Our View: Medical marijuana series aims to educate | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Medical marijuana series aims to educate

Today through Friday, you'll find a three-part series about medical marijuana in the Steamboat Today. The series, "Growing Pains," is an examination of the explosion of the industry in the state and Routt County, as well as Colorado lawmakers' attempt to manage it.

We tackled this issue not only because of its high reader interest but also because Colorado has become a leader nationwide in medical marijuana. Other states are calling up officials here to talk about steps they can take after voters approve the drug for medicinal purposes.

It's unclear exactly how many medical marijuana cardholders there are in Routt County. The number certainly is growing, however, and the number of users has reached an estimated 113,000 statewide. This issue isn't going away, and it's important for all of us to be informed.

Voters approved a very basic amendment in 2000: They legalized medical marijuana for people who have certain medical conditions and a recommendation from a doctor. But the industry really exploded only last year, after President Barack Obama's administration said it would not use federal resources to prosecute people who were following their state's medical marijuana laws. That's when dispensaries started appearing in Routt County.

State lawmakers hustled to get regulations on the books to dictate how the industry would operate. Many dispensary owners welcomed the new rules — in principle, at least —because they sought legitimacy for their businesses. Those regulations helped, but additional steps will be necessary to keep the industry above board.

It's also important to remember that voters approved marijuana ostensibly to be used for medicinal reasons, and the framework of the law should prevent the blurring of those lines. It's possible that some of those voters saw medical marijuana as the first step toward total legalization of the drug. Regardless of whether that's true, the current letter of the law allows use only for medical purposes. As Colorado Attorney General John Suthers told us, "Anybody who doesn't think there's abuse going on has to be pretty naïve."

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But as we examine the issue as communities (Steamboat Springs, Routt County and Oak Creek have allowed dispensaries, and Hayden has chosen not to), it behooves us also to look at the big picture. We have made decisions about which drugs are considered acceptable, keeping alcohol and many pharmaceuticals legal while criminalizing marijuana and other substances. What are the societal costs of criminalizing marijuana versus the societal costs of legalizing it? And if we did legalize and regulate it as a nation, would that do anything to end the brutal drug wars and murders happening in Mexico and along our southern border? Would we be more safe or less safe?

Could we legalize marijuana, tax it and improve the state's fiscal position? Many cities already are seeing a significant impact with sales tax collections from medical marijuana, and those dispensaries — now called centers — and grow operations certainly are providing jobs. In Steamboat, Rocky Mountain Remedies serves 1,000 regular patients a month, is expected to employ 20 full-time workers by this month and is among the 36 largest in the state based on number of patients.

"Growing Pains" addresses the rapid growth and changes specifically in Colorado and provides a snapshot of the larger national response to medical marijuana. We hope it helps the community understand the emerging issue and its importance, and we hope you find the story as interesting as we do.

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