Pot Legal in Denver (But Not in Colorado)

Yesterday voters in Denver approved a ballot measure that "legalizes" possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by residents 21 and older. I use the scare quotes because the measure, which passed by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent, applies only to city ordinances, not state law, under which marijuana possessors typically are charged. Still, the vote is interesting and potentially significant as a measure of publc opinion, especially since the initiative's advocates offered a straightforward defense of marijuana as a recreational intoxicant (the drug is already legal as a medicine in Colorado), arguing that it was a safer alternative to alcohol.

[Thanks to the Marijuana Policy Project for the tip.]

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    I am confused. So marijuana is legal as medicine in Co. Terrific; but didn't the Supremes outlaw medicinal pot in CA? Doesn't their decision cover CO as well?

  • ||

    I am confused. So marijuana is legal as medicine in CO. Terrific; but didn't the Supremes outlaw medicinal pot in CA? Doesn't their decision cover CO as well?

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    The Supremes can't really outlaw anything directly; but per their decision, possessors of marijuana can now be prosecuted under federal law, even if it's legal on the state level. I think.

    I'm even more confused about this Colorado business. So now, marijuana's legal under Denver local law, but illegal under Colorado law unless it's medicinal, and illegal period under federal law?

  • ||

    Yuri - the Supremes ruling only applies to federal law. California police enforce California laws. When the feds want to bust people who are abiding by state law but violating federal law, the feds are now more or less required to do it themselves. Same for Colorado, except the Prohibitionists have the additional buttress of State law to thwart the will the people of Denver, as they continue to be Subjects and Wards of the State of Colorado.

  • ||

    The "Rocky Mountain High" clever headline watch begins . . . now!

  • MP||

    Yuri,

    Yes.

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    Yuri-

    My understanding (correct me if I'm wrong) is that medical users in CA can still be prosecuted, just under federal law rather than state law. I thought the whole point of the SCOTUS ruling was that once they get into federal court they can't use the state law as a defense in their trial.

    Somebody correct me if I'm wrong.

  • fyodor||

    Zach,

    I believe you're right.

    One thing this makes me wonder about. Who is responsible for enforcing what laws? It was my impression that only Feds would enforce the federal laws. But the reason I think this measure is meaningless is that municipal cops regularly enforce state laws, right? I mean, murder and all the rest are generally state laws, right? Or am I wrong about this, do cities and counties have their own set of statutes against common crime so that their own police forces can enforce them?

  • ||

    fyodor-

    That's a good point. I mean, the local cops won't just let a counterfeiter go because it's federal law. If they see somebody wanted for interstate kidnapping they won't call the FBI and say "You go get him. He's somewhere in our town."

    And I'm no lawyer, but don't local courthouses routinely try state cases? I never got the impression that the county courthouse only deals with parking tickets and noise ordinances.

    I guess the Denver initiative is mostly symbolic, since the same cops will enforce the state law, and the same courts will try the cases under state law. But with federal vs. state issues it's more than symbolic: After the local cops bust the federal offender they'll take him to the feds and say "This is your problem now."

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    A local commentator here in Colorado opined that the effect will be that the city attorney general won't have to bothered with possession crimes. If the district wants to prosecute they can add the prosecutions to their already over-burdened docket.

    Funny thing about this measure is that most people weren't aware of it until they started voting. There wasn't any media attention. The supporters didn't put anything behind it, and there wasn't a fuss against it. In a sense, this measure probably fairly reflects at least a gut level reaction to the law by the citizens of Denver since there wasn't much coaching one way or another.

  • ||

    A local commentator here in Colorado opined that the effect will be that the city attorney general won't have to bothered with possession crimes. If the district wants to prosecute they can add the prosecutions to their already over-burdened docket.

    Funny thing about this measure is that most people weren't aware of it until they started voting. There wasn't any media attention. The supporters didn't put anything behind it, and there wasn't a fuss against it. In a sense, this measure probably fairly reflects at least a gut level reaction to the law by the citizens of Denver since there wasn't much coaching one way or another.

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    Well I do know murder is a felony, and of course no state law allows it... I think it works out that if there are no local laws about a certain issue, the law of the land on that issue defaults to the state level, and in absence of state laws addressing the issue, then to the federal level. Again, not sure.

    Maybe it's up to the cops. In which case I would ask, if cops basically have their pick of conflicting laws from different legislatures to enforce, does that give the cops too much power? Or does it just depend on what brand of cop you are?

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    When I lived in Ann Arbor, marijuana possesion was something like a parking ticket- in fact, I recall an election ballot with a measure to increase the fine from something like $5 to $25. But state law was of course harsher. Though that created some uncertainty, I think the general feeling was that unless the state police had a reason to be investigating you as part of a state case, you were going to get the local punishment.

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    Denver claims "home-rule" status as it skirts the more lenient state-wide gun laws. Why not this too?

  • ||

    The "Rocky Mountain High" clever headline watch begins . . . now!

    Actually, I had the other Rocky song in mind ...

    Spent the last year
    Rocky Mountain way
    Couldn't get much higher
    Out to pasture
    Think it's safe to say
    Time to open fire.

