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Amendment 64: If it's a disaster, other states won't move to legalize pot, says GOP's Ryan Call

Since Amendment 64 passed in Colorado, Republican officials have been tasked with responding to a policy that the party didn't embrace but a majority of voters supported. With small amounts of recreational marijuana use to be okayed in the state constitution, GOP reps are supporting the state's right to make its own laws while expressing concerns about the policy itself. Take Colorado Republican Party chairman Ryan Call, who sees one potential positive in an A64 disaster: It will encourage other states to keep pot illegal.

At a campaign finance event last week, Call told us that there are a wide array of concerns he still has regarding the consequences of A64 -- but that ultimately, officials have to support the vote of the state.

Ryan Call speaking at a GOP Mitt Romney rally earlier this year.
Ryan Call speaking at a GOP Mitt Romney rally earlier this year.
Sam Levin

"There is great value in having the states, under our federalist system, be laboratories of experiment," Call said. "And if legalization of marijuana in Colorado or Washington...is shown to be a disaster, then other states hopefully will not follow suit. And that's part of the great American experiment.... In terms of the result of the election, our obligation is to honor the will of that majority, work to enact common-sense regulations that will help mitigate the negative consequences of legalization and empower local communities to decide what kind of an environment they want in terms of raising their kids or negotiating their businesses."

Since election day, some of the most discussed questions about the measure have involved the contradictions between Colorado and federal law. While possession of less than one ounce of marijuana will be legal for adults here, it remains federally illegal in any amount.

A week after A64 passed, Republican Congressman Mike Coffman, re-elected last month, said he would support legislation that would give Colorado an exemption from federal policy. In the announcement of that bill, also backed by Representative Diana DeGette, a Democrat, Coffman said he strongly opposed legalized marijuana but will now work to enact the change, since the state voted it in.

Tom Tancredo, the former congressman and Colorado gubernatorial candidate -- and one of the most prominent local Republicans to back A64 -- thinks conservatives should support the amendment. He said it fits with GOP values of less government and that if Republicans oppose "nanny-state activities," they should support Colorado's right to let adults smoke marijuana if they choose.

Call, however, expressed a lot more concern about the consequences of legalization.

"Our party has taken positions in opposition to the legalization of marijuana in connection with our recent state convention," he said. "And there are significant ramifications to both our business climate, and our kids, quality of schools, and a lot of other things like that.... This has to be resolved at the federal level."

Continue for more of our interview with Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call.

In discussions of legalization, opponents -- including high-profile officials from both parties -- worried about the impacts on teenagers , even though marijuana is still illegal for underage Coloradans, as well as the effect on businesses and the state's reputation.

An Amendment 64 supporter on election day in Colorado.
An Amendment 64 supporter on election day in Colorado.
Photo by Brandon Marshall

Call said he wants to see Colorado politicians consider legislation that allows local jurisdictions to regulate legal marijuana as they see fit.

"I...hope that our lawmakers in the state legislature are sensitive to local sensibilities," he stated, noting that municipalities should be able to control this kind of activity through zoning laws, similar to how so-called home-rule cities have been able to enact their own regulations of medical marijuana dispensaries. He cited limitations around schools as an example.

As we've noted, legislation is required to establish how retail shops for recreational marijuana could actually be established and that wouldn't happen until late 2013 or early 2014. Moreover, Amendment 64 allows local communities to opt out of allowing retail sales outlets.

"This will require some changes to federal legislation if we're going to reconcile what the voters in Colorado...have chosen," Call added. "I'm grateful for the leadership that Mike Coffman and others are taking to try to bring this to a debate and discussion at the federal level."

Call pointed out that while a majority of Colorado residents favored 64, many others did not. (Results from the Secretary of State's office show that 55.32 percent voted yes and 44.68 percent voted no).

"Our job is to honor and recognize the will of the voters. But it's also important to recognize a significant percentage of our voters here in Colorado expressed significant concerns about this kind of a dramatic change," Call said. "And Colorado now finds itself with one of the most...progressive...legalization statutes. It will require a significant amount of policy-making work at the state legislative level and local levels to figure out how to deal with the...negative impacts on the business climate and kids."

Residents will ask for these restrictions, he said.

"It really has to happen and I think that the voters, frankly, will demand it, because there's one thing to talk about it...in the abstract sense. Should marijuana be legalized? But there's also a very practical question: What is going to be the impact if we have marijuana being sold at every corner 7-Eleven?" he said.

He said he is worried about a rise in youth pot smoking. Supporters have argued that legalization will actually help law enforcement regulate underage smoking, which remains illegal.

Call noted that marijuana is especially harmful to the cognitive development of adolescents.

"That is something that I'm sure we're going to see an increase in," he said, "and that's problematic if we're talking about trying to help equip the next generation with the tools to compete and succeed.

"Part of the challenge is having it also hard-wired in the state constitution...because it makes it more difficult for legislators and policymakers to address what are a lot of unanswered questions."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Is Denver adding charges to keep minor pot cases alive after Amendment 64?"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.