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Rob Douglas: The unfair burden of being 1st

On New Year’s Day, the Colorado marijuana industry undertook the burden of being pioneers in the legal sale of recreational marijuana. As groundbreakers, their success or failure will determine how quickly other states follow in Colorado’s footsteps by casting aside laws that unjustly brand marijuana distributors and consumers as criminals.

But unlike most new commercial ventures, marijuana businesses will be disproportionally regulated and scrutinized by agencies staffed by individuals inculcated with the failed policies of America’s war on drugs.

That indoctrination, coupled with the potential loss of billions of dollars that would no longer flow to law enforcement agencies if decriminalization succeeds and spreads to other states, means that marijuana businesses will have to go above and beyond what is expected of other businesses to demonstrate legal compliance to agencies culturally and financially invested in their failure.

In short, marijuana businesses in Colorado will have to prove they’ve earned a liberty that should never have been taken away.

That’s the unfair burden of being first.

As the Washington Post put it this week in “Marijuana sales commence in Colorado for recreational use”:

“If Colorado is able to successfully legalize marijuana without causing a social backlash, the tourism, tax and other considerations are likely to compel several other states to quickly follow suit.

“Backers say enough signatures have been collected to put legalization before voters this year in Alaska. Oregon would probably come next, and by 2016, they hope to see measures on the ballot in six other states: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada. Supporters are also hopeful that lawmakers will push for legalization in Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

“Washington state has legalized pot, but sales there won’t begin for at least a few months.

“If problems arise in Colorado — whether that means residents get sick of stoner tourism or there are a rash of marijuana-related accidents or crimes — it could set back a decades-old movement that has gained substantial momentum in recent years.”

There’s every reason to think that after an initial flurry of media attention the sale of recreational marijuana will become routine and relatively invisible. After all, despite dire warnings from naysayers, almost two dozen states, including Colorado, legalized medical marijuana in recent years without the world coming to an end.

Still, despite that reality and the lack of any objective evidence that marijuana is as dangerous and addictive as alcohol — much less heroin, as the federal government continues to claim — marijuana prohibitionists predict calamity.

This week, in “Pot opponents predict ‘hogwild’ Colorado trainwreck,” U.S. News & World Report cited the concerns of former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

“’There are a lot of unintended consequences…that will make them [Colorado and Washington state] ponder whether this was the right decision,’ Kennedy said, predicting more traffic accidents, increased school truancy, higher drop-out rates and a general decrease in public health.”

With all due respect and sympathy to Kennedy, he is making the common mistake of using his personal experience with drug and alcohol addiction as an argument to restrict the liberty of others who don’t share his medical condition.

By the same token, just as it is wrong to argue for the revocation of the liquor license of a business in Colorado that lawfully sells alcohol to a customer who then drives while drunk, it would be wrong to advocate for the revocation of the marijuana license of a business that lawfully sells marijuana to a customer who then drives while stoned.

Still, it’s a safe bet that illogical argument — transferring the illegal acts of some marijuana buyers to lawful marijuana proprietors — will be made by opponents of decriminalization when customers intentionally and unintentionally violate recreational marijuana laws and regulations enacted as a result of Amendment 64.

When that wrongheaded argument arises, as it inevitably will in Steamboat Springs or somewhere else in Colorado, rational minds will understand that the fledgling marijuana industry shouldn’t be tarred by the illegal acts of individuals any more than the long-established liquor industry.

Hopefully, rational minds will prevail.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.