The marijuana legalization movement forged decisively ahead this election, though under a new shadow of doubt cast by Donald Trump’s victory.
See next week’s CannaBiz for more on what changes at the federal level could mean for the legal cannabis industry. (Spoiler: we really don’t know yet.) Today, however, find solace in the news that our neighbors to the south rejected efforts to roll back retail marijuana sales in both the city and county of Pueblo.
Election Day dragged into the next day, thanks to an overloaded server that caused long lines at polling places and long delays in reporting the results. While the results aren't final, over 70,000 people appear to have cast their votes on Proposition 200 — the Pueblo County measure that would’ve shut down over 160 retail marijuana businesses — according to unofficial results posted on the county clerk’s website. Of those, 57 percent voted "no" — a larger margin than initially passed retail marijuana it four years ago.
Voters also rejected Proposition 300, the city’s equivalent of Prop 200.
The results further validate arguments made by opponents of the measure during campaign season that Pueblo voters have already demonstrated they’re cool with recreational marijuana, despite insistence on the other side that they’re having second thoughts. Spokesman for the pro-pot campaign, Growing Pueblo’s Future, and owner of Mesa Organics, Jim Parco called the vote a clear message.
“[Citizens] have seen the positive impacts that the regulated, retail marijuana industry has had in Pueblo County,” he said of the results. “We were the first [state] to legalize, regulate and tax adult-use retail marijuana, and now, the first [county] to decisively defeat prohibitionists in a do-over vote.”
In celebrating the victory, Parco also announced plans to create the first ever National Marijuana Museum in Pueblo. Owner of Legacy Homes in Pueblo Branson Haney will chair the community-based steering committee.
“With now more than 30 states having legalized marijuana, we have entered a new era where society is finally acknowledging that the benefits of legalized cannabis far outweigh the costs,” he said on election night. “With Pueblo County as the leader in the national legalization effort, it is now time to lead the effort on improving education and knowledge of marijuana’s rich history — scientifically, socially and culturally. And we’re going to do it right here in Pueblo, Colorado.”
To stay up-to-the-minute with the museum’s progress, follow their Facebook page for updates.
In addition to all the consumption oriented festivities going on today, a march on City Hall brought a small but mighty crowd of medical marijuana supporters out to vent some frustrations. Their message? Leave our plants alone.
Amendment 20 may have legalized medical marijuana back in 2000, but patients now feel their rights are under attack. That attack comes in the form of a proposed ordinance to limit all residences in the Springs to 12 marijuana plants total, period, no matter how many adults, patients or caregivers live there.
Around 30 diehards turned out to voice their discontent on council’s turf.
Notable among the crowd of patients, their family members and supporters were two people who say they plan on becoming candidates for city council — Joseph Carlson and Hemp Hurd — both of whom intend to make cannabis a central part of their campaign.
Carlson’s take on the matter as a would-be elected official: “I say leave it alone, let them grow. We should be focusing on the rapists, the murderers — not the patients.”
Both federal and local law enforcement have raised concerns about so-called “home invasions" — when out-of-staters move into Colorado’s legal marijuana haven, grow a ton of plants in a residential home then ship it to thirstier markets throughout the country. Fear of that kind of criminal activity is what’s driving plant count limits here in the Springs and in municipalities around the state.
Legitimate medical marijuana users, like 47-year-old Tammie Bruner, worry about shouldering the consequences of a few bad actors. She moved to the Springs in September from Kentucky to get better access to the one medicine that works against her seizures: cannabis.
“I was shocked to come here and find out they were still coming after my medicine,” she told the Independent.
If she can’t grow all her plants at home she’ll have to make up the difference at a dispensary. And that, Bruner says, is an expensive prospect.
“It costs like $45 a gram and that only lasts me two days if I’m really careful. It takes a lot (of cannabis) to control my seizures. And that’s the only reason I have my life back,” she says. “I don’t want to become a criminal again, I just was to be healthy and happy.”
For over a year, Colorado has been staring down a lawsuit from neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma that sought to quash our recreational pot industry. Plaintiffs not only claimed that legal weed trickling over the border “[places] stress on their criminal justice systems,” but also made a federalist argument that the state laws in question unconstitutionally contradict federal laws. The petition, filed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court rather than through appeal of a lower court ruling, asked justices to strike down all of Colorado’s laws, rules and regulations that deal with recreational cannabis.
On Monday we got an answer: case dismissed.
