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The next chapter of Suthers' regulatory legacy

City Sage



Colorado's Fifth Congressional District, which includes Colorado Springs, is arguably one of the most conservative districts in the United States. Frustrated Democrats can't believe that well-qualified candidates such as Air Force Major General (ret.) Irv Halter get trounced every two years by Republican incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn.

Yet local conservatives aren't monolithic in their beliefs. Take the issue of marijuana legalization, which passed not only statewide but also in El Paso County. Curiously, the amendment to the state constitution attracted support from both very liberal Democrats and very conservative Republicans.

Few Colorado statewide elected officials supported the measure, including then-Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. After the 2012 vote, Suthers commented on its passage.

"Despite my strongly held belief that the 'legalization' of marijuana on a state level is very bad public policy, voters can be assured that the Attorney General's Office will move forward in assisting the pertinent executive branch agencies to implement this new provision in the Colorado Constitution."

But Suthers also pointed out that Colorado law doesn't trump possible federal sanctions.

"The ability of the federal government to criminally sanction possession, use and distribution of marijuana," Suthers continued, "even if grown, distributed and used in a single state, was recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court."

Locally, Republicans seem to be split into two camps — lock 'em up law-and-order supporters vs. live-and-let-live libertarians. The first group yearns for a respectable law-abiding, polite, thrifty, hard-working community. All things disorderly and disruptive need to be controlled and mitigated, even subjected to criminal sanctions.

Local elected officials have often listened to their more fearful constituents.

Don't like strip clubs, racetracks, gambling, drinking in public, uncut weeds, loud motorcycles, porno, pit bulls, public cursing, begging, snow-covered sidewalks, 3.2 beer for 18 year-olds, neon signs, windows in garage doors, music festivals, drag racing, sidewalk cafes, jaywalking, backyard bonfires or boom cars? You're in luck — they've all been banned, criminalized or regulated by area governments in past decades.

And if Mayor Suthers has his way, we can add hash oil extraction and cannabis social clubs to the list. The reason he cited for banning the former seemed reasonable — the amateur chemists who do it tend to trigger explosions during the process.

Marijuana clubs will be targeted, Suthers said, "because that's not what the voters intended [when they passed Amendment 64]."

Really? That's like saying that when American voters repealed Prohibition, they didn't expect any bars. I've been to a couple of the clubs and didn't much like them — smoky and boring, cigar bars without tobacco. But so what? I'm not the city's universal arbiter of taste and behavior.

Call me a libertarian, I guess. As Mayor Bob Isaac once explained to me, real conservatives don't tell other people how to live their lives.

"John, I don't give a damn what you do on your property — that's your business," Mayor Bob said. "Paint your house purple? That's fine, but don't you tell me what I should do with my property. You respect my rights, I respect yours, and we'll get along fine."

Consistent libertarianism might mean that you support abortion rights, gun rights (including concealed carry), marijuana legalization and absolute freedom of the press, speech and belief. For an elected official, it means choosing liberty over regulation, freedom over fear.

Helmet laws? Nope — if riders want to crack open their skulls on the pavement, that's their decision to make.

During his long career in law enforcement, Mayor Suthers has been our District Attorney, the U.S. Attorney for Colorado, Colorado Attorney General and briefly headed the Colorado Department of Corrections. If he has any bias, it's reasonable to assume that he prefers regulated order to the messy disarray of liberty.

And speaking of messy disarray, our beloved medical weed is characterized as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which states that marijuana "has a high potential for abuse ... has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States [and] there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision."

According to Colorado voters, dope is good for whatever ails you — so go get a red card.

Implementing the two state constitutional amendments meant activating a harsh regulatory regime that prescribed indoor cultivation, inspection and control of grow facilities, punitive taxation and high prices to end users. That's one of the reasons today's dope contains THC levels many times that of the "primo Colombian" that baby boomers puffed in the '60s and '70s — the market demands value for money.

A libertarian might point out that the market is artificially constrained. Otherwise, we might see 5,000-acre marijuana fields, with low-potency dope grown naturally on irrigated farmland on the eastern plains.

Marijuana would be like beer, with tiered markets influenced by quality and strength. You could have the finest craft beer — and you could have Coors Light. And who knows what could happen?

Not to worry; not a gonna happen! John Suthers will jail the hash-oil extractors, shut down the cannabis clubs, track down illegal grows and make good and damn sure I shovel my sidewalk this winter...

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