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Marijuana: Tom Tancredo says skip the scare tactics and give Amendment 64 a chance

Five-time congressman, two-time gubernatorial candidate and one-time presidential aspirant Tom Tancredo has never smoked pot. But he doesn't need to have used marijuana to recognize that the federal campaign against it has failed -- and to support Amendment 64. A former schoolteacher and regional Department of Education head under President Ronald Reagan, he does know education -- and he gives a recent story in the Denver Post connecting the passage of Amendment 64 with marijuana use in Colorado schools a failing grade.

And because he's Tom Tancredo, he has plenty more to say about why he supported Amendment 64, and "political and media elites...now hell-bent on thwarting Colorado's experiment with decriminalization before it even has a chance to begin." Here's Tom Tancredo's most recent missive:

Last November, I joined more than 1.3 million Coloradans in supporting an amendment to the state constitution legalizing the regulated use of marijuana by adults 21 and older. Defying conventional wisdom, Colorado voters backed the measure by a wide margin over the opposition of Democrat and Republican Party bigwigs, and in the face of scare tactics employed by a well-organized opposition and many in the mainstream media.

But while the outcome of the election may be settled (Amendment 64 garnered a larger share of the vote in Colorado than either Barack Obama in 2012 or John Hickenlooper in 2010) the fear-mongering campaign by those opposed to marijuana legalization continues unabated.

Still stinging from their overwhelming defeat at the ballot box, political and media elites are now hell-bent on thwarting Colorado's experiment with decriminalization before it even has a chance to begin.

Indeed, hardly a day goes by without a screaming headline or sensational "report" suggesting that Colorado's decision to end the failed policy of prohibition is unraveling the very fabric that holds our state together. This despite the fact that Amendment 64 has yet to be fully implemented.

You read that correctly: No regulations governing the retail sale of recreational marijuana have been finalized by state officials, and not a single establishment has been licensed to conduct such sales.

Even so, Amendment 64 is being blamed for all sorts of social ills -- many of which existed long before Colorado voters made the choice to move away from prohibition and toward regulation.

For example, one recent, lengthy Denver Post article suggests a causal connection between the passage of Amendment 64 and an alleged increase in marijuana use in schools. The news report, entitled "Pot problems in Colorado schools increase with legalization," presents the claims of those who argue that the volume of drug-related disciplinary actions in Colorado schools is attributable to "changing social norms surrounding marijuana."

Perhaps not surprisingly, many of these claims lack the support of hard, direct statistical evidence. Instead, they rely largely on "anecdotal" evidence -- evidence often presented by people who are, and have always been staunchly opposed to legalization.

To be clear, drug and alcohol abuse among students is a serious problem. It is a problem that people on both sides of the legalization debate care deeply about, and one that we must work together to solve. But it is disingenuous at best to link the vexing problem of substance abuse to a state constitutional change that has yet to actually go into effect.

It is also important to remember that in passing Amendment 64, voters directed lawmakers and other state officials to regulate marijuana the same way they regulate alcohol -- which means stiff penalties for those who contribute to the delinquency of a minor by illegitimately procuring the stuff for people under 21. I strongly support imposing penalties -- draconian penalties -- on those who buy marijuana or alcohol for people who aren't old enough to buy or possess them. And that goes for anyone who buy for someone under 21, whether the buyer is a friend, relative, or even a parent.

Critics of decriminalization are also quick to cite statistics suggesting that alcohol use has declined in recent years -- particularly among high-school students -- while marijuana use has remained steady or increased. This, they claim, is more "evidence" of the damage caused by Colorado's yet-to-be-implemented legalization measure.

But I see it differently. I believe such statistics provide a powerful argument for why regulation, and not prohibition, can help us curb youth access to intoxicating substances -- as it has with alcohol.

Think about it. Marijuana dealers don't ask their customers for ID to make sure they are 21 the way liquor store owners do. Consequently, marijuana's black-market status makes it much easier for many minors to purchase than alcohol. Don't believe me? Ask a teenager.

By putting marijuana under the same kind of state-managed, regulatory system now in place for alcohol, we will be in a position to move the marijuana trade out of the hands of street gangs and organized crime syndicates, and in to a regulated business sector -- one where proprietors have every incentive to follow the law, or risk losing their license and livelihood if they are caught selling to a minor.

If that evolution sounds familiar, it should. It is exactly the approach America followed in the last century when we decided to toss the failed policy of alcohol prohibition into the dustbin of history -- moving the alcohol trade off of the balance sheets of thugs like Al Capone, and on to the balance sheets of businesspeople with familiar last names like Coors and Busch.

Will Colorado's experiment with regulating marijuana be a panacea? Of course not.

Will legalization singlehandedly solve our national struggle with those persistent demons of substance abuse that torment so many families? Certainly not.

Will imposing a regulated licensing framework help us restrict youth access to marijuana, more effectively punish those irresponsible adults who facilitate that access, and reduce the scourge of violence associated with the drug trade? I believe it will.

For decades, government has spent astronomical sums of money and employed countless enforcement personnel at all levels in pursuit of a policy of marijuana prohibition. And by every measure, that policy -- like its cousin alcohol prohibition -- has failed, and failed miserably.

Instead of ratcheting up the hyperbole and attempting to whip up a modern-day version of the hilariously inaccurate "Reefer Madness" campaign of the 1930s, critics of Amendment 64 should respect the will of the people, and reserve their judgment until policymakers and regulators have been given an opportunity to chart the new approach that voters demanded last November. -- Tom Tancredo

Here's a Reefer Madness clip Tancredo supplied:

More from the Calhoun: Wake Up Call archive: "A century and a half later, the wounds of Sand Creek are still fresh."

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