It was not long ago that marijuana was a relative non-issue in Colorado. Times sure have changed. These days, it is being talked about everywhere - the Legislature, the media, the water cooler at work, and the dinner table. And rightfully so. It is about time we had a serious discussion about the efficacy of our current marijuana laws and whether it is time for a new approach.
Fortunately, there is a measure on this November's ballot that will foster just the conversation we need. Amendment 64 would make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and replace our current prohibition model with a legal system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol. I fully support the initiative and believe it is a much-needed step forward for Colorado. I arrived at this position over the course of an extensive career in law enforcement and government that provided several insights into the failure of marijuana prohibition.
I served nearly 40 years as a police officer, during which time I became undersheriff and then director of public safety for Summit County. I was also elected Summit County Coroner. I can say with certainty that marijuana's illegal status did not make our citizens and communities the least bit safer. It remained universally available despite all of our efforts to keep it off the street, and I quickly came to realize adult marijuana use was largely unproblematic. Nobody was getting out of control or dying of overdoses, and it was never a factor in violent crimes. In my entire career, I never saw anyone hurt another person or themselves because they were under the influence of marijuana. I certainly cannot say the same thing with respect to alcohol. And quite frankly, dealing with people under the influence of marijuana was a welcome departure from the all too frequent situations in which alcohol was involved. Those who had too much to drink were often aggressive and combative. Those who had consumed marijuana tended to be more passive and congenial.
Ironically, most of the problems associated with marijuana stem from the laws prohibiting it. By relegating this popular substance to the underground market we are ceding all control over its production and sale. Not only does this deprive our state and localities of significant and much-needed new tax revenue and job creation; it poses a significant threat to public health and safety. By driving individuals into the underground market to purchase marijuana, we are potentially exposing them to other illegal products they would never encounter in regulated retail stores.
More importantly, we are making marijuana much more accessible to teens. Illegal drug dealers do not ask for ID, which is probably why high school students consistently report that marijuana is easier to obtain than alcohol. If we truly want to prevent young people from accessing this product, we need to put it behind the counter where proof of age is required to purchase it and anyone who sells to a minor faces strict legal penalties. This has been an incredibly effective approach to curbing the rate of teen tobacco use, and there is no reason why we should not be applying it to marijuana.
As a former state representative and county commissioner, I have seen my fair share of ineffective and wasteful public policies. Our current marijuana laws are right up there with the worst of them. It is time for a smarter and more responsible approach, and Amendment 64 presents just that. I hope you will join me in supporting it and making Colorado a safer, healthier place for all of us.
Gary Lindstrom is a former state representative and Summit County Commissioner.