Pubdate: Sat, 26 Jul 2014
Source: Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Copyright: 2014 Statesman Journal
Author: Michael Davis


Emanating wisdom from the Rocky Mountains is columnist Mike Littwin,
the magnus Apollo of Colorado journalism.

Littwin, now in his 60s, stands as testimony that there are no
coincidences in life. His first columns chronicled the Virginia
Squires of the American Basketball Association, and like the team's
incandescent star, Julius "Dr. J" Erving, Littwin's work dazzled and
defied gravity. Dr. J and Littwin had uncanny court savvy and daring,
one of the boards the other on the keyboard. That they broke in
together was kismet.

After subsequent terms of service in Los Angeles (Times), Baltimore
(Sun) and, finally, Denver (a Rocky Mountain News and Post quinella),
Littwin's piercing and pungent work now appears on the Colorado
Independent website.

Littwin, reached Friday in a city where legal marijuana is a consumer
option, has sharply informed views on the subject. "If Oregon were to
turn down legalization, that would have a real chilling effect on its
growth as a national issue," he said, as part of the following email

Now that Oregonians will be voting on recreational marijuana use in
November, what should we be on the lookout for, besides killer brownie

You don't have to make your own. Edibles are the big hit here (see:
Dowd, Maureen).

What pre-legalization concerns were raised in Colorado that turned out
to be no big deal?

The main concerns were twofold. One, that it would encourage more kids
to smoke dope earlier. And it's far too early to know how that has
played out. There will be studies coming, I'm sure, but they may not
make it in time for your election. Two, that pot-related crime would
rise. There have been surprisingly few robberies involving a large,
cash-basis business. The pot-DUIs don't seem to be a major issue.
There have been two deaths supposedly associated with pot - one a
suicide, one a murder - but the pot connections are a bit tenuous. I
think the crime concerns have really been no big deal.

Another issue is whether the pot laws would discourage businesses from
moving to Colorado. There doesn't seem to be anything to that, but
it's still early. In any case, despite what (New Jersey) Gov. Chris
Christie has to say about pot shops popping up everywhere, Denver has
definitely not become the new Amsterdam. Sadly, we're just not exotic
enough for that.

MORE: Marijuana legalization initiative qualifies for Oregon

What post-legalization concerns are now a big deal? Were any of them

The biggest surprise has been the edibles - and whether they look too
much like something a kid would eat (they do) and whether the people
who buy pot can be trusted to ensure their kids don't have access to
them (they can't always be). There are now new laws about marketing
edibles to kids and in limiting, and more clearly marking, the potency
of edibles. There's also a law limiting hash potency.

Another interesting part of the story is that the illegal pot trade is
still thriving. Legal pot is extremely expensive and you can (I'm
told) buy it for half the price on the street. I would guess that the
legal price would go down and illegal pot will eventually go the way
of moonshine. But moonshine hasn't disappeared yet.

Did media coverage distort the true picture of what was happening in

Well, of course. It has been a big parachute story - the reporter
comes in, interviews the bud-tenders, talks to a few pot-heads,
relates the story of the two deaths and suddenly Colorado is overrun
by pot crime. In truth, the big crime story in Denver comes when the
bars close in the part of downtown called LoDo and the drunks come out
to play. And, of course, the pot industry doesn't come close to
matching Colorado's thriving craft beer industry.

Given its price per ounce, is pot now seen in Colorado as an
extravagance, something you'd purchase for a special occasion? Or is
it a weekend item to pick up, like a case of beer?

I think there's a lot of novelty buying - middle-agers reliving their
youth with Saturday night pot parties. People have been surprised by
just how much pot has been purchased here. So long as demand remains
high, so will the prices. One of the unknowns is how normalized the
whole thing will be in 5-10 years. It is still an experiment. The
polling so far shows that Coloradans are happy with their decision.

How much of the push to legalize in Colorado was about state revenue
from a new source? Who had dollar signs in their eyes, like characters
in a Warner Brothers cartoon?

The state revenue part was put in place because so-called sin taxes
are a necessary part of doing this kind of business. But it was mostly
a way to convince voters that they were getting more than just a
chance at a legal high. Very, very few politicians favored the pot
amendment. (Rep. Jared Polis is a major exception.) Very few of them
favor it now. What most of them say in this election year is that
we've got legal pot so we have to make sure that it's as safe as possible

In a few years, will pot-tax money be like state lottery money? At
first, states said the money would help educate the wee children. Then
other agencies and constituencies got their mitts on it. Now, the only
way states could end lotteries is thermo-nuclear war.

I don't think pot's future will be determined by state tax revenue.
The real money is for the entrepreneurs who are in the pot business.
And the real question is where that money is headed. There are
safeguards against big business, or big crime, but we'll have to see
how that works out.

If crime becomes an issue, especially crime involving kids, then pot
will be in trouble. Again, this is very much an experiment. And the
good thing is you can use Bunsen burners.

Which lobbyists should we expect to see in Oregon? Will they be
bringing carloads or truckloads of cash?

Pot is maturing as a business. UCLA professor Mark Kleiman says the
hippies are being pushed out by the suits - and that that is too bad.
The cops are, of course, against legalizing pot. Big Tobacco is
against legalizing pot. It will be interesting to see what lobbyists
emerge in Oregon, which is a very important state in this process. If
Oregon were to turn down legalization, that would have a real chilling
effect on its growth as a national issue.

Any trouble with the feds enforcing national policy on Coloradoans?
Neighboring states?

The feds have basically said they won't enforce the federal pot laws
in Colorado. But the bigger issue is banking. It's illegal for banks
to deal with drug dealers - even legal drug dealers. The Colorado
legislature has asked for exceptions. Colorado, California and
Washington legislators have tried to get bills passed. There is some
progress in Congress, but it's very slow progress. And the big banks,
at this point, don't want anything to do with the pot industry until,
or unless, it gets normalized.

RELATED: What Oregon can learn from Washington's marijuana

Is Colorado a better state for legalizing pot?

According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 54 percent of Coloradans are
happy with the law. Sixty percent want pot regulated like alcohol and
the same percentage see alcohol as more dangerous than pot.

If only John Denver were alive to see it =C2=85

I wish they'd asked how many people know the words to "Rocky Mountain
High." John Denver may be gone, but his lyrics have been a godsend for
all headline writers working on pot stories.

I think the big issue is how the experiment plays out here. If you ask
most people in Colorado whether the state has changed in any
significant, or even noticeable, way, I think they'd say no. I think
it's better that pot is legal and that prohibition has been a terrible
thing for the country, leading to far more crime and far more
imprisonment than legalization would. If legalization in Colorado
leads to a movement around the country, that will have been a good

Is Colorado a better state for it? I'd say it's pretty much the same
state it was before. Only with more edibles.

Michael Davis is executive editor of the Statesman Journal. Contact
him at  P.O. Box 13009, Salem, OR 97309;
or (503) 399-6712.
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