TODD: Cost of pot outweighs benefits
When Amendment 64 was passed by Colorado voters making it part of the constitution, it virtually put the new laws related to regulation and taxation of marijuana in stone. Only a two-thirds vote by the General Assembly can bring the amendment to the fore for voters to alter.
Approved retail stores can begin selling marijuana as early as Jan. 1. Localities must decide whether or not to permit retail sales of the product. Ouray's city council is grappling with the decision on how to handle the sale of this legal recreational drug.
Is "drug" even the correct word? In some respects, marijuana is quite an anomaly. It is a drug, as seen by the growing number of medical marijuana growers and dispensaries across the state. In six months, it will also be treated and taxed similarly to alcohol: you will be able to buy it, you just won't be able to consume it in public places.
Is there another substance that gets this kind of dual treatment? The sale and regulation of marijuana is being set up in similar fashion to alcohol, but there ends the parallel. Alcohol is not considered a healing drug. And alcohol is not solely restricted to consumption in private places.
Mason Tvert, communications director for Marijuana Policy Project, told opposingviews.com that "we need to treat the product like it is, which is a relatively benign substance that millions of adults use responsibly." Many cite this "benign" aspect to marijuana and contrast it to alcohol. But contrasting it to alcohol is not really the issue. How does it stand on its own?
Marijuana smoke contains carcinogens and more tar than tobacco smoke. Marijuana offers its user a rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased rate of breathing and slowed reaction time. It's short-term psychological effects include distorted sense of time, paranoia, short-term memory loss and anxiety or depression. The cumulative lingering effects can alter behavior days and weeks after the "high" is gone. When combined with alcohol, risk factors for injuries increase substantially.
Colorado, however, has already decided that marijuana is benign, and that recreational use and possession is lawful. An adult over 21 can possess an ounce of marijuana and can grow (in an enclosed, locked space) up to six plants, three of which may be mature. Adults can give marijuana to other adults, but cannot sell it.
What could possibly go wrong, then, if it's just your neighbor buying a joint at the local Marijuana Mart, or growing a few plants to share among friends?
According to KVDR TV in Denver, crime associated with marijuana dispensaries has increased dramatically in the past few years in the Denver area. In 2009, there were 10 medical marijuana related burglaries in Denver. In 2012, the number increased to 102 medical marijuana related crimes. In the first quarter of 2013, 22 marijuana businesses have been broken into.
Residences are targets, as well. The report states that fear is when adults can grow their own, residential burglaries will only increase. And, as adults begin to distribute to friends (whether legally or by selling it), violence will increase along with burglaries. If, for instance, Joe down the street grows some really, really good stuff, and word gets around, Joe will become a target by criminals who want what he has.
Proponents of retail sales say marijuana is already here, we might as well tax it and gain from it. The new store or stores will probably become members of the local chamber. They'll request to set up booths to sell marijuana and paraphernalia at outdoor concerts and events. The bowl Ouray is nestled in among the mountains may take on new meaning.
If the sale of marijuana is not made legal in town, then illegal trafficking in town will exist. But doesn't it already? Hasn't it always been the hope of locals that our police force can enforce the law and curtail this behavior? It's not likely that illegal selling will curtail on its own just because a Marijuana Mart opens shop in town. In fact, it may create a competitive culture of pricing and value between legal and illegal sales.
How much in marijuana sales tax will it take to compensate for the inability to combat illegal activity and the reduced health of a community? The guess here is, way too much.
Alan Todd is publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at 970-325-2838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.