Alex Martinez, Denver's Manager of Safety, does not want to weigh in on the policy debates around Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which has only added to the national attention Colorado is getting this election.
But, he tells us, one thing is clear: If it passes, there's likely to be a lot of chaos for officials charged with enforcing an amendment that would regulate recreational marijuana and thus contradict federal law.
Last week, we sat down with Martinez on the eve of his one-year anniversary with the city's Department of Safety, which has civilian authority over Denver's police, fire and sheriff departments. Among other things, he discussed police brutality with us, offering his take on how the city has handled various high-profile misconduct cases.
But we also had a chance to ask him about Amendment 64, which would make small amounts of marijuana legal for adults in Colorado, a state where medicinal marijuana dispensaries have already clashed with federal law enforcement.
Many of Martinez's colleagues have come out in opposition of Amendment 64 for a variety of reasons. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said it would have a negative impact on youth and Governor John Hickenlooper compared teen pot use to underage drinking. Opponents have also said they don't want Denver to be known as a mecca for pot, though Denver Police Chief Robert White once called the city a marijuana "capital."
When asked about the prospects of Amendment 64 passing, Martinez declined to share his personal opinion. "I'm reluctant to go there...because I'm a representative of the mayor.... The mayor is the elected official here, and the mayor has taken the position he has and talked about that position, and I just wouldn't want to say anything that is in any way taken as different from that."
But from a basic law enforcement standpoint, what does he think about questions of how the passage of Amendment 64 would play out, given that marijuana would be legal here but remain illegal on a national level?
On that matter, Martinez, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice, offered some insight.
"I would say that it's hard to imagine all of the spins of problems that would be created and how they should be handled," he noted, "Because...there will be conflicting laws. There will be conflicting obligations of law enforcement officials. There will be sort of a need for a lot of regulation and an opportunity for a lot of regulation, which would be a real challenge, and the potential that that falls short and then falls from state to local hands. Yeah, there will be a lot of turmoil, there's no question about that."
He continued, "I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Quite frankly, that's what the police department does best -- deal with turmoil. So I guess I'm not concerned at an alarm-level. But does it have a tremendous impact?... It would be tremendous change, and so will that be very unsettling and cause a lot of difficulties? Of course."
"Well, obviously, we're gonna have to do some training, in terms of what the police should be doing, when they should be doing it, and under what circumstances," Martinez said. "And what laws they're supposed to enforce and what laws they aren't supposed to enforce. And how this deals with such basic things, like when there's reasonable suspicion or when there's probable cause...because there was and then there isn't on the same issues."
Is it challenging because it's generally unprecedented?
"No, it's actually not unprecedented at all, as a matter of fact. The greatest example for the precedent in this area is the end of prohibition," he said. "I don't know how much sort of as an institution we have that kind of memory.... I think it's hard to foresee exactly all the twists and turns it will take.
"Any major change does involve turmoil and does involve contradictions and ultimately, people make a judgement call, I think, as to whether this change is so desirable that all of that turmoil is worth it. It'll be an expense as well. There's no question about that. It'll take a lot of resources from other things."
He added, "I think that Colorado will answer the question whether they want to engage in this experiment."
At the end of his comments, Martinez did offer more of a big picture take on drug policy.
"On a broader level...moving beyond just marijuana, we have been in a so-called drug war, or war on drugs, for decades -- tremendous expenditure of human and financial resources, and it doesn't seem to have made a dent on the American appetite for drugs.... And so, it clearly hasn't been successful," he said, referring to associated violence around markets in countries like Mexico and Columbia.
Not that marijuana is the same, he added.
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"Marijuana's a little bit different in terms of where the markets are and how will that affect national markets and what'll happen here with production and does that increase inflow from elsewhere or just makes it a place from which things will be exported. To me, those are all unanswered questions. People have opinions about them. But if it passes, we'll see," he said.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Amendment 64 opponent files complaint, Boulder DA investigating"