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Colorado Springs mayor urges Arizonans not to legalize marijuana

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said Tuesday that Arizona should not follow the lead of his state in legalizing recreational marijuana eve though he admitted most voters in Colorado want to keep the 2012 law. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said Tuesday that Arizona should not follow the lead of his state in legalizing recreational marijuana eve though he admitted most voters in Colorado want to keep the 2012 law. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

The mayor of Colorado’s second-largest city is urging Arizonans not to legalize recreational use of marijuana even as he admits voters in his state want to keep their nearly 4-year-old law.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said the law approved by voters there has had dire consequences, including increased teen use and more criminal activity. And he said there is probably less support for the measure than when it was approved in 2012 by a margin of 54.8 percent to 45.1 percent.

But not that much less.

“Do I think that the citizens of Colorado would repeal it tomorrow? Probably not,” he said.

Suthers said Proposition 64 remains popular in his home state because voters are uninformed.

“People in law enforcement, people running a city, things like that, they’re going to see the neighborhood problems, they’re going to see the increase in DUIs, they’re going to see the school problems and things like that,” he said. “A lot of the average citizens are not going to see all that.”

Suthers and a police officer from Colorado were brought to Arizona by foes of Proposition 205 in a bid to convince voters here that that state’s 2012 law has created new problems.

“It clearly will make our roads more dangerous and Prop 205 will clearly endanger Arizona’s children,” said Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk. She chairs Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the group working to defeat the initiative.

“This is clearly not guesswork,” Polk continued. “Colorado passed a similar initiative for recreational marijuana in the year 2012 and is now suffering a whole host of negative consequences.”

But Suthers, under questioning, acknowledged that not all the claims can be linked to that law.

For example, he is not disputing statistics from the Colorado health department that show teen use of marijuana has not increased since recreational use became legal after the 2012 vote. Instead, he said, the big jump actually came after the 2006 vote to legalize medical marijuana — laws similar to what Arizona already has.

Anyway, Suthers said if Arizona voters are not convinced that the law voters in his state adopted was a mistake, they should not follow suit, at least not now. He said Arizona should wait until the Colorado law has been in effect for five full years — meaning two years from now — to see whether they still believe recreational use of marijuana is desirable.

That’s also the message from Jim Gerhardt, an officer with the Thornton Police Department and vice president of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association. He said legalizing recreational use did not reduce crime as had been advertised and urged voters here to “take a hard look at what’s happened in Colorado.

“There’s absolutely no reason to rush into this,” Gerhardt said. He said it’s easy for voters to adopt laws allowing recreational use but “it’s very, very difficult to undo what we’ve done.”

As bad as they say the Colorado law is, Polk and other foes have pointed out there are some substantial differences between the law there and what voters here are being asked to approve, differences they say make the Arizona proposal even worse.

For example, the Colorado law makes the presence of five nanograms of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, a “permissible inference” for jurors to conclude a motorist is impaired.

Proposition 205 does say driving while impaired remains illegal. But there is no similar language, meaning prosecutors would have to prove, on a case-by-case basis, that an individual was actually impaired while behind the wheel.

In Colorado, cities can refuse to allow marijuana dispensaries. There is no such option in the Arizona measure.

Proposition 205 would allow for home delivery of marijuana.

And the Arizona Constitution sharply restricts the ability of lawmakers to make changes in the initiative if there are unanticipated problems. Only amendments that “further the purpose” of the voter-approved law are permitted, and only with a three-fourths vote of the House and Senate; more radical changes have to go back to the ballot.

John Ortolano, president of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, said the Colorado experience shows there are reasons for concerns about public safety if Arizona adopts a similar law.

He cited a study published earlier this year questioning 865 residents of Colorado and Washington who said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days. More than 43 percent said they had driven under the influence of marijuana within the prior years — and almost 24 percent said they had operated a motor vehicle within one hour of using marijuana in the past month.

