The Operation Sweet Leaf raids of 25 home grows were more than justified according to North Metro Drug Task Force Commander Jerry Peters. But in addition to talking with us about the busts, Peters also said that allowing adult recreational use of marijuana would constitute a tragic error -- a thesis rejected by Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act proponent Brian Vicente.
Peters documented the damage to homes created by unregulated grows, including mold that could endanger future residents. He also noted that illicit cultivators like those targeted by Operation Sweet Leaf, who allegedly shipped many pounds of product around the region, often run up massive electrical bills and then abandon the property without ponying up, increasing costs for all of us.
Vicente, who heads up the group Sensible Colorado, agrees that these are important issues. "We're not arguing that people should be able to grow marijuana in their homes on a large scale and ship it out of state," he says.
But he finds less common ground in other statements made by Peters. "There are still people who say, 'Why not make it like alcohol and regulate it? Then you could tax it, and you'd have all these revenues,'" he told us. "But that's just not the case. Look at all the problems we have with alcohol -- and the social cost to us is much, much higher than the revenue it brings in when you factor in traffic fatalities and addiction center visits and everything else."
Legalizing or regulating marijuana would "compound the problem, and I think it's going to make it even worse," Peters continued. "You're going to inundate the state with drugs -- and look at the problems we already have with prescription drugs. That's our second highest abuse problem in this state, and that's strictly regulated. And you can't really regulate marijuana, as we've learned through our medical marijuana program. That's a joke."
"I think Peters is the last of his kind -- a law enforcement officer who makes his living off of having marijuana be illegal," he allows. "He's afraid of new approaches about how to regulate a substance that's inarguably safer than alcohol -- and now it looks like he's ready to ban alcohol as well."
Not that Vicente thinks making alcohol illegal is the right thing to do. But he contends that "alcohol is just a far more dangerous substance for the user and for society. It contributes to problems of violence, including domestic violence, that marijuana simply does not. We're talking about apples and oranges here."
Another negative side effect of marijuana's accessibility, Peters says, has been an increase in robberies and the like. But Vicente believes that "crimes associated with marijuana are directly tied to its prohibition. Right now, marijuana is largely being sold on the black market, and that's where we see secondary violence and other problems. But if we were able to move it behind the counter, we'd not only have a new source of tax revenues, but we'd also be able to keep it away from children. People would ask for an ID when selling it, users would know what they were buying, and it would take the power and money away from the cartels.
"I really think Mr. Peters needs to pick up a history book and look at alcohol prohibition and see how that didn't work for society -- how it fueled violence and other problems. He needs to reexamine marijuana prohibition through that lens."
Granted, not all present and former officers share Peters's opinion, as demonstrated by our recent interview with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition executive director Neill Franklin. But Peters is hardly alone in his concerns about cannabis regulation, and his comments about pushing back against the growing cultural acceptance of marijuana suggests that more folks of like minds will speak up if the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act is approved for the November ballot -- something Vicente says could happen as early as Friday.
How will advocates of the act respond?
"We're certainly going to be engaging in a large degree of public education," Vicente says. "We think Coloradans are ready for new ideas about how to approach the eighty-year failed policy of marijuana prohibition."
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As for Peters, Vincente feels that "his by-and-large baseless statements show he's just drinking the dogmatic, drug-war Kool-Aid. I think he needs to focus on doing actual detective work as opposed to trying to shape voter opinions. That doesn't seem like a proper role for him."
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: U.S. Attorney 'not bluffing' about seizing dispensaries near schools."