By Patrick Fortune
While the nation is focused on which states turn blue and which go red, two states could be turning green. Voters in Washington and Colorado have initiatives on the ballot this year that mandate the legalization, regulation and taxation of Marijuana. While the time may not be ripe for Washington, those Rocky residents of Colorado may just have what it takes to blow smoke at the rest of the nation.
Colorado is looking to overthrow California from its hazy throne as the U.S. leader in hemps and herbs. Amendment 64, on the ballot this year, would legalize the possession, consumption and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana for all residents 21 and older.
The task of regulation falls entirely upon local governments, but does allow them to prohibit businesses from cultivating or dispensing the plant. While local communities will be allowed to limit production and sales, an individual’s right
to possess and consume marijuana may not be abridged under the amendment.
Marijuana’s hard working cousin, Industrial Hemp was also specifically included in the legalization list. The ballot measure allows for large-scale cultivation, processing and testing facilities for both canna-cousins.
After the pizza delivery industry, the state’s schools are the biggest prospective winners. Amendment 64 requires the general assembly to enact an excise tax upon wholesale transactions and sends the first $40m in revenue to the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund.
Polls seem to show a lot of support for legalization; some polls indicate that this Amendment might actually pass. The most recent poll on August 8th of this year had 47% supporting the initiative, with 38% against. A whopping 15% remain undecided; these will cast the deciding votes.
In 2006, 59% of Colorado voters rejected Amendment 44, which also legalized marijuana. While both amendments were very similar in content and form, the six-year gap may make all the difference. The last time legalization was put to a statewide ballot in Colorado, the state had yet to fully work out the kinks of medical marijuana and the economic situation was a lot better. Not until a lawsuit against the Health Department was won in 2007 did the Colorado medical marijuana industry really take off. Since then, Colorado has embraced the industry with dispensaries now all over the state, including over 400 in the Denver area alone.
Taxes on medical marijuana brought in over $5m in revenue for the state last year. The economic incentives may be the key to changing the minds of those undecided voters, especially when the expected tax revenue from the amendment is about $24m.
Even if adopted, this initiative may still get stoned by the courts. The Amendment requires the state Assembly to legislate on the issue when in fact it is unconstitutional in Colorado to force a state assemblyman to vote on any particular issue. Of course there is also still the fact that this amendment would directly contradict federal drug laws and regulations.
Whether or not Colorado will go fully green in 2013 is still unclear. No matter how the voters decide this one, Amendment 64 and the success it has already enjoyed is a strong indication that the country cannot avoid marijuana reform for much longer. Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.