Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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In a statement released Wednesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper jumped into the fray over Amendment 64, an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that would legalize the commercial sale and adult possession of as much as 1 ounce of marijuana.
“Colorado is known for many great things — marijuana should not be one of them. Amendment 64 has the potential to increase the number of children using drugs and would detract from efforts to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation. It sends the wrong message to kids that drugs are OK.
“Federal laws would remain unchanged in classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, and federal authorities have been clear they will not turn a blind eye toward states attempting to trump those laws. While we are sympathetic to the unfairness of burdening young people with felony records for often minor marijuana transgressions, we trust that state lawmakers and district attorneys will work to mitigate such inequities.”
The second paragraph of the statement correctly points out that Amendment 64 raises federalism issues. Given Hickenlooper’s acknowledgement that Coloradans have been unfairly branded as felons because of “minor marijuana transgressions,” it’s a shame he doesn’t have the political courage to fight for Colorado’s right of self-determination when it comes to laws about the use of marijuana.
But it’s not the federalism question that’s ricocheting across Colorado’s blogosphere, so let’s focus on what has unified arm-benders and bong-hitters in their gubernatorial puzzlement.
The head-scratcher is that Hickenlooper — a man who made his fortune brewing enough beer to raise Stagecoach Reservoir by a few thousand acre-feet — has the gumption to argue that legalizing marijuana for adults “sends the wrong message to kids that drugs are OK.”
Memo to Hick: Alcohol is a drug in the same way marijuana is a drug. You know it. Everyone knows it. Most important, “kids” know it. You also know that young people younger than 21 occasionally get their hands on the drug advertised with your official title at www.wynkoop.com.
Clearly, Hickenlooper has no moral authority as an advocate against the legalization of marijuana on the basis that doing so would send the wrong message to kids. It’s also clear that the same reality that undercuts Hickenlooper’s use of the “save the children” argument taints every anti-marijuana legalization proponent — unless they also seek the repeal of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Still, there are reasons why, as a society, we don’t want young people consuming marijuana, alcohol or any other drug until they reach an age where their mental and physical development will not be impacted and they have the maturity to use substances that can alter mental and physical capacities.
So how do we accomplish the justifiable goal of deterring young people from using drugs, including alcohol, until their minds and bodies have developed and matured? By using a novel tactic — the truth.
The truth that the distinctions between what drugs are legal and what drugs are illegal is often based on antiquated science and arbitrary legislation. The truth that by classifying addiction as a crime instead of a medical condition, we’ve destroyed the future of millions of Americans who can’t get a decent job because they’ve been labeled a criminal. And, the truth that millions of Americans use marijuana and alcohol responsibly in a manner that complements their lives.
But we also must tell children the truth that the abuse of any drug can permanently injure their physical, mental and financial well-being for the rest of their lives. The truth of our own firsthand experiences of how the misuse of alcohol and drugs negatively impacted our own lives and the lives of our family and friends. And the truth that while current drug laws make no sense and undermine the respect for law, they must be obeyed until the laws are changed.
Finally, as adults, we should look in the mirror and tell ourselves the truth. The truth that those “kids” Hickenlooper seeks to protect from the drug he didn’t profit from already know the truth about marijuana and alcohol and that the only one Hickenlooper is deceiving is himself.
Since 1998, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.