Taking a Closer Look at Amendment 64
DENVER- One Colorado ballot measure has gained national attention. Amendment 64 would regulate marijuana like alcohol, allowing adults 21 and over to possess small amounts of the substance. NewsChannel 5 looked at what effects it will have on Coloradans if passed. Mason Tvert, the co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said, "Eighty years ago Colorado voters approved a ballot initiative to repeal alcohol prohibition, and they did so prior to the federal government. That was the type of activity we saw nationwide, and we can do the same thing when it comes to marijuana prohibition." While the details of Amendment 64 are brief in election booklets, founders of it worked on the final draft for six months. The process involved receiving input and feedback from dozens of organization representatives, attorneys and business owners. Details in the entire version provide many answers to the questions on voters' minds. If it does pass, some changes will happen quickly. Tvert said, "It removes the criminal penalties for adults 21 and over who are simply possessing marijuana privately, and so almost immediately that will no longer be a crime." Other impacts will take place over time, like marijuana centers opening throughout the state. "The legislature will have this upcoming session to develop some rules and laws to govern how these marijuana stores and facilities will operate," said Tvert. Cities and counties will also have control over their own regulations. That includes how products are sold and labeled, as well as the security associated with them and advertising. They can also choose to prohibit marijuana centers. "This is very similar to how we see dry counties. For example, there are dry counties throughout the country where it's legal to possess alcohol, but it's not legal for it to be sold. This is really a matter of giving localities the right to control marijuana how they believe is right for their community," Tvert said. Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey is against the passage of Amendment 64. He said, "There will be an opportunity for local governments to decide whether or not people can have stores sell it, but even without that people can still possess it and grow their own, so we're still going to be right in the middle of the marijuana industry." If Amendment 64 is passed, marijuana centers could look identical to medical marijuana centers. However, one of the biggest differences between medical marijuana centers and marijuana centers would be an excise tax. Tvert said, "The initiative requires the general assembly to enact a tax of up to 15 percent on wholesale sales, and the first $40 million of that each year will be directed towards public school construction. By regulating marijuana like alcohol we can take it out of the underground market and out of the hands of criminals, and put it behind the counter in retail stores that are licensed and regulated." Amendment 64 would also allow farmers to produce hemp. "We're importing more industrial hemp than any other nation in the world, and we're the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn't allow our farmers to produce it. Amendment 64 would allow for the regulated cultivation of industrial hemp, which would give our farmers throughout the state a very useful and easy-to-grow new crop that we can corner the market on here in Colorado," Tvert said. It's also important to note that many things will not change if Amendment 64 passes: employee drug policies can remain the same, driving under the influence of marijuana will remain illegal, those under 21 will receive the same punishment as they do now if caught possessing, legalizing marijuana remains a federal crime Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland, who's opposed to the amendment, said, "For people who might think they can do this legally, it sets them up to be blindsided, and perhaps it's not as legal as they think it might be. But it certainly puts law enforcement and other elected officials on a local and state level in a position to where they are either going to violate the constitution of Colorado, or they're going to violate federal law." Tvert said, "There's no reason or law that prevents Colorado from passing this initiative. The federal government has largely respected Colorado's tightly-regulated medical marijuana system." "The federal government really sort of stated at some point that they weren't going to get involved with medical marijuana issues, but then they started to see the prevalence of the problems with the medical marijuana issues and have really started to take another look at how much enforcement they're going to be involved with," said Hilkey. "Federal marijuana laws specifically allow for states to design their own policies, so Amendment 64 is simply proposing a new sensible approach, and we have the right to do that," Tvert said. Now it's up to voters to decide whether or not the substance will be regulated to a much larger group of citizens. To read the full text of Amendment 64, click here.