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Thursday, April 21,2011

Colorado should quit punishing pot users

By Paul Danish


There are at least two groups that intend to put marijuana legalization initiatives on the Colorado ballot in 2012, but neither has as of yet put forward an actual proposal. Here’s mine.


If it were up to me, what I’d put on the ballot would be a proposed amendment to the Colorado Constitution consisting of just three sentences:

“The use of marijuana and its possession for personal use shall not be punished. Legal residents of the state of Colorado may cultivate up to six marijuana plants for their personal use within their domiciles (with the permission of the landlord in the case of rented accommodations) or within facilities rented for the express purpose of marijuana cultivation. The Colorado Legislature may in its own good time adopt laws providing for the regulated sale of marijuana and for its production for sale and for its taxation.”

Notice that the proposal does not actually legalize pot. It leaves that decision to the legislature. It just says that people can’t be punished for using it. And it provides that those who do want to use it have a way of getting it that doesn’t require them to enter the black market.

I grant you that this might seem a strange way to go. If the object of the exercise is to legalize marijuana — which I strongly favor — why not just write a straightforward amendment voiding out the present laws banning marijuana and providing that its use, production, sale and taxation would, subject to regulation, be legal? Essentially like the proposal that was defeated by California voters in 2010.

In comparison, my approach may seem inconsistent, ambivalent and contradictory. But it has one overarching virtue: It probably reflects the feelings of a majority of the voters on marijuana legalization, which are inconsistent, ambivalent and contradictory.

We know that the country is closely divided on the question of legalizing pot. According to the latest Rasmussen survey, 42 percent favored legalization and 45 percent opposed it, with 13 percent undecided. We know that support for keeping marijuana illegal has been steadily collapsing, while support for legalizing it has been slowly increasing.

But if we step back from the polling, we can probably characterize the current attitude of most voters like this:

“The war on drugs is an expensive flop, especially when it comes to marijuana. It’s crazy to spend tens of billions of dollars a year arresting hundreds of thousands of people for smoking pot, which is generally safer than drinking beer. But legalizing marijuana? Well, I don’t know about that. Sure, I tried pot during the ’60s and ’70s, but now I’ve got kids …” The amendment I’m proposing is designed to speak to this sort of ambivalence and anxiety.

The amendment’s first clause would ban the state of Colorado from punishing people for using marijuana, while not legalizing its sale — or even legalizing its use, for that matter. It would just ban the state from punishing its use, which is different. This would create a situation not much different from the one that existed during prohibition: Alcohol was prohibited, but people who were caught using it were not punished (except by having their booze confiscated.)

Passage of this provision might not seem like much of a change, but for the 12,000-plus people who are busted for pot every year in Colorado and the hundreds of thousands who live in fear of being busted, it would be huge. Passage would also make continuation of the war on pot largely pointless and brusquely de-escalate the war on drugs.

The second clause, which allows people to grow pot for their own use, is intended to give users a legal way to get marijuana short of full legalization and take most of the profit out of the market for illegal drugs, something both the proponents and opponents of legalization would like to see.

The last clause, that one giving the legislature permission to legalize the sale of marijuana when it sees fit to do so, may seem unnecessary — the legislature already has the authority to do so, after all — but it isn’t. Most American elected officials have known for at least 20 years that the war on drugs generally and the war on pot in particular were crashing failures, but they kept voting to fund them, because it’s easier to double down on your mistakes than to tell the voters you made a big one that involves millions of people getting rap sheets. By explicitly giving the legislature permission to legalize when it feels the time is ripe, the voters would in effect be giving the lawmakers permission to change their minds.

In a perfect world, I would prefer an outright legalization initiative. But over the years I’ve learned two political lessons that apply here:

1. Elections are decided by the most ambivalent voters, not by the most passionate.

2. The guy who said politics is the art of the possible knew what he was talking about.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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We explore outer space with various forms of space craft, but many choose to explore inner space via nature's abundant chemistry - an infinite journey into the heart of God. Whatever, we are here to explore this glorious universe. The Prohibitionist's brand of hateful, choking pseudo-Conservatism is the antithesis of all that. Like a lion who cannot grasp that he can do more than walk in a circle the size of the cage he's recently been freed from, the prohibitionist is incapable of exploration beyond the boundaries of his own fear, prejudice and loathing. We are all free to choose how we walk our own path, but when we choose to go beyond this by supporting drug-war demagoguery, to the point of even threatening others with violence and imprisonment, we loose the right to expect any form of respect from that once free and prosperous society that we are helping to totally destroy.


Thanks to prohibition we're about to lose all semblance of that once ordered, prosperous and safe society. Myself, along with many others, have been debating prohibitionists on this for many years. We have shown what destruction prohibition has wrought on all the civil institutions of this once great nation, -we've always provided facts and statistics - they, the prohibitionists, have countered with either lies, personal abuse or even serious threats of violence.


Ending the insanity of drug prohibition by legalized regulation, respecting the rights of the responsible users and focusing on addiction as a sickness, like we do with alcohol and tobacco, may save what remains of our economy and civil institutions along with countless lives and livelihoods. Prohibition continues unabated for shameful political reasons. It cannot, and never will, reduce drug use or addiction.


Prohibition has permanently scarred our national character as well as our individual psyches. Our national policies and cultural practices have become pervaded by the fascistic, prohibitionist mind-set which has turned our domestic police force into a bunch of paramilitary thugs who often commit extra-judicial beatings and executions while running roughshod over our rights in order to "protect us from ourselves".


When we eventually manage to put the horrors of this toxic moronothon behind us, we'll need to engage in some very deep and honest soul-searching as to what we want to be as a nation. Many of our freedoms have been severely circumscribed or lost altogether, our economy has been trashed and our international reputation for being "free and fair" has been dragged through a putrid sewer by vicious narrow-minded drug warrior zealots who are ignorant of abstract concepts such as truth, justice and decency. We'll need to make sure that such a catastrophe is never ever repeated. This may mean that public hearings or tribunals will be held where those who have been the instigators and cheerleaders of this abomination will have to answer for their serious crimes against our once prosperous and proud nation.


Each day you remain silent, you help to destroy the Constitution, fill the prisons with our children, and empower terrorists and criminals worldwide while wasting hundreds of billions of your own tax dollars. Prohibition bears many strong and startling similarities to Torquemada­'s inquisition­, it's supporters are servants of tyranny and hate. If you're aware of but not enraged by it's shear waste and cruel atrocities then both your heart and soul must surely be dead.


Prohibition engendered black market profits are obscenely huge. Remove this and you remove the ability to bribe or threaten any government official or even whole governments. The argument that legalized regulation won't severely cripple organized crime is truly bizarre. Of course, the bad guys won't just disappear, but if you severely diminish their income, you also severely diminish their power. The proceeds from theft, extortion, pirated goods etc. are a drop in the ocean compared to what can be earned by selling prohibited/unregulated drugs in a black market estimated to be worth 400,000 million dollars. Without the lure and power of so much easy capital, it's also very unlikely that new criminal enterprises will ever fill the void left by those you successfully disrupt or entirely eradicate.


Millions of fearless North Africans have recently shown us that recognizing oppression also carries the weight of responsibility to act upon and oppose that oppression. Prohibition is a vicious anti-constitutional assault on ALL American citizens by a criminally insane and dysfunctional government, which left unchallenged will end with the destruction of the entire nation.


“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country… Corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money-power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

– Abraham Lincoln, November 12, 1864


"Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness] it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government…"

- The Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776


It really sucks when big pharma and fascist corporations hijack your republic while leaving a legacy of incalculable waste and destruction!