Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Standing restlessly in a long line, Colorado citizens – as well quite a few excited people from out of state – were poised to legally purchase cannabis for recreational use. The 1st January 2014, also known as “Green Wednesday”, was the new beginning of a licensed cannabis industry, where the commercial cultivation, manufacture and sale are legal but regulated. The licensed stores also sell a wide variety of marijuana merchandise and paraphernalia, including dew drops, truffles and lotions.
Colorado Amendment 64 was a popular initiative ballot measure, amending the state constitution to outline a cannabis policy across the state. Along with a similar ballot initiative in Washington, Amendment 64 passed a referendum with 55.3% of the vote in November.
Despite the radical notions behind “the world’s first state-licensed marijuana industry”, the Colorado experiment is restrained. Colorado citizens over the age of 21 can make a maximum purchase of 28g (one ounce) of cannabis, whilst United States residents from other states can only buy 7g on each purchase. Public consumption of cannabis is still banned, and cannabis bought in Colorado cannot legally leave the state: either in a person’s possessions or by post. As expected, recreational cannabis will have heavy excise taxes levied upon it:
Some areas – such as Boulder, Carbondale and Manitou Springs – will have tax rates on marijuana that exceed 30 percent, according to a Denver Post analysis. In Denver, the rate will be nearly 29 percent, or $8.59, on that $30 eighth of an ounce of pot.
The main thrust behind this legalisation has been the cultivation of greater taxes, rather than the individual liberty to choose to consume a drug. Thus, as David Bowden of spiked highlights, “for all its political bravery, Colorado’s move to legalise marijuana fails to offer a direct challenge to the logic of prohibition.”
Under federal law, cannabis remains illegal. The BBC reports that: “The US Department of Justice has advised Colorado officials to ensure the drug remains within state borders or face a federal crackdown.” Colorado’s new laws are dependent upon federal acquiescence, rendering the whole scheme to be rather precarious. It is disturbing that a law may be unenforced by the federal government. It should be resolved whether the federal government is actually empowered to regulate the sale and manufacture of narcotics. If so, that law should be repealed, leaving each state to pursue their policies. It should also be worrisome that drug policies are now part of a state’s constitution, rather than mere legislation. Constitutions exist to codify the daily relationship between a government and its people, rather than to set certain policies.
However, Colorado’s regulation of cannabis, the state of Washington’s similar measure and Uruguay’s decision to become the first country to legalise the growing, sale, trade and consumption of cannabis are all welcome developments. These policies differ from the Netherlands’ decision to maintain illegality without enforcement. Public policies are fashioned and honed through experience, and these experiences will provide vital information of the consequences of cannabis cultivation and commercial consumption.