  • ||

    The "Rocky Mountain High" clever headline watch begins . . . now!

    Actually, I had the other Rocky song in mind ...

    Spent the last year
    Rocky Mountain way
    Couldn't get much higher
    Out to pasture
    Think it's safe to say
    Time to open fire.

  • ||

    sorry 'bout that ... damn slow loading browser ...

  • ||

    (I'm re-posting a comment from another thread - apologies for the redundancy)

    I think this is a great moral victory, though. Denver is obviously a major city. I've read that Oakland, too, has taken a big step towards decriminalization.

    It's happening all around. A few years ago, my boy Bob Ehrlich passed a bill to effectively decriminalize medical use. And he's a Republican.

    I'm a little concerned about the tactics in Denver, though. Those SAFER people may be correct in their assertions, but they are striking me as being a bit looney. MJ isn't goofy and harmless like cotten candy. There should be a strong and sober emphasis on responsible use.

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    SAFER guy on Fox News now doing real good

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    Some dude from SAFER was just on Fox News and he did a fantastic job. The only audience comment was in general agreement with him. His argument was that the voters were sick of a law that prohibited them from making the safer choice of using marijuana rather than alcohol. Way to stay "on message" and not get bogged down in esoteric and wandering arguments. Properly dressed up for the occassion, too. Good work, SAFER.

    And Mr. Nice Guy, I don't know what prompted your comments at the end. The only quote I saw in the article was that smoking marijuana is a safer alternative to drinking. It is. Nobody said it was "safe" and the adults of Denver are smart enough to understand that there seem to be inherent risks to smoking anything.

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    Thoreau - "I mean, the local cops won't just let a counterfeiter go because it's federal law."

    I think it depends very much on the crime. Where I live, I see obviously counterfeit goods being sold openly all the time. It would take the police no effort at all to catch the sellers. And yet they don't do it. I'm not sure why, except for the possibility that the crime is not a local one, and so the local cops/prosecutors wouldn't get much out of it.

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    Here in California, if you get pulled over with possession, and you have your medical card, you get a wave and sent on your way. If the local (not fed) cops raid your house, take your weed, and take you to court, if you have your card and are following county guidelines, the judge has to throw out the case and give you your weed back. Only the Feds can bust you, and take you to federal court. I know some disabled people that can smoke in public, or downtown, and nobody will bug them. It's just like cigarrettes.

  • slightlybad||

    I am a lawyer (although not in Colorado). There are quite a few city ordinances that conflict with state law to a certain degree. Municipalities can't overrule state law, but this is a way of checking police power to a certain extent.

    The local cops could likely still arrest and charge you under the state statute. However, since the voters passed this ordinance, I suspect the mayor will tell the city police not to arrest for such small amounts and the city attorney will also refuse to prosecute. There is nothing to keep federal agencies or the state police from doing so, of course, but if the DEA is after your ass, I would hazard a guess that there is significantly more than an oz of pot involved.

  • fyodor||

    the general feeling was that unless the state police had a reason to be investigating you as part of a state case, you were going to get the local punishment

    I wonder if that "feeling" was based on experience or wishful thinking?

  • TallDave||

    A link this thread will enjoy:

    http://www.webmd.com/content/article/23/1728_57309

    Marijuana Unlikely to Cause Head, Neck, or Lung Cancer

    May 8, 2000 (Boston) -- Marijuana, unlike tobacco and alcohol, does not appear to cause head, neck, or lung cancer, says a researcher from Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore who presented findings from a study here recently at a meeting of internal medicine physicians
    ...
    According to Ford, he thought he would find an association between marijuana use and cancer, but "that the association would fall away when we corrected for tobacco use. That was not the case. The association was never there." And that surprised him because of the way marijuana is smoked: deep inhalations, with the smoke held in for effect. "It seemed natural that there would be some connection," he tells WebMD.

    Based on these findings, Ford says that cancer prevention efforts should "remain focused on tobacco and alcohol, two known carcinogens."

    (snicker)

  • fyodor||

    slightlybad,

    I'm not sure if you cleared things up or not!

    If only state or federal cops can bust you, then you're highly unlikely to get busted in most circumstances. But is this up to the mayor's discretion?

    Oh, and regarding SAFER's message (not addressing slightlybad anymore), to pit pot against alcohol as they did is a very mixed message from a libertarian POV. But if it actually does result in less people getting busted for victimless crimes, well then by all means!

  • ||

    The way I understand it is that it's the cops decision what law to charge you under. 90 percent of last years possession offenders IN Denver were charged under state law, not the city ordinance. One official was allready quoted this morning saying that they'll just make it 100 percent now. No change for Denver residents whatsoever. Of course, the statement that the voters made by passing the initiative is a great one and a step in the right direction.
    By the way, someone mentioned decriminalization in Oakland; they passed a law making marijuana possession the lowest priority in law enforcement for the local police force. Seattle did the same thing.
    Another by the way, I heard that there was no state law against possession in Alaska at all. Anybody know anything about that?

  • slightlybad||

    Fyodor -- the state cops and feds aren't taking orders from the mayor or charging under the city ordinance regardless, so there is no discretion as far as that goes.

