Colorado marijuana activists landed a major victory this week when legislation permitting recreational use of cannabis was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. This move came on the footsteps of similar legislation in Washington State, making Colorado only the second state in the US to permit recreational marijuana and one of the few places in the world with full intention of marketing, selling and taxing the drug in the same way as alcohol.
Colorado voted recreational marijuana into law on November 6th, allowing people age 21 or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and up to 6 marijuana plants. Whether those plants can be mature simultaneously is not clear at this time.
Despite the law, numerous marijuana arrests have been made in the state in recent weeks, with police agencies citing the fact that until the governor officially signed the ballot into law, they must continue to do things by the book. (Allen, Robert Cops in Fort Collins Cite People for Marijuana Possession Despite Vote Coloradoan.com 11/28/2012)
As of Monday, December 10th, most types of marijuana-related arrests ended at the state level.
However, herein lies the problem: federal law still lists marijuana as a dangerous illicit substance with no known medical value, despite the same federal government possessing a medical-marijuana patent at the US patent office. This means that even though local and state police and prosecutors will no longer pursue people in possession of one ounce of pot or less, federal agents are free to do so. And based on their recent behavior, it’s likely that they will take action on this issue.
18 states and Washington DC have passed medical marijuana laws that federal investigators and agents have disregarded, arresting and jailing scores of people who were abiding by the laws of their state. Therefore, if the federal government is still prosecuting people for medical marijuana and violating state’s rights, then it seems logical to assume that recreational use of marijuana will not be permitted by the fed – at least not for long.
Colorado intends to regulate and tax marijuana in a similar way to the regulation and sale of alcohol, which will potentially generate millions of dollars for the state’s highways, schools and other important public funds. It will also generate new jobs in an entirely new industry where everyone from farmers to wholesalers to marketers and more will benefit.
Of course, Colorado’s choice to permit recreational marijuana use could pose a problem considering that according to some estimates, as much as 9% of marijuana users will become addicted to the drug. (National Institute on Drug Abuse DrugFacts: Marijuana DrugAbuse.gov.) Additionally, the new law permits possession of up to one ounce of marijuana – potentially a month’s supply for a daily moderate smoker. This means the under the recreational marijuana laws, addiction rates could increase in the state.
However, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – the government’s top agency when it comes to substance abuse and treatment – the rate of forced treatment has risen correspondingly with the rate of marijuana addicts. This indicates that the figures used to determine prevalence of addiction to marijuana – admission for treatment at rehab – isn’t accurate considering that many of those entering treatment are doing so ender force or duress and not necessarily because they are addicted to pot. (The DASIS Report Differences in Marijuana Admissions Based on Source of Referral: 2002 oas.samhsa.gov)
At this stage it’s too early to tell how Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws will fare among the public and with the federal government, but one thing is clear: this type of legislation indicates that more changes related to drugs are on the way, which means more changes in how those drugs could potentially harm or benefit the people we care about.