Update below: Marijuana fared a lot better than Democrats did at the polls yesterday. Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. passed recreational marijuana measures closely modeled on Colorado's, and while a medical marijuana amendment failed in Florida, it still managed to collect 58 percent support. (Under Florida law, 60 percent was required for approval). But even as marijuana reformers across the country celebrate, could Colorado be facing a pot crackdown? That's a very real possibility.
Conventional wisdom has suggested that marijuana initiatives struggle during non-presidential years, when younger voters often stay home and the electorate skews older. Witness the defeat of a legalization push in California circa 2010 but the passage of ones in Colorado and Washington in 2012. But this year's results suggest that the perceived success of the Colorado-Washington experiment is producing enough momentum to overcome such a scenario.
Oregon's Vote Yes on 91 campaign celebrated victory last night with this graphic....
...while Alaska's pro-legalization campaign, whose name -- Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol -- directly references a pitch that worked in Colorado, responded with this post:
Cannabis supporters in Washington, D.C., enjoyed a much larger margin of victory, as witnessed by vote totals shared by the campaign: The D.C. win could be short-circuited, since Congress has to sign off on it -- and as a result of yesterday's vote, Republicans will control both the House and the Senate come January. But this caveat doesn't dim the enthusiasm of the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell, who put the cannabis vote in perspective in an e-mail to Westword.
"With marijuana legal in the federal government's backyard, it's going to be increasingly difficult for national politicians to continue ignoring the growing majority of voters who want to end prohibition," Angell writes. "I've been saying for a while that 2016 presidential candidates need to start courting the cannabis constituency, and now the road to the White House quite literally travels through legal marijuana territory."
Clearly, Colorado's influence on all of these races, as well as one in far-off Guam, which approved medical marijuana yesterday, cannot be underestimated. But depending on the outcome of the governor's race, the home base of 21st Century marijuana legalization could be in for a crackdown.
Governor John Hickenlooper, who holds a small lead at this writing (with more votes set to be counted in the coming hours), opposed recreational marijuana legalization and recently called voters' decision to pass it "reckless." However, he's practically a cannabis cheerleader in comparison to GOP challenger Bob Beauprez.
When asked if Colorado should limit the availability of medical marijuana permits during a Denver Post debate last month, Beauprez said, "Well, I think anybody who's just a little bit objective about this understands that it's being abused right now. It's being abused intentionally, and it's being abused at the risk of a whole lot of people in our society. That's the challenge in front of us. And we've now got it in our law, whether we like it or not -- and I didn't like it, for the record.
"But it is the law, and I'll take an oath to uphold the law and enforce the law," Beauprez added. "But what we have to do is regulate it as tightly as we can within the law and the understanding of the law. We had a medical marijuana first and now we've got Amendment 64 that says it's supposed to be recreational, but that it's not supposed to be used in public, but yet we see it used all around town, including out in front of the governor's office in Civic square park in public.
"That's not letting law enforcement and that's not giving the citizens really the support to enforce the law as they passed it. That's a challenge I think governors and others in elected office have to be willing to accept. It's a challenge to enforce the law the way it was supposed to be enforced."
Update: Moments ago, numerous media outlets declared John Hickenlooper the winner of the Colorado governor's race. For more details, click here.
Nonetheless, Hickenlooper has also made noises about getting stricter when it comes to MMJ cards. In the same Denver Post debate from which the Bob Beauprez quotes above are derived, Hickenlooper said this:
"So this gets into some very delicate territory, but, yes, I think we should. When you have a system with clear rules you need to be very careful that it doesn't get abused, and there's a widespread belief that if you look at a relatively small number of doctors are writing the vast majority of prescriptions that are growing very rapidly. The challenge here is that we still have to figure out how to protect and respect the sanctity of the relationship between a patient and his doctor, so it's not like you can go run willy nilly and say this is a problem and we're going to dramatically change everything.
"We have endeavored consistently to try and -- the tough thing is no one's ever done this before, so the whole notion of a private recreational marijuana market and we have to make sure that we don't let the cost, the taxes make it too high, because then it encourages a black market. But certainly we need to tighten up and make sure this abuse doesn't continue."
Here's a Post video featuring MMJ comments from Hickenlooper and Beauprez.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.