In touting the break-up of an alleged drug ring said to be using medical marijuana as cover, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers suggested a link between the MMJ biz and illegal dealing.
Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente sees this statement and others as evidence Suthers is wasting taxpayers' money on an anti-pot campaign.
"I certainly don't feel like the arrest of a small group of citizens should serve as an indictment of the medical marijuana program and the many people who find benefit from our constitutional amendment," Vicente says.
"Certainly, people should not be using it as a front for recreational sales -- but what we have are simply allegations. We don't really know if that happened or not," he points out, adding, "The really surprising thing to me about this incident was the politically charged nature of attorney general Suthers's comments."
In a press release about the arrests, which included Laura Vanwormer, co-owner of Colorado CHRONIX, a meet-up group, Suthers said:
"This case, while disturbing, should come as no surprise to Coloradans who have been concerned that there is a nexus between Colorado's booming medical marijuana industry and illegal distribution of the drug. This case counters the contention among marijuana advocates and some public officials that a regulated medical marijuana system will undercut the illicit market for marijuana."
These remarks smack of "a political stunt," Vicente maintains. When Suthers "arrests people and the same day issues various proclamations about how all medical marijuana is a farce and people are using the law as a front and all this garbage -- which is, by and large, untrue -- it begs the question of what role the attorney general is playing. Are there no other crimes or more pressing issues than people selling medical marijuana? It's sort of shocking that he doesn't have anything better to do, and fundamentally, I think he's wasting taxpayer dollars on these probably fruitless prosecutions."
Not that Vicente denies the possibility of individuals legally selling medical marijuana to patients at the same time they're dealing pot for recreational use in violation of federal law.
"There was a gray area for many years," he says, "when it was arguably legal to have dispensaries, but people were trying to figure out what the laws were. But more and more, those laws have become clearer, and there's a transition from the gray market to the mainstream market. And by and large, the vast majority of providers are simply medical providers. They're not dealing in any recreational fashion."
As such, he describes the allegations in last week's bust, if proven true in court, as isolated incidents, despite his belief that "John Suthers and his cronies are attempting to paint them as commonplace occurrences."
Could this tack be an attempt to undermine a campaign to legalize marijuana for adult use in 2012?
"There is a back story here," Vicente allows. "The reason we have an illicit market is because marijuana is not yet legal for all adults. We don't see large scale alcohol distribution rings being busted by the state, and once marijuana is legal for adult use, hopefully at the end of 2012, I think we're going to see that illicit market absolutely fade away. And these law enforcement officials will be forced to focus on real crime -- on the problems that are actually nagging at our society. They'll be forced to use taxpayer dollars more effectively."
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In the meantime, Vicente points to "Not So Fast, Mr. Suthers," a Sunday column by the Denver Post's Vince Carroll, as a way of portraying Suthers as a zealot on the issue of medical marijuana. Carroll -- a conservative on many issues, but a supporter of medical marijuana -- actually needles Vicente in the piece, scoffing at his suggestion that young people may turn away from trying pot because many of the patients using it medically are elderly. But he saves his heaviest ammunition for the AG, writing, "The more implacable opponents of dispensaries and decriminalization, Suthers included, rarely acknowledge the social costs of the war on pot or its toll on personal freedom and civil liberties -- or even that some dispensary patients actually are seeking pain relief as opposed to a recreational high."
Vicente expresses his thoughts about Suthers's "crusade" more bluntly.
"I really think attorney general Suthers needs to get a life," he says. "There are more important priorities, more important things to use our state's resources for, than targeting adults for allegedly selling a drug less harmful than alcohol. This political posturing is getting absurd."