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Amendment 44 Prompts Questions About Pot

LdyLunatic

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Colorado -- Marijuana, like alcohol, is an intoxicant. With Amendment 44 on Colorado’s ballot this November, talk has focused on whether issues related to the drug would worsen if the proposal passes.
According to the American Medical Association, marijuana can cause impairment of short-term memory, attention, motor skills, reaction time and organization of complex information. A 2001 report issued by the AMA concerning the pros and cons of medical marijuana (now legal in Colorado) found that 4 to 9 percent of marijuana users meet the diagnostic criteria for substance dependence.

“It is true that tolerance and dependence, the two factors indicating physical addiction, don’t develop as quickly or as intensely with marijuana as they do with other drugs,” Montrose clinical psychologist Nicholas Taylor said.

“However, it is important to note that addiction is a parallel experience involving both physical and psychological factors.”

Taylor didn’t have an opinion on Amendment 44, a measure that would decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana by adults over 21 (see related story), but spoke generally of pot’s addictive qualities.

He said that while heavy marijuana use may not lead to severe withdrawal tendencies and cravings, its frequent use to deal with stress can make it hard for people to cope without at least a little bit of the drug. People also use alcohol the same way, Taylor said.

“When it comes to marijuana, regardless the legality of any substance — alcohol and prescription drugs included — it can be psychologically addictive if misused to accomplish a mental state or mood the person is not able to, or is unwilling to accomplish on their own.”

Amendment 44 supporter Mason Tvert said alcohol was far more devastating than marijuana, but legal for adults to consume. Tvert is part of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation Colorado.

“We don’t encourage them to do it (pot), but the fact is, it’s out there. As adults, we’re faced with many choices. We simply think adults should be allowed to make the rational, safer choice to use marijuana rather than alcohol.”

Additionally, he said it’s marijuana’s illegal status, not its addictive properties, that create the perception that it’s a “gateway drug.”

“People don’t refer to alcohol or tobacco as illegal. But when millions of people use marijuana, we’re forcing them into an illegal market where they have other illegal substance available.”

Opponents said SAFER hadn’t offered any proof that marijuana is less harmful than other drugs. Several organizations have come out against Amendment 44 because they believe it will harm children.

Jeffrey Sweetin, agent in charge of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s Rocky Mountain Division said criminalizing alcohol for those under 21 hadn’t stopped them from abusing the substance. (As a federal agency, the DEA does not take official positions on legislation.)

“Using the alcohol example is one piece of evidence that things that are legal for adults become very interesting to kids.”

He pointed to Alaska, which had decriminalized pot for adults, but saw an increase in use and addiction rates for teenagers.

“All of a sudden, we say it’s legal for adults. We’re sending those kids the message, ‘We’re wrong; it’s not harmful.’ We’re really at the edge of sending our kids a very dangerous message and that is that it’s a safe drug.”

But Tvert said the present system isn’t keeping marijuana from kids. He reported that 86 percent of surveyed high school students said it was easy to get marijuana, while others were under the mistaken perception that smoking marijuana once a week was more risky than binge drinking.

“If they’re so concerned about kids using marijuana, we need to take all the resources we’re wasting on adults,” he said. “Clearly, the system’s not working right now. We do not think anyone under 21 should use marijuana, but we do need to tell the truth about it.”

Complete Title: Safer or Not? Amendment 44 Prompts Questions About Pot

Source: Montrose Daily Press (CO)
Published: Friday, September 22, 2006
Copyright: 2006 Montrose Daily Press
 

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Foes, Supporters Spar on Amendment 44

Montrose, CO -- As election time draws near, the debate concerning a marijuana amendment on the ballot is heating up.
Drug enforcement officials say Amendment 44, which would legalize adult possession of less than one ounce of pot, would increase demand — and hence, supply from violent, organized crime units. There are also health concerns, particularly such as those related to children.

“As a federal executive branch agency, we’re not for or against legislation. My opinion is it’s a mistake, but the DEA’s opinion is this would be a very dangerous thing for Coloradans,” said Jeffrey Sweetin, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s four-state Rocky Mountain Division.

“There’s no discussion about where people would get their drugs. They’re going to continue getting their drugs from organized crime.”

Locally, the Delta/Montrose Drug Task Force opposes 44 and was in the process Thursday of preparing a letter to be signed by a number of chiefs and sheriffs in the 7th Judicial District.

Proponents, however, said inaccurate language in the state’s “blue book” voting guide had created misconceptions about the amendment.

“It stated it (amendment) would make it legal to transfer under one ounce to people 15 and up,” Mason Tvert of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation Colorado said Tuesday.

Tvert said that wasn’t the case, as the amendment does not affect existing statutes concerning contributing to the delinquency of a minor. “It will remain a class-4 felony to give any amount of drugs to a minor. That’s the big discrepancy that’s primarily led to all these issues.”

Some of the measure’s critics initially claimed that since giving pot without accepting payment can be defined as possession, adults could provide marijuana to 15- to 17-year-olds — language that made it into the blue book.

SAFER’s attempt to have the courts address that language was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds earlier this month. “They want this to be an argument about young people, when it’s about adults,” Tvert said.

The amendment would allow people 21 and older to possess less than one ounce of marijuana. SAFER said it would remain illegal to use it in public or to provide it to those under 21 and that the proposal does not remove criminal penalties for driving under the influence of pot, or for distributing it.

The amendment would change existing statute to make possession of less than one ounce by those under 21 a class-2 petty offense, punishable by a $100 fine. The change would mean the simple possession law only applies to those under 21, while now it applies to people of any age.

Tvert also said Amendment 44 would not prevent local home rule governmental entities from enacting their own ordinances concerning marijuana possession. Instead, it would prevent prosecution for low-level possession on a state-level charge.

But drug enforcement officials said the amendment sent a message that would undo years of successful drug-awareness education. “This is a stepping stone path to legalize drugs at all levels,” Sweetin said. “Ounce possessors of marijuana don’t go to jail. Anywhere.”

He also questioned the logic of decriminalizing only quantities under an ounce.

“Why the ounce? If it’s so safe, why isn’t SAFER trying to legalize it (pot) at any level?” Sweetin said. “It’s a silly law. It’s not going to change anything. ... Even SAFER would admit there would be more marijuana users in Colorado if they legalize this.”

Marijuana possession would remain a violation of federal law regardless the amendment’s fate. Both sides agreed federal agents would not have the resources to enforce those laws.

Federal agents, Tvert said, would have the power to arrest anyone for possession, but it would require federal prosecution. “It’s not going to happen,” he said. “We will have conflicting laws. We have various levels of government.”

“When we work marijuana, we work in bales of marijuana,” Sweetin said. “Unfortunately, the organizations running meth and heroin into Denver are the same ones running marijuana.”

Tvert said it wasn’t necessarily true that all pot ultimately comes from major dealers. “How is it that a 21-year-old kid growing pot in Boulder is contributing to any other drugs? If that (organized crime) is their biggest problem, we need to regulate it.”

He contended the initiative’s opponents have a financial interest in keeping all pot illegal and said 50 percent of the nation’s drug budget goes toward fighting marijuana.

Sweetin called the idea that police want the drug to remain illegal so they can keep their jobs “a ludicrous argument.”

“We’re not trying to keep ourselves employed. We’re working meth, coke, heroin.”

Source: Montrose Daily Press (CO)
Author: Katharhynn Heidelberg, Daily Press News Editor
Published: Friday, September 22, 2006
Copyright: 2006 Montrose Daily Press
 

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