Amendment 64: Warnings from U.S. Attorney, State Patrol, CU boss as measure becomes law

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Yesterday, Governor John Hickenlooper quietly signed Amendment 64. But the reaction from major players who oppose the new pot law has been considerably louder. U.S. Attorney John Walsh and the Colorado State Patrol both issued terse warnings calculated to harsh the buzzes of celebrants. And a prior message from CU president Bruce Benson is even more negative, claiming that A64 may cost the university a billion dollars. Walsh is among the most closely watched amendment observers. After all, he represents the Justice Department, whose overseer, Attorney General Eric Holder, could attempt to block the retail provisions of the measure. Before yesterday, though, his sole comments on the act's passage were three sentences released after voters approved it in November. That statement reads:

The Department of Justice's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. We are reviewing the ballot initiative and have no additional comment at this time.

Then, a few hours after Hickenlooper's office unveiled a proclamation making Amendment 64 legal, Walsh broke his silence, albeit in a manner that expands on his previous remarks in only minor ways. The new comment reads:

The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington state. The Department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither States nor the Executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 10th in Colorado, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses.

If this language sounds familiar, it should. Around 90 percent of the text duplicates lines from a statement released by Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, just before Washington state's marijuana-related Initiative 502 became law on December 6. Also weighing in after the signing was the Colorado State Patrol, whose chief, Colonel James Wolfinbarger, apparently anticipates a rash of stoned drivers hitting the road now that Amendment 64 has been enshrined in the state constitution. Hence, the following release, issued under the subject line "Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana is Still Illegal." Here it is:

As Amendment 64 is added to The Colorado Constitution by proclamation of Governor Hickenlooper, The Colorado State Patrol would like to remind motorists that if you chose to consume marijuana and make the decision to drive that you are taking a huge risk.

"Drivers must realize that if you are stopped by law enforcement officials and it is determined that your ability to operate a motor vehicle has been affected to the slightest degree by drugs or alcohol or both, you may be arrested and subjected to prosecution under Colorado's DUI/DUID laws," said Colonel James Wolfinbarger, Chief of the Colorado State Patrol. "It is imperative that everyone takes responsibility for public safety when driving on Colorado's highways."

Make a choice to designate a sober driver prior to celebrating this holiday season.

Still, these statements are restrained in comparison to one CU's Benson unleashed a short time before A64 became official.

Continue to read about Bruce Benson and his Amendment 64 statement. The University of Colorado has long been uncomfortable with its reputation as a marijuana mecca, epitomized by the school's first-place finish in the Princeton Review's reefer madness category this past August. Witness the school's unprecedented crackdown on the annual 4/20 event this year, as well as the recent we're-very-serious response to a prank by two students, who fed pot brownies to an unsuspecting professor and classmates.

Benson's message to students, headlined "The Threat From Legal Pot," is perfectly in keeping with this theme -- yet it takes the demonizing of A64 a step further via the billion-dollar-loss prospect. How does he arrive at this figure? By suggesting that CU could see all of its federal research and federal student-aid funds vanish because of the act. He does the math below.

These bucks are contingent on CU obeying the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which isn't superseded by Amendment 64. Hence, the potential disappearance of these dollars seems extraordinarily unlikely, if not flat-out impossible -- and politically, a move to punish the university for the actions of state voters appears to be a non-starter. But decide for yourself by checking out Benson's argument.

When Colorado voters in November passed Amendment 64, which legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use, it led to a number of questions. Most uncertainty surrounds the conflict between the new state law and federal law, under which marijuana remains illegal. Amendment 64 will be signed into law in January and take effect in January 2014.

But for the University of Colorado, the issue is clear. Marijuana threatens to cost the university nearly a billion dollars annually in federal revenue, money we can ill afford to lose.

I was personally opposed to Amendment 64 and worked on my own time to defeat it. But it passed and CU, like many entities, is working to determine the implications.

The glaring practical problem is that we stand to lose significant federal funding. CU must comply with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which compels us to ban illicit drugs from campus. Our campuses bring in more than $800 million in federal research funds, not to mention nearly an additional $100 million in funding for student financial aid. The loss of that funding would have substantial ripple effects on our students and our state. CU contributes $5.3 billion to Colorado's economy annually, a good portion of it derived from our research.

Additionally, we have worked hard to fight the image of CU as a party school. While we are not naïve about the behavior of some of our students, we know that the party school image is vastly overstated. The publications that promote such nonsense, such as Playboy and the Princeton Review, use research methodology that would earn them an "F" in any CU class. The vast majority of our students are serious and hardworking and don't appreciate that their school's reputation is sullied by suspect methodology and vague notions.

Likewise, the 4/20 event we worked to shut down last year (and will continue to in coming years), paints a picture of CU that is far from accurate. More than two-thirds of those who participate are not CU students. Regardless, it is not what we want our university known for.

We are not only within our rights to ban marijuana on our campuses, it is the right thing to do. Many insist the legalization votes in Colorado and Washington state are in part a referendum on the war on drugs, and the point is hard to argue. That is a discussion we should have as a society. However, in a tenuous funding environment, the possibility of losing nearly a billion dollars is a chance we simply cannot take. We have better things to focus on.

For feedback, contact officeofthepresident@cu.edu


Bruce Benson President

More from our Marijuana archive: "Photos: CU-Boulder touts 4/20 success despite boundary breech, concert disaster."

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