While the rest of the state bickers about medical marijuana, and what kind of limitations should or shouldn't be placed upon it (read Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's take here), Breckenridge is considering decriminalizing ganja for those without health issues, too, via 2F, a measure earmarked for the Breck ballot this November. Sean McAllister of Sensible Breckenridge, who's helping to lead the 2F campaign, is optimistic about its chances in part because of the area's response to Amendment 44, a 2006 ballot initiative that failed statewide.
"Amendment 44 didn't lose in Breckenridge," McAllister says en route to a pro-2F rally held this morning. "About 72 percent of Breckenridge voters and 62 percent of Summit County voters supported it. And that's a good sign for 2F."
The similarities between 2F and the current marijuana law in Denver are considerable. "The ballot initiative asks the town to change the law so there will no longer be a criminal penalty for possession of less than an ounce by adults over 21," McAllister points out.
Of course, the measure would have been unnecessary had Amendment 44 gone into effect -- and McAllister feels its rejection has led to the waste of local law-enforcement resources. "There's been over a hundred prosecutions in the town of Breckenridge for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana since 2006. And during that same time, there's been 400 marijuana prosecutions for possession of less than an ounce in Summit County as a whole, which is about a quarter of the number in Denver. In Denver, there are about 1,600 prosecutions a year, and for a tiny county with 25,000 people to have a quarter of the arrests as there are in a place that's so much bigger is offensive to those of us who pay taxes and live here."
If there's momentum for broader decriminalization of marijuana in Breckenridge (and the 1,500 people who signed a petition to get 2F on the ballot suggests that there is), push-back elsewhere has been considerable, with Colorado Attorney General John Suthers leading the charge for imposing limits on medical-marijuana dispensaries. Them's fighting words for McAllister, who is also the chairman of the board for Sensible Colorado.
"What it comes down to in my opinion is sour grapes," he argues. "The people enacted a constitutional amendment about medical marijuana, and it says what it says. But the establishment players have always been uncomfortable with the will of the voters on this, and they're always looking for a way to undermine or retract it in some way. From the beginning, you had people like Suthers and Ken Salazar saying, 'Watch out, doctors. We might prosecute you.' But the only people who can limit medical marijuana are the voters, and we'll aggressively litigate against any attempt to limit it in other ways."
Nonetheless, McAllister concedes that "some reasonable limitations might be appropriate -- like a taxation of it. And a number of local towns are implementing reasonable limits. I testified in Eagle County about this, and they approved regulations -- and other mountain and Front Range towns are on the verge of doing the same thing, as they should. These are local issues, and state lawmakers shouldn't try to undermine the voters in those communities."
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A lot of the panic over the increase in medical-marijuana patients is misplaced, McAllister believes. "We've got 15,000 to 18,000 patients now, and Oregon, a state of similar size, has about 30,000 -- and California, which has had the law longer and is much larger, has over 200,000 patients. And part of my message to people is that this is part of the natural build-out of people who would benefit from medical marijuana, and it's really not that large a percentage of the population. Even if there are 30,000 patients in Colorado, that's only half a percent or one percent of the people in the state, even though an estimated 10 to 15 percent of all adults smoke marijuana."
For that reason, McAllister thinks "all this angst over medical marijuana supposedly being a back door to legalization isn't supported by the facts. It's an overreaction -- a continuation of the establishment's uneasiness with the will of the voters. But I think it's going to be okay in the long run."
Especially in Breckenridge.