Despite overwhelming opposition from Gov., a brewery magnate, and most of the rest of the state government, Republican and Democrat, and the tourist industry, Colorado has become the first state to legalize marijuana. Opponents said it would make Colorado the Amsterdam of America, an idea ridiculed by proponents who said not many were likely to come to the state when weed was easily found in the other 49 states.
Washington state also legalized marijuana, by about one percent more than Colorado. Oregon rejected it, though supporters did get 45 percent. The Evergreen state, like Colorado, already allowed medicinal marijuana.
Colorado was one of the swing states, and marijuana helped bring voters out to give President Obama 50 percent and carry the state. Washington also voted for Obama, meaning both sides will have that bargaining chip when dealing with the aadministration.
The amendment was passing by 54.3 percent, carrying all but a handful of the state's 64 counties. The biggest support came from San Miguel County, home of resort Telluride, and a favorite haunt of Tom Cruise, Ophrah Winfrey and other stars and celebrities. It was welcomed in rural and urban counties, including Denver and Boulder.
Colorado Springs, home to Focus on the Family and other fundamentalist Christian groups, defeated it, but only by one percent.
Mason Tvert, co-director of Yes on 64, told Denver Westword, "Eighty years ago, Colorado voters approved a repeal of alcohol prohibition, demonstrating a desire to take a more sensible approach to how we treat alcohol. It doesn't come as a surprise that they're now taking sensible steps when it comes to the way we treat marijuana."
Hickenlooper released a statement saying: “The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will. This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”
Colorado has been a national leader on issues like marijuana and alcohol several times. It banned alcohol in 1916, six years before the nation, and voted to repeal the ban in 1932, a year before the nation did. When Colorado became a state in 1876 cannabis was legal.
A similar measure was defeated in California in 2010 by a small margin after President Obama abandoned his support for legalizing it. He did not oppose it this year, and gave ambiguous hints that ordinary users or medicinal users would not be targeted.
There is more than a touch of irony in Colorado, which drew hundreds of thousands of new residents after John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” made it popular, was the first state to legalize it.
“It's a Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rain fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody's high
Rocky mountain high.
In “Poems, Prayers and Promises" he sang:
“I have to say it now,
It's been a good life all in all,
It's really fine to have a chance to hang around,
And lie there by the fire, and watch the evenin' tire,
while all my friends and my old lady, sit and pass the pipe around.”
Colorado had legalized medical marijuana in 2000, but it was only after Obama was elected and called the dogs off that clinics began appearing all over the state and the more than a dozen other states that have legalized it for medical purposes.
There are more medical marijuana clinics in Denver than Starbucks. The legalization of marijuana got the support of many doctors, who made it clear they would like to minimize their role in the distribution of the drug. Many marijuana prescriptions, probably the vast majority, were being used for recreational purposes. It has been shown to relieve pain in some instances when regular medications failed or caused too many side effects.
An influx of new residents from California, and other states, as Colorado became a big player in what is called the “Creative Class” business sector, increased support for stopping a war on drugs appeared to target blacks.
Courts had become so full of people arrested on relatively minor drug offenses that jails were full. Boulder, home of the University of Colorado, was declining to prosecute marijuana smokers because jurors wouldn’t convict them.
Sociologist Edwin Schur had noted a book, “Crimes Without Victims” in 1965 that even using illegal arrest and detention tricks law officers couldn’t stop marijuana use.
When medical marijuana began circulating it showed another false premise: that making it available legally in any form would spread its use among teens. The opposite occurred.
Schur also explains in his book, whose two other main crimes without victims were abortion and homosexuality, that making the drug illegal spread the view that it must be dangerous, despite repeated studies that showed it wasn’t in most cases.
Many in law enforcement wanted it legalized because they felt enforcing the law wasn’t effective and took them away from dealing with serious crimes.
It is also believed it would cut the earnings of the drug cartels by as much as a third, and perhaps lessen the killings in Mexico. Officials of our neighbor have complained bitterly that if Americans weren’t buying the drug dealers wouldn’t sell it.
And national polls showed an increasing majority approve of it. It was so accepted it became a popular TV show, "Weeds."
Some have predicted the federal government will try to block decriminalization of marijuana, but it would appear Obama has more important things on his mind.
And it could raise tax money and cut spending on the expensive drug wars.
Trying to stop legalization would be a direct flouting of the will of the people, which judges have been reluctant to tolerate.