time for a new approach.

Fortunately, there is a measure on this November's ballot that will
foster just the conversation we need. Amendment 64 would make
marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and replace our current
prohibition model with a legal system in which marijuana is regulated
and taxed similarly to alcohol. I fully support the initiative and
believe it is a much-needed step forward for Colorado. I arrived at
this position over the course of an extensive career in law
enforcement and government that provided several insights into the
failure of marijuana prohibition.

I served nearly 40 years as a police officer, during which time I
became undersheriff and then director of public safety for Summit
County. I was also elected Summit County Coroner. I can say with
certainty that marijuana's illegal status did not make our citizens
and communities the least bit safer. It remained universally available
despite all of our efforts to keep it off the street, and I quickly
came to realize adult marijuana use was largely unproblematic. Nobody
was getting out of control or dying of overdoses, and it was never a
factor in violent crimes. In my entire career, I never saw anyone hurt
another person or themselves because they were under the influence of
marijuana. I certainly cannot say the same thing with respect to
alcohol. And quite frankly, dealing with people under the influence of
marijuana was a welcome departure from the all too frequent situations
in which alcohol was involved. Those who had too much to drink were
often aggressive and combative. Those who had consumed marijuana
tended to be more passive and congenial.

Ironically, most of the problems associated with marijuana stem from
the laws prohibiting it. By relegating this popular substance to the
underground market we are ceding all control over its production and
sale. Not only does this deprive our state and localities of
significant and much-needed new tax revenue and job creation; it poses
a significant threat to public health and safety. By driving
individuals into the underground market to purchase marijuana, we are
potentially exposing them to other illegal products they would never
encounter in regulated retail stores.

More importantly, we are making marijuana much more accessible to
teens. Illegal drug dealers do not ask for ID, which is probably why
high school students consistently report that marijuana is easier to
obtain than alcohol. If we truly want to prevent young people from
accessing this product, we need to put it behind the counter where
proof of age is required to purchase it and anyone who sells to a
minor faces strict legal penalties. This has been an incredibly
effective approach to curbing the rate of teen tobacco use, and there
is no reason why we should not be applying it to marijuana.

As a former state representative and county commissioner, I have seen
my fair share of ineffective and wasteful public policies. Our current
marijuana laws are right up there with the worst of them. It is time
for a smarter and more responsible approach, and Amendment 64 presents
just that. I hope you will join me in supporting it and making
Colorado a safer, healthier place for all of us.

Gary Lindstrom is a former state representative and Summit County 
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