“Spark the Discussion” is a monthly Legal Connection column highlighting the hottest trends in the emerging field of medical marijuana law. This column is brought to you by Vicente Sederberg, LLC, a full-service, community-focused medical marijuana law firm.
Election day has come and gone and, once again, numerous Colorado towns weighed in on marijuana policy. Most notably, four communities rejected bans on medical marijuana businesses (Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek, Routt County, and Palisade) and three areas endorsed bans (Fort Collins, Yampa, and Brush). A number of communities (Breckenridge, Commerce City, and Palisade) voted to enact higher taxes on medical marijuana sales.
Colorado has a rich history of tackling marijuana policy in the voting booth and most of these reform measures make their way to voters through the ballot initiative process. Ballot initiatives are a form of “direct democracy” where a group of citizens gather signatures to place a measure on a local or state ballot. The first Colorado community to use this process to shape marijuana laws was Breckenridge which passed a pro-medical marijuana initiative in 1994. Next up was Amendment 20, Colorado’s landmark medical marijuana constitutional measure, passed by 56% of voters in the year 2000. After that we saw campus initiatives which “equalized” marijuana and alcohol penalties under the student code of conduct pass in 2005 at both Colorado University and Colorado State University. That same year Denver became the first city in history to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana under its city code, while Telluride narrowly rejected a reform measure. Winding up the decade, both Breckenridge and Nederland passed progressive reforms relating to adult marijuana possession by wide margins.
We are now witnessing a backlash where, after almost two decades of voters passing pro-marijuana reform measures, citizens in certain communities are banding together to advance anti-marijuana initiatives. Most of these initiatives seek to ban dispensaries and other medical marijuana business from operating in the targeted community. As noted above, these “prohibition measures” have been met with mixed feelings by voters. As an example, last week’s vote to ban medical marijuana businesses in Fort Collins was stunningly close, with only 52% of voters supporting it.
Moving forward, we are likely to see more bans and medical marijuana taxes appear on local ballots as Colorado communities continue to grapple with this new policy topic. However, the true pulse of Colorado voters will be measured by their support (or rejection) of the statewide marijuana legalization measure, the Initiative to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. Proponents of this initiative, of which I am one, believe that Colorado would be better off with marijuana being treated like alcohol—taxed, sold from licensed stores, and limited to use by adults 21 and older. With about 118,000 signatures in hand (and a goal of 145,000) the campaign is poised to place the measure on the 2012 presidential ballot, thereby continuing Colorado’s vibrant conversation about marijuana policy.