    This isn't the perfect decriminalization scenario that most of us hope for, but its a step in the right direction. As Kip pointed out, the cops and prosecutors are free to charge on state charges. However, the 53% of the electorate that voted for this is free to notice that their city officials don't seem to give a shit what the voters want and to vote them out of office as a consequence.

  • ||

    Smoking MJ is not safer than drinking, if you happen to be covered in gasoline.

  • ||

    Here are Alaska's laws. it looks like possesion of under 4 oz. in your home is legal.

    http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?wtm_view=&Group_ID=4522

  • ||

    This explains why Colorado residents voted to give themselves a tax increase. They're a bunch of dope smoking hippies. Keep increasing taxes like the northeast, Illinois and the left coast. That giant sucking sound will be jobs moving to red states. Good job dopers.

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    RA, if you'd ever lived in Denver for a measurable time -- I lived there for 10 years -- you'd know this isn't anything atypical.

    And as for the many smokers I knew? They weren't for the most part Democrats or Greens, either, despite the fact that Californians have moved there en masse since the mid-80s.

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    JD -

    It also depends on what's being counterfeited. The state always protects its own inflationary waste paper. If a local police force found a counterfeiting op in a business/house they raided for other reasons, they turn it over the SS ... I mean Secret Service and Treasury for the attaboys and backpats, not to mention the property seizure proceeds the feds give.

    Same case may apply in drug cases, if a cop catches you and the local Chief or DA thinks he can get another case of AR-15's from the Feds for turning you in, he calls the DEA for a "joint taskforce" raid.

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    JD: Thoreau is referring to counterfeiting money, not fake Gucci handbags or Oakley sunglasses.

    It seems to me that the reason local cops often enforce state laws is that the main (or only) legal political levels recognized in the constitution are state governments and the federal government. Municipal governments derive their power from the state government under which they incorporated, and are expected to follow and enforce state laws, dependent upon the wording of each state's constitution. Maybe a lawyer-type (Hakluyt?) can expand or clarify this point, or correct me if I'm wrong.

  • fyodor||

    slightlybad,

    Well the reason I thought your commentary made it sound like this could possibly make a real difference is that most cops one encounters within a city like Denver are city cops, not state cops. If a pot smoker didn't have to worry about being arrested by city cops, that would give him much less reason to worry about being arrested.

    Still, from what Kip says, I'm thinking my original impression, that this was purely symbolic (or expressive, but no different than a Gallup's poll), was the correct one.

  • ||

    Now... If only our legislators would wake-up from their prohibitionist stupor and allow American farmers to grow hemp for pyrolitic conversion to ethanol (and further refinement to E85), we wouldn't have to rely on corn or OPEC.

    50 million acres of (American) hemp - anually from rotation in 200 million acres - would give us approx 37.5 quadrillion btu's from 100% ethanol produced at local Floating Bed Pyrolitic Conversion refineries ... refine the ethanol further into E85, and the combination would produce approximately 57 qaudrillion btu's annually.

    Considering America only uses aproximately 410 trillion btu's from all imported and domestically refined petroleum to power the nations light vehicles and light trucks, America's farmers would become an energy exporter that could crush the competition.

    Can you say good-bye OPEC?

    Grow, and they will build... Flex-fuel hybrid vehicles that is.

    If anyone would like help trouble-shoot my numbers a little more, feel free to contact me through my hyper-linked name.

  • ||

    This explains why Colorado residents voted to give themselves a tax increase. They're a bunch of dope smoking hippies. Keep increasing taxes like the northeast, Illinois and the left coast. That giant sucking sound will be jobs moving to red states. Good job dopers.

    RAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAhRAh!

  • ||

    RA: if you bothered to read the news reports, you'll see that the CO tax increase was passed by the support of the state Republican governor, Republican legislators, and the districts with majority conservative leanings. But why bother with facts, when making things up is so much easier? You should get a job working for Faux News.

  • ||

    Adam:

    From what I've read the SAFER folks appear, to me, to be performing a "freak-out" with the "squares" about this issue, and I think it has a high (heh heh) chance to backfire. Being all jokey reinforces the pothead stereotype just a little too much.

    And I agree 100% that alcohol is much more dangerous then weed, and the irony of it being the "legal" intoxicant, yada yada yada. But SAFER's contention that boozehounds would automatically switch to consuming weed alone is just plain silly. Drunks will always be drunks. This only means that we will have more stoned drunks, and these are the assholes who get in trouble and screw it up for us.

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    NO Pot has been legal for medicinal use in Denver for awhile now but they legalized it for recreational use for those of you who dont understand.....

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    Does it really matter if pot is legal, the same actions are going to be taken. Lets hope its not legal for the long run so they cant tax the fuck out of the stuff.

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    "if you bothered to read the news reports, you'll see that the CO tax increase was passed by the support of the state Republican governor, Republican legislators, and the districts with majority conservative leanings"

    I'd like to add my view on the support of the tax increase.
    100% of the Democratic Legislature supported it
    Our Republican Gov supported it
    37% and 47% of our Republican Senate & House supported it

    If both sides had stuck to 100% truth, I think this measure would have failed.

  • ||

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