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Amendment 44’s all smoke

Rohn Robbins

The front page teaser for Saturday’s Commentary section states: “Locking up a guy who smokes pot with hardened criminals is like throwing him to the wolves. Once he goes through the system, he doesn’t come out the same. Plus, it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.” The quote is Dana Jurich’s, excised from her “My View” column.I don’t know Dana and have no bone to pick with her. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t haggle with her over a little weed.Dana’s column in support of Amendment 44 is based on at least one fundamental mistake and on several ancillary matters that must be taken into consideration.First, as to Dana’s featured quote and the basic misunderstanding upon which it is premised: Under existing law, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is a class 2 “petty offense” and is punishable by a fine of up to $100. No one is thrown in jail in this state (with hardened criminals or otherwise) merely for possession of an ounce or less of pot.Amendment 44 proposes to legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 or older. Nothing more and nothing less. Accordingly, the amendment proposes to eliminate the petty offense of possession of less than an ounce of pot and to eliminate the potential fine accompanying the petty offense. If Amendment 44 passes, no one will be saved from hard time breaking rock.What else must be considered is what comes with possession. And that is purchase and sale. While “possession” may be decriminalized under the amendment, growing, selling or purchasing marijuana in any amount would not. They would remain felony offenses. Thus, if the proposed amendment is passed, buying or selling pot will continue to be a criminal offense, as will possession of more than an ounce and public consumption. It is also worth noting that possession – even of an ounce or less – will continue to be a federal crime.It is interesting that Amendment 44 would permit transferring marijuana to an individual over the age of 15 (so long as not for compensation) even though possession by a person under 21 would be illegal. That one leaves me scratching my head. Huh?Dana’s appeal to taxpayers is another red herring. Adopting Amendment 44 would simply not save taxpayer money. Actually, the inverse is true. The likelihood is that state revenues would decrease, however marginally, because fines would no longer be levied for possession of less than an ounce.Worth considering as well is that decriminalizing the petty offense of possession of an ounce or less would do nothing to promote regulation of the sale of pot, would do nothing to ensure its purity and would do nothing to subject pot to taxation. Neither would it do anything to take pot off the black market and, by so doing, dramatically reduce its price. Further, when you buy your weed, you would continue supporting an organized criminal enterprise. Just because your source is a fellow worker or a friend does not mean that a drug trade and drug hierarchy does not continue to exist. While your friend may not defend his or her turf with a gun, be assured that nearer to the source, there is terrible violence, unimaginable exploitation and turf wars to the death.If you want to legalize pot, then for god’s sake, legalize it. Take the criminal element out of it, regulate its purity and availability, and tax it. And do so at the federal level so that the laws of the state of Colorado are not subsumed by federal law.If enacted, Amendment 44 will do nothing but give the false impression that all is well when it is not. If true reform of marijuana laws is the goal, then effecting change must be where it will be effective. By voting yes, you may think that you are un-demonizing pot when in fact, you are not only subjecting yourself to potentially serious criminal prosecution, but also continuing to support a brutal criminal enterprise that, if not the pot itself, unquestionably ruins lives.Amendment 44 is no panacea in the debate over marijuana reform. A yes vote will not un-demonize marijuana. It is a Band-Aid of false security that may, instead, invite true demons to your door.Rohn K. Robbins is a local attorney, a legal columnist for the Daily and the host of “Community Focus at 7 p.m. Wednesday nights on KZYR (97.7 FM). He can be reached at 926-4461 or at robbins@colorado.net


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