The justices were scheduled to discuss the suit behind closed doors four times over the past two months. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. penned a brief on behalf of the Justice Department urging the court not to hear the case in December. Then, Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death in February stirred more speculation in Colorado’s favor.
According to Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, who had a hand in crafting Amendment 64, the lawsuit was “meritless” all along. “States have every right to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana, just as Nebraska and Oklahoma have the right to maintain their failed prohibition policies,” Tvert said in a press release following the dismissal. “Colorado has done more to control marijuana than just about any other state in the nation. It will continue to set an example for other states that are considering similar laws in legislatures and at the ballot box.”
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito thought that the U.S. Supreme Court should hear the case because it’s the only judicial body that can. “The complaint, on its face, presents a ‘controvers[y] between two or more States’ that this Court alone has authority to adjudicate,” Justice Thomas wrote in a dissenting opinion. “The plaintiff States have alleged significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another State. Whatever the merit of the plaintiff States’ claims, we should let this complaint proceed further rather than denying leave without so much as a word of explanation.”
While Colorado’s cannabis community can breathe a sigh of relief that this suit got tossed, it’s not the final word for the industry’s future. “This decision isn't really a win for marijuana advocates — it maintains the status quo,” commented Aaron Herzberg of the medical marijuana holding company CalCann Holdings. “Marijuana is still federally illegal and is considered a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it's in the same class as heroin — which is absolutely ridiculous. While states are free to establish their own marijuana law, the federal government needs to reform federal law to allow for access to banks and to reform the tax codes to treat marijuana businesses fairly. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening until well after the presidential elections."
Of all the questions lingering over Colorado’s burgeoning pot industry, perhaps none is weightier than who will control federal drug enforcement after November 2016? How Americans vote on the top of the ticket could be make or break for the future of legal weed in the Centennial state. And of all the remaining candidates, only one appears a reliable ally to the legalization movement. (Don’t bother sitting down, this will not be a shocker.) It’s the Democratic socialist from Vermont — Bernie Sanders.
Now, the full extent to which the cannabis community will mobilize for Bernie still remains to be seen. Kyle Sherman, CEO of cannabis software startup Flowhub, says the choice this election season is clear for his him and his colleagues. But they’re taking the wait-and-see approach.
"Bernie Sanders seems to have the support of most cannabis enthusiasts, given his pro-drug law reform platform, but it doesn't seem like there'll be all that much activity in support of him as a candidate unless he becomes the Democratic nominee," Sherman says. "Once the candidates for each party have been announced, however, my company will be launching a GOTV campaign centered around cannabis as a primary issue, and I hope others in the space take similar steps."
Others in the industry are wasting no time organizing and empowering the cannabis community to get their interests represented at the highest level of government.
Hillary Clinton, who could very well end up the Democratic nominee, is tentative and vague on the topic. In November, she hinted that she’d be open to liberalizing her stance. At a town hall in South Carolina, the former Secretary of State told the predominantly black audience that she supports medical marijuana. “I want to move from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 so researchers can research what’s the best way to use it, dosage, how does it work with other medications," Clinton added. (In Schedule 2, marijuana would keep company with cocaine and methamphetamine.) A month prior, she had declined to say whether she supports states’ right to legalize. During her first presidential bid in 2007, Clinton said flat out that "I don't think we should decriminalize [marijuana].”
So her position is “ever-evolving” (pragmatist-speak for: “Let’s see where public opinion goes.”)
Sanders, to be fair, isn’t as gung-ho as he could be.
“When I was mayor of the town of Burlington [Vermont],” the Senator told Katie Couric last year, “which has a large university, and one or two of the kids were smoking marijuana, we suspect, we didn't arrest too many people for marijuana.” But he himself doesn’t partake. In the same interview he joked about being "the only person who didn't get high in the Sixties" before clarifying: "I smoked marijuana twice, and it didn't quite work for me. It's not my thing, but it is the thing of a whole lot of people.”
Warren Gill, regional press secretary for the Sanders campaign, says, “It’s the whole package [that’s] drawing a lot of folks to our side. You know, the U.S. has more people in jail today than any other country, and we are spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. That's just obscene, and I think our supporters realize how wrong it is that hundreds of thousands of Americans have a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted after causing the near collapse of our entire economy.”
The “single-issue voter” may indeed be the unicorn of electoral politics (nonexistent, though subject to frequent speculation).
“It's not my No. 1 issue, but the decriminalization of drugs in general is very important,” says Hazen Garcia, a local businessman in his 30s who’s feeling the Bern. “Addicts and users deserve treatment, not incarceration.”
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