“There is no doubt that in this state that if Proposition 205 passes that more citizens in our state are going to be killed by people that are driving under the influence of drugs,” Ortolano said.

While Suthers said Tuesday that Arizonans should reject Proposition 205, he did offer up an alternative: Decriminalize small amounts of the drug for personal use, as Colorado did before it went the next step of legalizing it. He said that would allow individuals to have up to an ounce of marijuana with the penalty being no more than a fine.

That proposal, though, drew a decidedly negative reaction from Polk.

“Our campaign does not support anything that results in more kids using pot,” she said. Polk said marijuana use by Colorado teens is 74 percent higher than the national average, as compared with 15 percent in Arizona.

“Our goal is to decrease that rate, not increase it by removing deterrent measure.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a foe of Proposition 205, also distanced himself from what Suthers was proposing.

He said having marijuana possession as a felony allows prosecutors to offer offenders deferred prosecution, allowing them to wipe the record clean if they complete programs like drug treatment “and intervene before someone’s drug use manifests in other criminal behavior.”

“If you make it a petty offense, there is no opportunity to require treatment and no consequence for repeat violations,” Montgomery said.

8 comments

  1. Who cares what this ignoramus prohibitionist thinks?

    This is a good one: “He cited a study published earlier this year questioning 865 residents of Colorado and Washington who said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days.” Uh, let’s see. 865 out of a total state population of 5,456,574 — hey, I’m really going to pay attention to that “study.”

  2. It’s 3/4, not 3/5ths…
    and this is NOT a coherent statement..
    “Only amendment that “further the purpose” of the voter-approved law are permitted, and only with a three-fifth vote of the House and Senate; more radical changes have to go back to the ballot.”

    NoFakeLegalization.com

  3. My goodness Mayor Suthers is so desperate to stop cannabis, he will go so far as to lie and pad numbers to get his point across and go to other states to do it. Certainly not surprised. Gerhardt, is the same man that in 2012 made false claims of “massive supplies of edibles being sold in various schools,” only his claim (along with Rep Waller,) was actually a poster and not a product, lol. I would love to see some actual documentation to support Ms. Polks claim that “Colorado teen marijuana use is 74% higher than the national average” let’s see the documentation, please. Seems that I am having problems getting answers from Mayor Suthers office regarding where, who and how much money was paid for this little propaganda trip. Mr. Ortolano, is completely blowing driving way out of proportion. Again, show us some documentation to support your propaganda. You people need to worry more about your gang problems with heroin and meth and less about cannabis. Do some research before spewing your lies, you look foolish, all of you…

  4. Decriminalization is a good idea but in reality our legislature and governor have given educational funding the lowest possible priority in the nation. This is one good way to support our schools.

    “Several Arizona school officials threw their support behind Prop. 205 on Thursday, highlighting the much-needed revenue that will be raised for K-12 education if voters approve the initiative to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol.

    The Yes on 205 campaign received endorsements from Arizona School Boards Association Immediate Past President Jesus Rubalcava, who currently serves as president of the Gila Bend Unified School District Governing Board; Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board President Buck Crouch and Board Member Daniel Hernandez; Tolleson Union High School District Governing Board Vice President Devin Del Palacio; Tucson Unified School District Governing Board Member Kristel Ann Foster; Balsz School District Governing Board Member Channel Powe; and State Sen. Martin Quezada, who is a member of the Pendergast Elementary School District Governing Board.

    Some of the officials are pointing to the success of a similar ballot measure that was approved by voters in Colorado in 2012, which is generating more annual revenue for the state than predicted and fulfilling the promise of raising $40 million per year for public school construction. Colorado’s regulated marijuana system brought in more than $135 million in calendar year 2015, and according to the Denver Post, it has produced nearly $106 million in revenue in just the first seven months of 2016.

