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Legalization: Part 4 – The Big Debate

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DENVER, Colorado (WGGB) — It’s a hot-topic debate: should marijuana for recreational use be legalized? Through Amendment 64, the majority of Colorado voters said “yes.”

Now, the push is on for a similar 2016 ballot initiative here in Massachusetts.

Mason Tvert lead the eight year battle in Colorado with the Marijuana Policy Project. His organization is now efforting the same success in Massachusetts.

“Once voters understand that, you know, marijuana is not the horrible, dangerous thing that they’ve always been taught. It’s actually less harmful than alcohol, they then start to wonder if it might be a better approach to regulate it and have it sold by legitimate tax paying businesses instead of cartels in the underground market,” Tvert said.

Rachel O’Bryan says recognized businesses or not, the current marijuana landscape is dangerous to the community. She’s part of Smart Colorado, a volunteer group advocating for marijuana health and wellness, especially with kids.

“The industry will say this is a harmless product, no worse than alcohol. The studies that they cite test marijuana in very low potency levels-five, seven percent,” she said. “We don’t sell anything less than 20% in the state. We sell concentrates that approach 90% pure THC. There are no studies on the products we’ve sold and are selling in our state.”

O’Bryan adds that there’s no real guarantee for how much tax revenue marijuana sales will create long term, when it’s new allure wears off.

“We don’t know what the money is going to be and the state is cautious about dedicating funds to the children’s education until the money is there but that is the reverse order,” O’Bryan said. “Our stores are open, you know, but our education is not there yet. We should have had the education a year ago.”

O’Bryan points out that the tobacco industry was banned from flavoring products so they don’t appeal to kids, but marijuana is infused into everything from brownies to candy, attracting kids’ curiosity. Smart Colorado cites studies alleging that persistent marijuana use can lead to a person’s overall diminished IQ. While opponents are raising red flags around marijuana reform, proponents are still pushing for extended uses like legal public consumption in Colorado.  Being one of the first to carve out the retail marijuana path, Denver says they still have a lot to learn on where to go now.

“Marijuana has always been a heated topic both politically and culturally so people have very strong feelings about it,” Executive Director For Marijuana Policy for the City and County of Denver Ashley Kilroy said. “What we’ve tried to do in the city as we implement our regulations is make sure we are balancing all those needs and wants and listening to everybody and understanding their concerns and putting in place regulations that address some of those issues.”

State law does allow for individual communities to decide if they adopt Amendment 64 or not. While denver allowed it, 85 cities and towns declined to adopt the law as of January 1st and several others passed moratoriums to delay implementation.

Friday ABC40 sits down with local leaders who are already working to get recreational marijuana on the 2016 ballot, as well as local police who have their concerns. Plus, leaders on both sides of the effort in Colorado provide advice to leaders here in Massachusetts.

Legalization Part 1: Law of the Land
Legalization Part 2: The Marijuana Store
Legalization Part 3: The Local Impact
Legalization Part 5: The Mass. Effect

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