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On limits for homegrown marijuana: How much is enough?

The question, when it comes to marijuana plants grown at home for medicinal use, elicits a range of answers from the reasonable to the ridiculous.

And that is just one reason why legislation in the state capitol seeks to set the issue in more concrete terms.

One proposal would limit the number of plants grown at home to 16, down from the generous 99 allowed, with a doctor's recommendation, under Colorado's constitutionally mandated right to grow.

The number is not motivated by anti-pot prudes, nor does it come from a sense of peer pressure (Oregon and Washington, for example, limit home growers to four plants).

It is a common-sense reaction to the proliferation of unregistered, untaxed, de facto commercial pot farms operating under the guise of personal medicinal gardens in residential neighborhoods.

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Some areas of the state already limit how many plants can be grown at home; Denver sets that number at 12. But the lack of a consistent number statewide makes it difficult for law officers to distinguish between legitimate medicinal gardens and black-market operations that, besides ducking taxes, can devastate residential areas.

As the governor's office has documented, illegal operations, often set up in rental properties, use large amounts of electricity and water (often obtained without adherence to codes), create safety hazards, and use fertilizers, pesticides and other toxic chemicals with no regard to public health.

The result can be a steep decline in property values and a corresponding increase in situations ripe for gang involvement and organized crime.

Opposition to the limit has been strong. Legislators have been inundated with letters from citizens who depend on their home-grown plants to treat serious medical conditions; they are fearful of limits.

In response, one Friday amendment increased the number from 12 to 16 plants, and another insured the penalty for exceeding that number (the first time) would be a petty drug offense and not a felony. It should be noted that local governments will retain the ability to set higher limits on a community-wide or on an individual basis.

To us, the need for a realistic limit is obvious. Sixteen, still generous, fits the bill.

The Durango Herald, March 13

On transportation funding

Colorado's lawmakers deserve praise for crafting bipartisan legislation that would ask voters in November to help the state finally get serious about upgrading our besieged roads. (And rarely is the word "besieged" so apt: Just ask anyone stuck in the parking lots that are our rush-hour and mountain weekend treks, and they would agree the experience is not unlike being surrounded by enemy forces.)

Democrats and Republicans are considering a package of compromises that would rather painlessly raise $3.5 billion over 20 years to widen interstates, fix problem bridges and pour money into local transit projects. Props to Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham for managing to come together with House Bill 1242, which, out of the gate, has a lot of promise.

Yes, we might wish to argue for more when the question is about improving our roads and transit systems. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has identified $9 billion in projects needed to keep up with a booming population and years of tight-fisted state budgets.

But the paltry sales tax increase the lawmakers seek — less than a penny on the dollar — seems an easier sell to voters, and would instantly create levels of revenue that would go a long way toward helping end congestion's siege, and would address top priorities, like the expansion of Interstate 70 in the mountains, widening of Interstate 25 north and south of Denver and improving Colorado 71 on the plains. As the legislation progresses, CDOT will be tasked with laying out specifically for voters what projects would be addressed.

Colorado's current sales tax already is low at 2.9 percent. According to the Tax Foundation, of the 45 states that collect statewide sales taxes, Colorado's is the lowest. What's more, the new rate lawmakers would ask voters to approve come Election Day — 3.52 percent — would continue to rank us at the bottom of the list, as the next-lowest states set their rate at 4 percent.

Yes, state rates don't tell the entire story. When the Tax Foundation factored in the local tax rates, Colorado's average sales tax burden of 7.44 percent ranks us 15th among states. But Colorado's flat income tax rate, at 4.63 percent, compares awfully well to that of other states.

And the sales tax proposal would offer voters significant savings elsewhere. Vehicle registration fees would plummet. If you drive a small car, the fees would drop from $23 to $9; for bigger vehicles, it would drop from $28 to $11.

Should voters approve the current plan, the expected yearly haul of $677 million would be divided to cover payments on a $3.5 billion bond package, to local governments and to fund transit projects.

As The Denver Post's John Frank notes in reporting the compromise effort, Democrats are giving a little by agreeing to less money in registration fees, and Republicans are giving a little by stepping away from their argument that any new money raised be zeroed out by cuts to government spending elsewhere.

We have long considered the state's spending on transportation to be too anemic to keep pace with our growing population and their ambitions. HB 1242 looks like a good start toward finally reversing that crippling dynamic.

The Denver Post, March 9

How repealing Obamacare will affect Colorado

It's too early to be lining up in favor of or in opposition to the new Republican health care bill. The good news is that the legislative approach allows for debate, which means the final bill may look substantially different if or when it passes than it does right now.

Obamacare was supposed to improve accessibility to health care and make it more affordable while preserving a health insurance market.

What we're seeing with the GOP plan is the pulling of several levers within a complex system without addressing the core problem, which is keeping the young and the healthy in the insurance market to disperse costs.

The new GOP plan would repeal the current law's unpopular fines on people who don't carry health insurance. So there's no coverage mandate, but there's a "continuous coverage penalty" — a 30-percent surcharge for people who let their health insurance coverage lapse. This sets up a perverse incentive. Making it more expensive to get coverage is likely to keep people out of the market until they desperately need treatment.

We could end up with risk pools full of very sick people, which could make health insurance premiums even more expensive than they are now — a big problem on the Western Slope.

That's no better than Obamacare's biggest shortcoming: sick people getting health insurance, receiving the hospital treatments, then stopping payment on their insurance until they need another procedure. That's not insurable risk that any actuary could possibly write a policy around.

This was one of several observations shared with the Sentinel's editorial board Wednesday by representatives of the Colorado Center for Law and Policy and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.

They want to preserve the level of access Colorado has achieved under Obamacare or even improve it. We think that's a fair goal of any fix for Obamacare. But that can't happen if Congress limits future federal funding for Medicaid.

The bill effectively ends the Medicaid expansion because Colorado is not going to be able to afford to keep it after 2020, which means 450,000 Coloradans will lose Medicaid coverage, said Elisabeth Arenales of the Colorado Center for Law and Policy

Because the bill puts a fixed cap on the amount of money Colorado can spend on Medicaid, it reduces the flexibility needed to account for the needs of the state and individuals served by the program. The bill also rolls back coverage of children. Even before passage of the ACA, Colorado made the decision to expand coverage for impoverished children. The new bill takes away that option for the state.

These are just a few of the shortcomings of the long-promised GOP cure for Obamacare — and those concerns cross political lines. There are plenty of Republicans who are worried that new tax credits establish new entitlements or that other changes will leave Americans without coverage.

The Republican-led Congress has a unique opportunity to fix Obamacare, but it has to get it right. Without a fix to the foundational problem of very sick people entering and exiting the system, paying into it only when they need treatment, the system will surely crater. And that will lead to calls for a single-payer system.

The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, March 9