    Prop. 205 would generate more than $123 million in annual revenue for Arizona, including more than $55 million per year for the state’s school districts, according to a July analysis by the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee.”

    http://www.thedailychronic.net/2016/62532/arizona-school-officials-endorse-marijuana-legalization-initiative-205/

  5. “It makes sense that loosening restrictions on pot would result in a higher percentage of drivers involved in fatal traffic accidents having smoked the drug at some point over the past few days or weeks. You’d also expect to find that a higher percentage of churchgoers, good Samaritans and soup kitchen volunteers would have pot in their system. You’d expect a similar result among any large sampling of people. This doesn’t necessarily mean that marijuana caused or was even a contributing factor to accidents, traffic violations or fatalities.

    This isn’t an argument that pot wasn’t a factor in at least some of those accidents, either. But that’s precisely the point. A post-accident test for marijuana metabolites doesn’t tell us much at all about whether pot contributed to the accident.

    Since the new Colorado law took effect in January, the “drugged driver” panic has only intensified. I’ve already written about one dubious example, in which the Colorado Highway Patrol and some local and national media perpetuated a story that a driver was high on pot when he slammed into a couple of police cars parked on an interstate exit ramp. While the driver did have some pot in his system, his blood-alcohol level was off the charts and was far more likely the cause of the accident. In my colleague Marc Fisher’s recent dispatch from Colorado, law enforcement officials there and in bordering states warned that they’re seeing more drugged drivers. Congress recently held hearings on the matter, complete with dire predictions such as “We are going to have a lot more people stoned on the highway and there will be consequences,” from Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). Some have called for a zero tolerance policy — if you’re driving with any trace of pot in your system, you’re guilty of a DWI. That would effectively ban anyone who smokes pot from driving for up to a couple of weeks after their last joint, including people who legitimately use the drug for medical reasons.

    It seems to me that the best way to gauge the effect legalization has had on the roadways is to look at what has happened on the roads since legalization took effect. Here’s a month-by-month comparison of highway fatalities in Colorado through the first seven months of this year and last year. For a more thorough comparison, I’ve also included the highest fatality figures for each month since 2002, the lowest for each month since 2002 and the average for each month since 2002.

    As you can see, roadway fatalities this year are down from last year, and down from the 13-year average. Of the seven months so far this year, five months saw a lower fatality figure this year than last, two months saw a slightly higher figure this year, and in one month the two figures were equal.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/08/05/since-marijuana-legalization-highway-fatalities-in-colorado-are-at-near-historic-lows/?utm_term=.c2a059cd2465

  6. I just moved here to Colorado Springs and I really don’t have an issue with the recreational use of it. The only thing that has hit home for me is the theft in my neighborhood that is indiectly stemming from this. We moved into a nice neighborhood where I thought we’d never have crime. Within a month of moving in, my husband and my car were both broken into on two seperate occasions. This apparently is extememly common now in mine and surrounding neighborhoods. There are a lot of transients in the area which I was very surprised by. I was listening to a local radio program that mentioned the increase of transient population is due to the legalization of marijuana here. A large number of that population moved here in hopes of working the fields (as the interviewer stated) and that typically they made good money under the radar in places where it isn’t legal. Apparently, after they moved here they found out there were more regulations and most of them could not get hired due to these stricter regulations. So now they panhandle on every corner and possibly break into cars. Not all of them, of course, but it does make sense that this crime would be on the rise due to that.

  7. I can tell you as a native of the Springs, that we had a homeless problem long before “legalization.” It’s so much more than that. Part of the reason for it is the high rent increases and cost of living here. The wages don’t match up, no matter what field you work in. It’s ludicrous to think and believe the negative things you had happen, were caused strictly because of legalization or that your cars were broken into because of legalization or that it was people that smoke cannabis that did it. I’m curious as to what “radio program” you were listening to and if they offered any real facts that could be looked up, to back up those claims that were made on their show. Beware of propaganda, it runs rampant in cities run by shady Mayors with hidden agendas.

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