A Myriad of Reasons to Vote for Amendment 64 (Marijuana)
Colorado's Amendment 64, the ballot initiative that will decriminalize personal adult use of marijuana and regulate marijuana sales in Colorado, will benefit the entire state, not just marijuana users.
The Colorado Center on Law and Policy report on Amendment 64, concludes that Amendment 64 is likely to produce $60 million in new revenue and savings to Colorado. In addition to creating new jobs, particularly in construction, it will generate $24 million a year in state revenue for schools, specifically the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) capital construction program.
As opponents of the measure launch their final ad blitz this week, take a look at who supports Amendment 64.
- Aurora Sentinel
- Boulder Weekly
- The Aspen Times
- Pagosa Springs Sun
- OutFront Colorado
- Dave Perry, Editor, Aurora Sentinel
- Jeralyn Merritt, Attorney and Founder of TalkLeft.com
- Greg Campbell, Former Editor, Fort Collins Weekly
Organizations: (sample, see link for full list)
- The Colorado Democratic Party (2012 platform expresses official support for Amendment 64)
- Colorado Latino Forum
- United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 7 and Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association (OPCMIA) Local 577
- Colorado Criminal Defense Bar
- National Lawyers Guild, Colorado Chapter
- Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition
A report released last week analyzed 25 years of FBI statistics on marijuana arrests in Colorado. In addition to the frequently mentioned shortcomings, it found Colorado's marijuana laws are applied in a racially discriminatory manner:
Although young African Americans and Latinos usemarijuana at lower rates than young whites,in thelast ten years police in Colorado arrested Latinosat 1.5 times the rate of whites and arrested blacks at 3.1 times the rate of whites.
Marijuana possession in Colorado is currently a petty offense punishable by a fine. It is a criminal conviction and results in a criminal record. Many companies obtain and sell criminal records on the internet, providing them to prospective employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards and banks. Here's one company's ad providing criminal records for $12.95 (from the report):
If you are the parent, grandparent or aunt or uncle of a young adult, consider the repercussions of a conviction for possession of marijuana, including a criminal record, reduced employment, educational and professional opportunities and the loss of federal student aid money.
The argument that marijuana possession will still be against federal law, while true, is a red herring. The feds can, but don't, charge people for personal use amounts of marijuana absent aggravating factors, such as: the person has a serious prior criminal history; the activity is gang-related; the offense occurs on federal property or near a school or other prohibited place; the person is also being charged with more serious criminal activity or is on supervised release, probation or state parole; or the offense is tied to an immigration offense like unlawful re-entry. The U.S. Attorneys in the four federal districts in California issued this memo in 2011 specifying threshold amounts of 200 kilos of marijuana or 1,000 plants for federal prosecution. The courts would be overwhelmed if prosecutors started filing charges for simple possession of two ounces or less of marijuana or a dozen plants. While the law allows the feds to bring such charges, they rarely, if ever, do so in Colorado, as is evident from recent statistical reports.
Assuming I'm reading them correctly, Colorado federal sentencing statistics for 2011 show that for simple drug possession, which includes both simple possession and distribution of a small amount of marijuana, a total of 9 people in Colorado were convicted and sentenced in federal court in 2011 (page 4). That number pertains to illegal possession of all drugs, not just marijuana, and since it applies to the offense of conviction, would include defendants who were originally charged or under investigation for more serious crimes but were allowed to plead to the lesser simple possession offense. There were only 8 federal convictions and sentencings for marijuana offenses in Colorado in 2011, and that includes both possession and felony distribution (page 2.)
According to the 2011 statistics of the U.S. Courts, see Table D-3, no federal prosecutions for marijuana offenses were commenced (as opposed to concluded) in Colorado in the 12 months ending September, 2011 (pages 223, 229.) This report says that out of 785 criminal defendants whose cases were concluded in the 12 months ending September 30, 2011, only 6 involved marijuana (Table D-9, p. 257.)
Drug possession for personal use is a misdemeanor under federal law. U.S. Magistrate judges (in addition to District Court judges) hear these cases. In Colorado, only 2 cases involving food and drugs were concluded by Magistrate Judges in the 12 months ending September 30, 2011. (Table M-1, p. 345.)
The FBI has just released the 2011 statistics for state arrests in the U.S. The numbers are very different than the federal numbers. State authorities, not federal, are arresting people for simple marijuana possession. According to this statistical report by the Colorado courts, , from August 1, 2010 to August 1, 2011, 4,752 people were criminally charged in Colorado with the petty offense of possession of marijuana (page 22.) What the numbers mean: Passing Amendment 64 in Colorado will make a big difference, regardless of federal law, because federal prosecution for simple possession, absent another aggravating factor, is unlikely, at best.
Other facts: Amendment 64 does not authorize drug possession by minors. It does not protect adults who provide marijuana to minors. Driving under the influence of marijuana will remain illegal and continue to be prosecuted. Amendment 64 merely removes criminal penalties for adult personal possession, and provides a regulatory scheme to tax marijuana sales and provide revenue to the state instead of those involved in large-scale, organized criminal ventures. Amendment 64 will cut into the profits of organized criminal groups. (Short ad running on this here.)
Under Amendment 64, all sales of marijuana will be subject to state and local sales tax. The General Assembly must also enact an excise tax of up to 15 percent on wholesale sales of non-medical marijuana, the first $40 million of which will be directed to the state's public school construction fund each year.
Amendment 64 is a step forward for Colorado. It offers the opportunity to move beyond the failed drug polices of the past. Its time is now. Vote Yes on Amendment 64.
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