09 Dec Colorado Governor Calls Out State Law Legalizing Marijuana
In November 2012, Colorado and Washington broke ranks with tradition, and with the federal government, when voters in each state approved referendums legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational use. Naturally these proposals were controversial when first introduced, but despite the disapproval of the professional political class, the arguments of legalization advocates carried the day.
That has not stopped critics from continuing to weigh in on the wisdom of this action, however. During a recent televised gubernatorial debate, incumbent Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper reiterated his opposition to marijuana legalization. He advised politicos in other states to proceed cautiously before jumping on the legalization bandwagon, claiming it would be “reckless” to lighten existing laws until the outcomes in Colorado and Washington can be fully evaluated. During a post-debate interview, Hickenlooper reaffirmed this belief, stating his opinion that legalization in general was a reckless strategy and that the available data on its possible consequences was too scarce and sketchy to make the risk worthwhile for the citizens of his state.
No fan of the war on drugs, which he has referred to on other occasions as “a disaster,” Hickenlooper believes decriminalization would have been a wiser first step in the evolution of his state’s drug policy. Because legalization represents such a large leap into the unknown, the governor fears problems will emerge that neither public officials nor medical authorities foresaw.
As an example of his concerns, Hickenlooper cited the sudden proliferation of marijuana-laced edibles being peddled by marijuana retailers, which are often quite potent and can deliver bigger doses of the drug than users expect. Also, Hickenlooper has expressed worries about the effects of high-THC marijuana on the still-developing brains of adolescents, who use marijuana more than any drug other than alcohol. At the same time, he acknowledges that fears about runaway marijuana use following legalization appear to have been unfounded (so far), and he has promised to do his best to make sure the new laws are implemented effectively and fairly. Like the pro-legalization forces, he hopes that tax revenues collected from legalized marijuana sales can be applied to increasing treatment options for all substance abusers, since the supply of beds in publicly funded rehab centers has never been sufficient to keep up with demand.
It would be easy to accuse Hickenlooper of trying to have it both ways, in typical political fashion. By criticizing both marijuana legalization and the war on drugs, he is straddling the fence between the two opposing camps, making himself seem more moderate and reasonable.
Marijuana Legalization: A Rocky Mountain High, or a Rocky Mountain Low?
This cynical view is understandable, but in this instance it is overly simplistic. While politicians who run for national or statewide positions often twist themselves into pretzels trying to be all things to all people, the issue of marijuana legalization is legitimately complex, ambiguous and filled with uncertainty. Hickenlooper is right that data about the full consequences of legalizing marijuana without restriction is minimal to the point of non-existent. No one really knows for sure if consumption of the drug — or of drugs in general — will increase over time as the social stigma traditionally associated with such consumption gradually fades away.
While promoters of anti-drug hysteria misinformed the public about pot for ages, lumping it together with drugs like cocaine and heroin as if all were equally depraved, the pro-legalization crowd hasn’t always been a righteous force for truth either. In their zeal to see unjust and ineffective laws overturned, legalization advocates have demonstrated an unfortunate tendency to play fast and loose with the truth, exaggerating the drug’s benign nature and alleged beneficial qualities while refusing to acknowledge the existence of any possible dangers associated with its use. Some of these folks would have us believe that marijuana is as healthy and nutritious as a bowl of fresh fruit, filled with enough wonderful medicinal qualities to cure every disease known to man and so mellowing that it could bring peace and harmony to the entire planet.
Evolution of Drug Policy; or Is It Devolution?
In a climate where clear-headed rationality about drugs and drug policy is difficult to find, Colorado’s governor appears to be making a sincere attempt to open a more thoughtful and honest dialogue about the subject. The experimental nature of what Colorado and Washington are undertaking is undeniable, and it is entirely conceivable that these radical policy initiatives may ultimately produce more problems than they solve.
Marijuana is a powerful drug that has demonstrated true addictive qualities. While it may be far less harmful than most other illegal drugs — and perhaps even less harmful than alcohol — that does not make it a safe or wise choice for every person. The war on drugs has failed, but legalization at this stage is neither a success nor a failure, and it will be many years before we can make any final judgments about its overall effect on public health and the general welfare of the American people.
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