|Denver's approval of a ballot measure to legalize adult possession of small amounts of marijuana isn't really going to decriminalize the drug in our city, but it sends a simple message to federal and state authorities: it wouldn't be reefer to madness to finally debate and resolve the issue.|
In the meantime, local police will enforce state laws against possession of marijuana.
One of the seeming ironies of Election Day was that while buttoned-down Denver was approving the marijuana measure, voters in laid back Telluride narrowly defeated a proposal to make marijuana possession the town marshal's lowest law-enforcement priority.
The Post urged a "no" vote on Denver's Initiative 100 because we worry marijuana can be an entry level to harder drugs, and anyway, until federal and state marijuana laws are amended, local legalization is futile. And we were put off by the proponents' misleading campaign pitch - marijuana as a way to reduce domestic violence.
The Post supports ending the 70-year-old federal ban on marijuana and instead strictly regulating and taxing its sale. We think scarce public resources could be put to better use fighting violent crime or treating substance abuse. But that can't happen unless federal laws are relaxed to allow states to regulate marijuana as they see fit.
Seattle, Oakland and a few college towns already have passed laws making marijuana possession the lowest law-enforcement priority. Oakland citizens also voted to require the city to develop a plan to license and tax the sale, use and cultivation of marijuana.
The war on drugs has been as dismal a failure as Prohibition, which banned alcohol from 1920 to 1933 but didn't keep Americans from drinking and only increased disrespect for the law. That's not to say we don't have some concerns about the effects of marijuana use. We wouldn't want someone who had just lit up to get behind the wheel of a vehicle any more than somebody who's had too much to drink.
Initiative aside, lighting up on a Denver street corner could be costly: Colorado state law makes possession of an ounce or less a Class 2 petty offense, punishable by a fine of up to $100.
Mason Tvert, executive director of initiative proponents Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation, says the group will work for a statewide marijuana initiative. Alas, as long as federal law bans marijuana, that, too, would be just another telegram to Washington. The message in all this is that it is time for American society to tackle this issue and change the laws at the federal and state levels to better reflect police priorities and contemporary reality.