Get marijuana laws right, now

Coloradans spoke loudly last fall by legalizing recreational marijuana through the approval of Amendment 64.

We now have another chance to make our voices heard.

Amendment 64 painted with broad strokes, giving the Colorado Legislature and local governments wide latitude to implement it in a way that makes sense for the state.

The legislature is scheduled to decide on the new recreational marijuana market's regulatory system before it adjourns in early May. Local governments will determine how it should be implemented in their communities.

Until now we have heard almost exclusively from the marijuana industry, which has dominated the debate with loads of promises about the benefits recreational marijuana can bring to Colorado. We think it's time that the state's everyday citizens have a voice, too, so they can share their opinions with their elected representatives and ask some tough and necessary questions.

Our top concerns are ones we think most people can agree on, regardless of how they voted on Amendment 64. We think that our elected officials should implement the constitutional amendment in a way that prioritizes Coloradans' public health and safety and puts taxpayers' interests ahead of the marijuana industry. For example, children should be protected from pot, and we all should be protected from drugged drivers. It's easy to pay lip service to these values, but we need strong policies that will back up the words.

Though the marijuana industry has claimed that the new legalized pot market will be a boon for the state budget, all evidence points in the opposite direction. The recent state audit of the medical marijuana oversight agency - which is likely to be in charge of recreational pot, too - revealed that it didn't generate even the cash from fees that it needed to fund itself. Colorado taxpayers should not subsidize the cost of regulating the marijuana industry. Do we really want to shift public dollars from education and roads to pot? Weren't we promised the opposite?

We also think that local communities know what's best for themselves and thus encourage local governments to ban marijuana businesses, something Amendment 64 allows, if their citizens support that.

Thankfully we have a bold advocate in Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. At a city council meeting last week, he endorsed the idea of holding public hearings as part of the pot-shop licensing process. Now we must make sure the legislature supports local control.

The potential for mass commercialization of marijuana is very real. If the state doesn't require that recreational-marijuana license holders grow all of the pot that they sell, we could see the arrival of Big Marijuana, rivaling Big Tobacco.

Moreover, when it comes to marijuana regulation, our standards shouldn't be the regulation of alcohol, which the campaign to pass Amendment 64 cited. We all know alcohol is consumed by children at high rates - despite laws prohibiting that. We should aim higher to protect Colorado kids from marijuana.

Indeed, children's safety is the issue that trumps all. We must ensure that their health and welfare remains a top priority. That means proactively educating students on the harmful effects of marijuana use and taking aggressive steps to prevent those younger than 21 from gaining access to the drug.

This is just the beginning. But if we don't start the conversation with our public officials now, we may not get the chance to be a part of the process before it's too late. Decades from now we will look back at this as either the moment we got it right or the time we opened a Pandora's Box of unintended consequences.

Amendment 64 is widely considered the world's most expansive marijuana law. Let's make sure we don't become a cautionary tale about what can go wrong. Let's speak up now to limit negative and unintended consequences. Diane Carlson and Henny Lasley are volunteer leaders with Smart Colorado (SmartColorado.org).

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