Earlier this week, we posted about President Barack Obama's latest marijuana comments: He told the New Yorker that pot isn't more dangerous than alcohol, and considers it to be less risky "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer."
Cannabis reform advocate Mason Tvert was heartened by Obama's take. So, too, is Representative Jared Polis, who has written a letter to the President and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid inviting them to tour a Colorado dispensary and grow.
Polis isn't a newcomer to this issue. He's spent years arguing that Colorado should be allowed to enact its own marijuana laws, even if they contradict federal law.
This past August, the Obama administration took steps in this direction, announcing that it wouldn't sue to stop Amendment 64, the voter-approved measure that allows adults 21 and above in Colorado to use and possess small amounts of marijuana. But he's remained cautious in his personal remarks about pot. In the New Yorker interview, he called it "a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life."
President Barack Obama during a 2012 campaign appearance in Boulder.
Photo by Eric Gruneisen
Nonetheless, Obama's statements in regard to alcohol and marijuana broke new ground, and he was explicit about what he sees as the inequities of punishment when it comes to pot.
"Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do," he said. "And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties." As such, he went on, "we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing."
Obama also referenced Colorado and Washington, the two states that have legalized recreational pot sales. In his view, their efforts should be allowed "because it's important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished."
These remarks clearly prompted Polis's letter to Obama and Reid. We've reproduced the text from the entire document below, but Polis begins by thanking the two men "for your recent comments regarding your shifting positions on the regulation and legalization of marijuana. It is vital that our nation's leaders recognize that marijuana's placement on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and has classified countless people as criminals simply for using or being in possession of a substance that, as you noted, Mr. President, is less dangerous than alcohol 'in terms of its individual impact on consumers.'"
With that in mind, Polis extends "an invitation to both of you to visit Colorado and join me to visit a legal dispensary and grow operation to see how the law is being implemented in the state. I am confident that when you see Colorado's work to implement the law while protecting children and raising revenue for our schools firsthand, we can begin to make similar efforts on a federal level."
What are the chances of Obama and Reid taking up Polis on this offer? Mighty slim, in all likelihood. But if Colorado's marijuana experiment inspires other states to follow suit, such a visit at some point in the future is no longer beyond the realm of possibility.
Obama during a 2011 appearance in Denver.
Here's the text of the letter in its entirety:
The Honorable Barack Obama President of the United States of America The White House Washington, D.C. 20500
The Honorable Harry Reid Majority Leader U.S. Senate Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear President Obama and Majority Leader Reid:
I am writing to thank you both for your recent comments regarding your shifting positions on the regulation and legalization of marijuana. It is vital that our nation's leaders recognize that marijuana's placement on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and has classified countless people as criminals simply for using or being in possession of a substance that, as you noted, Mr. President, is less dangerous than alcohol "in terms of its individual impact on consumers."
As you both know, the state of Colorado began the regulated and legal sale of marijuana on January 1st, 2014, following the approval of Amendment 64 by the voters in the 2012 election. By regulating marijuana in the same way we do alcohol, Colorado has an opportunity to reduce crime and to help keep marijuana out of the hands of children. Mr. President, I appreciate your acknowledgement that often times, minorities and populations with lower incomes are disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana.
Majority Leader Reid, I was also encouraged by your assessment that, "We waste a lot of time and law enforcement," going after marijuana users. Since the law has been implemented in Colorado, we have been fortunate to see the number of cases filed in regards to marijuana offenses plummet by 77 percent. I was also pleased to read the Majority Leader's comments regarding how individuals who are suffering from an illness can often benefit from the relief provided by marijuana. For many, access to marijuana is the difference between being able to be treated for a life threatening illness or suffer even greater discomfort. As we strive to continue bringing our citizens the best health care in the world, we must be cognizant of the potential benefits that medicinal marijuana provides, and work to end the federal classification of marijuana, that according to U.S. Code has "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.".
I also agree with the assessment that legalization of marijuana is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution to the most pressing social problems of the day, and that it is a vice with potential negative health effects. We must be diligent in continuing to expand educational opportunities for children, discouraging the abuse of drugs and alcohol, keeping drivers under the influence of alcohol or marijuana off the roads, and increasing awareness of the dangers associated with their use.
It is with this in mind that I would like to extend an invitation to both of you to visit Colorado and join me to visit a legal dispensary and grow operation to see how the law is being implemented in the state. I am confident that when you see Colorado's work to implement the law while protecting children and raising revenue for our schools firsthand, we can begin to make similar efforts on a federal level.
Thank you for your consideration of my letter and I look forward to your response.
Jared Polis Member of Congress
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More from our Marijuana archive circa April 2013: "Marijuana: Jared Polis signs on to latest bill asking feds to respect state pot laws."