What Colorado and Washington mean for the Valley
If one were to ask Jorge Trujillo his two favorite outcomes of the recent 2012 general election, he would answer that it’s between the new seats gained by Democrats in the U.S. Senate and the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado.
“It’s wonderful. More states need to express sovereignty over archaic laws like federal criminalization of marijuana,” the 23-year-old biology graduate student said. “The benefits of this serve not only the user, but
The marijuana legalization, known as Washington Initiative 502 in Washington and Amendment 64 in Colorado, allows for the legal sale and distribution of marijuana to adults over the age of 21 for personal use. Both measures will provide commercial regulation of cannabis in specialty stores to licensed customers, provided that they’re purchasing an ounce
This is the first time any state has decriminalized the personal use of marijuana. Trujillo predicts a domino effect occurring for other states legalizing marijuana, but doesn’t see it happening in Texas any time soon.
“Texas will be the last state to legalize marijuana. We’ll have the federal law changed before it happens,” he said.
Both measures passed with a slim margin.
According to the Colorado Secretary of State website, Amendment 64 received about 55 percent of votes and Initiative 502 received about 56 percent of votes, according to the Washington Secretary of
Oregon attempted to pass a similar amendment, but the majority didn’t favor it. Fifty-three percent of voters were against it.
Colorado and Washington join a group of states that have already legalized marijuana, but those 16 did it with a caveat or two. The states legalized medical marijuana, the use of smoking pot for health benefits, and not for recreational use.
Betty Aldworth, who served on the Amendment 64 Campaign for Colorado, stated that the Denver-area district attorney is no longer pursuing cases involving marijuana possession of less than an ounce. She sees this as a benefit of the newly passed amendment.
“Some of the things people don’t think about, like wasting money on law enforcement, is a big deal,” she said. “We’re wasting too much money on it. Regulation is the
Aldworth predicts that as many as 10,000 Coloradoans will avoid going to jail for minor marijuana charges, and predicts an increase of $12 million to the economy from the specialty marijuana stores by 2014, a year after the amendment has gone into effect.
“We think Washington and Colorado can provide an excellent model in how marijuana can be regulated, provided that the wishes of the voters are respected by the federal government,” she said in a phone interview.
It could take as long as a year for marijuana to be sold in stores, but in Colorado, adults 21 and older will be able to possess and grow a maximum of six marijuana plants, and sell up to an ounce of it as soon as Gov. John
Hickenlooper signs a proclamation certifying the results of the election within 30 days. He has yet to do so.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR TEXAS
In a recent non-scientific anonymous poll conducted by The Pan American, students were asked if they believe that Texas should follow suit. Thirty-one out of the 48 participants said that it should be legalized, but expressed doubts that it would ever happen in Texas.
Texas District 40 State Representative Terry Canales shared his thoughts on the matter.
“I believe that Texas is still far from legalizing marijuana for any purpose because of the political landscape and the conservative majority,” he said.
However, Canales expressed some concern over the amount of people being housed in prison for minor drug charges.
“I believe it is time that we look past the negative propaganda of yesteryear and really address the cost-benefit analysis of housing so many criminal inmates stemming from personal or medicinal use of marijuana versus the alternatives,” Canales said.
He doubts he’ll see any legislation in the upcoming session addressing the issue of legalizing cannabis but plans to remain “open minded” about the issue.
“I think Texas will be one of the last ones. We’re too morally conservative,” said John Morales, a 20-year-old anthropology major. “I think most states are going to wait and see what happens with Colorado and Washington before they move in that direction.”
UTPA Professor George Vincentnathan, chair for the Criminal Justice Department, said that despite a federal law that prohibits marijuana, it is possible for states to avoid persecution from the federal system.
“Even if it’s illegal in the federal level, national and federal laws can be accommodated as long as it’s not a constitutional issue,” he explained. “No state law can oppose federal law, but there are exceptions if it’s not a constitutional issue.”
Keila Sanchez, a junior majoring in psychology, doesn’t support marijuana legalization.
“If you’re just going to smoke it for fun, what’s the point? There are other outlets available,” the 19-year-old Progreso native said.
Sanchez also thinks that marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington won’t stop minors from smoking.
“You need a license to buy weed in Colorado,” she explained. “Minors can just as easily get a fake ID or get someone with an ID to buy it for them, just like how they do with beer.”
Under the Federal Controlled Substance Act of 1970, marijuana is regarded as a dangerous drug with no real medical usage and a high potential for substance abuse.
Some arguments against the legalization of the plant include the danger of marijuana-influenced drivers, lung damage and negative mental effects, according to information collected by the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
James Wenzel, the chair of the UTPA Political Science Department, said that while it’ll be interesting to see if other states follow suit, the chances of it happening in Texas are the same as “a snowball fight in Veracruz in the middle of August.”
“The political climate of Texas is very different from Washington and Colorado,” the associate professor said. “We’re not exactly known as a hotbed for progressive politics.”
Philip Ethridge, a UTPA criminal justice professor, believes that a common stereotype involving marijuana could hamper its chances of being smoked in public.
“Many people believe that marijuana is a gateway drug,” he explained. “As long as there’s people that still believe that, then marijuana will remain at a personal level, for recreational use only.”
A gateway drug is one that can lead a user to experiment with more addictive substances, such as cocaine and heroine.
However, Ethridge also expressed some interest in the effects of the law in Colorado and Washington.
“In the next couple of years, states will look at those two states and see what impact the legislation had on them,” he said. “For now, it seems as if it’s the beginning of states realizing that arresting and prosecuting those for small amounts is too much for the system.”