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Marijuana: Colorado's poor alcohol regulation shouldn't be duplicated for pot, study says

Last week, Denver mayor Michael Hancock advocated for tight regulation of marijuana in the wake of Amendment 64's signing, including a ban on pot clubs.

Another indication of the Hancock administration's desire for tough regs? A new study from the Denver Office of Drug Strategy, which argues that marijuana shouldn't be regulated like alcohol, because alcohol isn't regulated strictly enough.

Read the study and get details below.

The study, entitled "Regulating Substances with a Public Health Approach: Lessons Learned from Alcohol Regulation," was penned by Vanessa Fenley, who reportedly spent six years with the Denver Office of Drug Strategy. Last month, according to the Fort Collins Coloradoan, Fenley was hired to head up Homeward 2020, an organization devoted to fighting homelessness.

Among the study's most intriguing and potentially controversial points involves the suggestion that alcohol regulation in Colorado leaves much to be desired and shouldn't be copied when it comes to marijuana. Here's an excerpt:

Although the amendment's campaign was titled 'The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol,' and some alcohol regulations may be appropriately applied to marijuana, it is not enough to simply duplicate alcohol's current regulatory structure for marijuana. A primary concern with an approach that tries to perfectly parallel alcohol policy is that alcohol is neither well-regulated nor well-taxed in Colorado. For instance, the beer tax for the state is the fourth lowest in the nation and has not been increased since 1976.

Note that in this context -- one Fenley equates with public health -- relatively low taxes are seen as an example of poor policy.

Fenley fears taking a similar approach for marijuana will result in an increase of underage cannabis consumption, just as is the case when it comes to alcohol. Another excerpt:

A general lack of attention among policymakers and the community as well as active lobbying by industry players against the most effective regulations according to public health practices has resulted in correspondingly high rates of underage drinking. Nationwide, around 26 percent of individuals ages twelve to twenty have used alcohol in the past month; in Colorado, almost 33 percent of our underage youth have consumed alcohol in the past month. In addition, almost one quarter of Denver youth started drinking at age twelve or younger.

Does this mean Fenley -- and, by association, the City of Denver -- believes taxes on alcohol should be raised, and raised dramatically? That's one way to read this passage. But Fenley also feels that such errors shouldn't be made for weed. "The negative outcomes associated with loose and outdated alcohol regulation should serve as a charge to local and state policymakers to develop marijuana regulations that will effectively deter youth from using marijuana," she writes.

As noted on the website of Dr. Christian Thurstone, a member of the now-disbanded Amendment 64 task force and one of the driving forces behind Project SAM, a national organization advocating for tougher marijuana laws with a focus on public health, the report was submitted to the Denver City Council, whose marijuana subcommittee hosted Hancock last week.

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Here's the complete report:

Lessons Learned From Alcohol Regulation Report

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Project SAM touts public-health approach to pot in fighting legalization."

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