BRECKENRIDGE - A group called Sensible Breckenridge is working to give town voters the chance to change local marijuana laws.
The group plans to gather signatures for a ballot initiative for the November election. The aim would be an ordinance to remove all criminal penalties from Breckenridge's town code for the private use of marijuana, under one ounce, by adults 21 and older. Smoking in public and drugged driving would remain illegal.
Breckenridge's Chief of Police Rick Holman opposes the initiative. "I worry about the collateral affect of the youth of the community," he said.
If the initiative did pass, marijuana would still be illegal under Colorado State law and federal law. Holman said his department would have the discretion to enforce those laws, but wouldn't comment if they would use that discretion because he said he didn't know.
"Obviously we're a police department that's here to service the needs of the community and often times cater toward those needs and what we see as priorities," Holman said.
The initiative wouldn't affect the Sheriff's Department, which is bound to uphold state law.
The petitioners' committee filing the affidavit is comprised of a number of local leaders including Breckenridge Town Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron and local attorney Sean McAllister.
"It's a cause I believe in, and I think the initiative reflects the will of the people of Breck," Bergeron said. "I don't think there's any public safety concerns in regards to an adult possessing less than one ounce of marijuana."
"The main issue is marijuana is safer than alcohol," said Sensible Breckenridge's Josh Kappel.
"Alcohol is far more toxic than marijuana; there has never been a death reported from a marijuana overdose," said Mason Tvert, co-author of the forthcoming book, "Marijuana is Safer: So Why do We Drive People to Drink?"
Holman said they're both problematic. "It's no safer to get behind the wheel of a car if you smoke a joint than drink," he said. Although during winter nights, when more people are in Breckenridge, Holman said drinking is the primary problem.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency website maintains that the "legalization of marijuana, no matter how it begins, will come at the expense of our children and public safety. It will create dependency and treatment issues, and open the door to use other drugs, impaired health, delinquent behavior, and drugged drivers."
"In the wrong hands it's definitely life-affecting, but at the same time I don't know that it's the government's job to protect us from ourselves," said Breckenridge resident Sam Breede. "I would say education would be important if it went forward."
The Summit Prevention Alliance declined to comment on the issue, saying they needed more information first.
Marijuana possession is currently a misdemeanor in Breckenridge, but marijuana convictions do show up on background checks, possibly affecting people's ability to get hired.
"As a criminal defense attorney, I have defended numerous locals and tourists for marijuana possession and have seen too many otherwise law-abiding citizens' lives damaged by these zero-tolerance laws that penalize adults for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol," McAllister said in a press release.
"This would give the police an opportunity to use their time in another direction, like keeping drunk drivers off the road," Bergeron said.
If approved, the initiative would set Breckenridge apart, Tvert said.
"Breckenridge is in a position where it can really set a precedent and send a message to the rest of the state that it's OK to have different laws than the state," Tvert said. "I think that would send a direct message to the state Legislature that it's time to let cities decide for themselves if adults can use marijuana."
Sensible Breckenridge is currently seeking local volunteers to help gather signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. The contact information is (970) 453-6594 or firstname.lastname@example.org