Pubdate: Sat, 14 Dec 2013
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2013 The New York Times
Authors: Jack Healy and Kirk Johnson, The New York Times


Economic High Touted, but Some Worry About Harmful Side Effects

DENVER - Starting early next year, any adult with a craving or 
curiosity will be able to stroll into a strip mall or downtown shop 
in Colorado or Washington state and do what has long been forbidden: 
buy a bag of legal marijuana.

After landmark votes made marijuana legal for recreational 
consumption, users in those two states will no longer need doctors' 
notes or medical reasons to buy the drug. Instead, they will simply 
show identification to prove that they are at least 21, and with the 
cautious blessing of state and federal officials, they will be able 
to buy as much as an ounce of marijuana and smoke it in their living rooms.

It is a new frontier of drug legalization, one that marks a stark 
turn away from the eras of Reefer Madness, zero tolerance and Just 
Say No warnings about the dangers of marijuana. But it also raises 
questions about whether these pioneering states will be able to 
regulate and contain a drug that is outlawed across most of the 
country - although medical marijuana can be sold legally in 20 states 
and the District of Columbia.

The end of the prohibition of alcohol in the 1930s, by contrast, to 
which some historians and legal scholars are comparing this moment, 
came all at once across the nation, not piecemeal.

Supporters predict an economic boom in new business activity and 
cannabis tourism and reduced public expense with fewer low-level drug 
offenders clogging jails and courtrooms.

Elected officials, parents' groups and police chiefs worry that drug 
traffickers will exploit the new markets, that more teenagers will 
take up marijuana and that two places with reputations for fresh air 
and clean living will become known as America's stoner states.

Other states watching

Other states flirting with legalization are watching closely, too, 
not least for the expected windfall in state revenue in stiffly 
taxing something that has never been taxed at all.

Referendum drives modeled on Colorado and Washington are already 
underway for next year in Arizona, California, Oregon and Alaska, and 
others are expected to follow in 2016. So the pressures to get it 
right the first time, local and state officials said, are immense.

"We are floating in uncharted waters here," said Mayor Michael 
Hancock of Denver, where 149 businesses have applied to sell or grow 
retail marijuana.

Consider, for example, the strangely altered new role of the police, 
who in Washington are required to make sure all marijuana is of the 
legal, state-licensed variety. That could make for more crackdowns on 
illegal grow-and-sale operations, not fewer. That fact was 
highlighted when federal agents raided several dispensaries in 
Colorado last month, smashing glass and hauling away hundreds of plants.

Legal but regulated

Practical questions about the legal, workaday drug trade have 
required reams of rules and regulations to answer: Should it be 
specifically taxed? Voters said yes, and in Washington even specified 
where the tax money should be spent, with apportionments including 
the funding of academic research about marijuana.

Can people give it away in public parks? No. Where can retailers set 
up shop, and how can they advertise? Nowhere near schools, and not to 
children. In Washington, even the size of a retailer's storefront 
name is regulated: 1,600 square inches.

But most important, Colorado and Washington must show skeptical 
federal authorities that they can control this new world of regulated 
marijuana and keep it from flowing to underage consumers, into other 
states or into the grip of drug traffickers and violent cartels.

Even as the Justice Department announced in August that it would not 
block states from regulating marijuana, it warned that their 
enforcement rules "must be tough in practice, not just on paper."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom