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Reefer Madness: Why are Cities Treating Recreational Pot Like Armageddon?

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Medicinal marijuana sold at A Kind Place in Fort Collins (credit: CBS)

Medicinal marijuana sold at A Kind Place in Fort Collins (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

Before October 1st, Colorado cities must decide whether to allow recreational marijuana sales within their city limits. Nearly two dozen cities have decided to not allow the sales so far, and more cities are likely set to opt out.

With the various attitudes about upcoming sales in Denver, it’s not hard to see why cities might be getting skittish. It seems that every official talking about the issue is convinced that the tidal wave of customers and associated peripheral action will renew Colorado’s Gold Rush tradition, complete with shootouts and hysteria.

What I cannot understand is why cities are so convinced that recreational marijuana sales will be that much different than medical marijuana sales. And frankly, since medical pot didn’t bring the apocalyptic scenarios that many officials are predicting, why would recreational pot?

Do officials throughout the state honestly think the extremely difficult hurdles to purchases from a dispensary have kept potential pot buyers at home? I think it is common knowledge that anyone who has wanted to purchase marijuana in Colorado can do so very easily from a medical pot dispensary. Customers are not exactly bound to submit to long line of tests to prove the ailments they claim.

Frankly, if there are potential customers out there for recreational pot that couldn’t figure out how to do it from a medical marijuana dispensary, they are not likely to figure out how to do it after January 1st, 2014.

So if we can agree that there is not a coming tsunami of pot customers ready to come into Colorado like a bunch of locusts with the munchies, then why the tension over recreational pot?

I will admit that the reality of the medical marijuana industry was quite different than the idyllic scenario that was presented when the first ballot issue was passed. Many voters voted yes the first time because they wanted patients with serious diseases to find comfort. They didn’t envision guys twirling signs advertising prices for 1/8 of an ounce. But it also didn’t turn Colorado into the Wild West.

I think a key reason that Amendment 64 passed last year was because voters recognized that since medical marijuana did not bring the end of civilization as we knew it, recreational marijuana shouldn’t either.

But it seems that many city officials don’t share the same optimism that the overwhelming majority of Colorado voters have.

I think that some city officials who were quick to opt out of recreational marijuana sales will find renewed optimism when they see the cities that opted in rake in serious tax revenue.

It doesn’t take the conspiratorial imagination of Oliver Stone to think of a scenario where voters may help city leaders change their tune. I can imagine voters in a city without pot revenue watch their own town suffer from budget problems while a neighboring city builds new infrastructure with pot revenue and ask their own civic leaders why they opted out.

I realize that there are indeed many communities that are not interested in recreational marijuana regardless of potential revenue. Making that decision is perfectly fine. But when large cities begin to get a bit skittish for reasons that do not necessarily add up, it won’t take long for voters to remind them why this is the new reality.

The sale of recreational marijuana is certainly a new era. But the good news is that we have lived through a very reliable preview of this era, and while not perfect, we survived okay. It’s time that more cities begin to share some of the optimism of their own voters.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.

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