Colorado marijuana update: Addiction expert, Colorado resident sound off on pot legalization

The floodgates have opened wide with recreational pot sales legal in Colorado as of Jan. 1, and depending on who you ask, it was either a good or a bad move.

Though still illegal at the federal level, it may be just a matter of time before this "soft" drug is not only widely available, but legally acceptable in other states.

Colorado certainly went out on a limb, and it is yet to be seen whether or not it will pay off.

Manitou Springs, Colo., resident George Tanner, who does not smoke marijuana, believes that other states will follow in Colorado's footsteps.

"Washington also legalized possession. Attitudes are changing," Tanner said.

In contrast, addiction expert Robb Kelly hopes this isn't the case.

"Although sales are legal only for adults 21 and older, it is inevitable that teenagers will get their hands on it, as we know has happened with alcohol, suggested Kelly. "Marijuana is a gateway drug, period," Kelly said.

Of 30 Dallas-area clients dealing with hard drug addictions to substances such as black tar heroin, 28 of Kelly's clients began their addiction spiral with marijuana. "What we know from 20 years of research is that marijuana is a starter drug," Kelly said.

As far as the potential for addiction goes, Tanner feels differently.

"Addiction is already an issue," Tanner said. "But so is addiction to alcohol, which will be abused vastly more than marijuana and will cause more problems than marijuana."

To Tanner, one of the most interesting things is the fear put forth from local governments.

"Even Denver, which has been fairly progressive in its approach, is trying to strike a balance between pot smokers and families with children and older folks," Tanner said.

"Many smaller cities are enacting moratoriums rather than embracing a law that was passed by the voters of this state. What they're forgetting is a lot of the people who voted for this marijuana law are older people and families with children.

"This is an interesting problem for local governments, and they're squirming because of it," he said.

One of the problems with legalizing marijuana is that it's hard to regulate, Kelly said.

"For example, if a person purchases legal marijuana in a store and takes it home, what's to stop that person from seeing his local dealer to refill the fancy container for a cheaper price?" Kelly said. "You can't regulate that."

Kelly also is concerned about the ability of law enforcement to judge whether or not a citizen is impaired. Whether or not someone is currently under the influence of marijuana is harder to measure than, say, alcohol level of the bloodstream, Kelly said. Depending on the extent of and frequency of usage, marijuana can stay in one's system for months.

"Although common sense might say that someone who smoked pot two weeks ago is good to drive, drug tests say no," Kelly said.

The problems that Tanner sees involve the integration of a legal marketplace with what is still a crime in much of the world.

"California has struggled with medical marijuana and illegal pot grows in its forests, even on federal and state land. Theft, robberies and burglaries at stores will occur. The same goes for grow sites," Tanner said.  "I think security will be an issue in Colorado at the outset. Then there's reconciling the fact that marijuana is still illegal on the federal level. There are many gray areas yet to be hashed out, so to speak."

Responding to the argument that alcohol, known as a hard drug, is legal, and a so-called soft drug such as marijuana couldn't be any more dangerous to society if it's controlled, Kelly thinks they are both equally dangerous.

"Alcohol is the third-biggest killer in the world," Kelly said. "If alcohol were invented today, it wouldn't be available for sale. Marijuana leads to harder drugs, and alcohol is a hard drug, period."

Regarding Colorado's potential boon with increased tax revenue and tourism from legal marijuana sales, Tanner hopes that it doesn't have a negative effect on the state.

"Colorado already has assets that are enough of a draw for people worldwide, and tourism is a major industry," Tanner said. "People here are hoping marijuana tourism adds to that industry, which would be fine. But if it keeps others away who were considering a vacation in Colorado, that would be a tragic backfire."

Kelly declared the possibility of increased tax revenue a poor excuse.

"To the state coming up and saying that it will be good for tax revenue: so would murder-for-hire, if it were legalized," Kelly said. "It's a poor excuse for a hard problem."




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