How Colorado may change America - ocolly.com : Columns

How Colorado may change America

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Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2012 10:00 pm

Don’t worry, I’m not going to waste space attempting to convince you marijuana should be legal.

But no matter your opinion on the “narcotic,” it’s high time we all paid attention to what may happen in Colorado come November.

A measure on the ballot will decide whether marijuana will be made fully legal in the state.

Currently, Colorado has legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. But if the ballot measure passes this November, access to the controversial plant will substantially increase.

And, believe it or not, the majority of Coloradans are okay with that.

A poll conducted by Survey USA released Wednesday showed that 51 percent of the polled citizens are in favor of the legalization measure.

The poll, with a stated margin of error of 4 percent, is the first to show an outright majority of Colorado voters in favor of legalization.

An average of the four polls conducted on the measure since June show that voters favor legalization by 10 percent, with 49.7 percent supporting and 39.3 percent opposed.

Surprisingly, support for legalization has increased over the past months; oftentimes when marijuana legalization measures are placed on ballots, support is high at first, then tapers off as the election nears.

But it’s really no wonder support for legal weed has risen in the state. After all, crime rates have decreased in the state since medical marijuana was made legal.

From 1991 to 2000, the year medical marijuana was made legal in Colorado, an average of 4,610 crimes were committed per year. The average population during those years was about 3.8 million.

But from 2001 to 2010, the state’s first decade of legal medical marijuana, an average of 3,809 crimes were committed per year. The population during those years? About 4.7 million.

That’s a decrease of about 800 crimes per year despite a population increase of almost 1 million.

Now, I’m not stupid.

I’m not going to jump up and claim that legalizing weed is proven to lower crime rates.

But I will make the bold statement that legalizing weed doesn’t lead to a spike in crime rates.

But these are just numbers after all. It will take more than statistics for Colorado voters to be sure that allowing some college kids a few joints won’t endanger their way of life.

But I’m willing to bet the perception of marijuana has changed drastically in the state. It can’t be difficult to see how little things changed when the substance became legal for medicinal use, especially since many believe it isn’t hard for those without medical problems to gain access to it.

As is the case with with most matters of law, perception is the most important consideration.

If Colorado voters don’t think weed is a big deal, we may not see the usual drop in support for legalization. If that’s the case, the United States may see the first state legalize marijuana since the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 made the substance illegal across the entire country.

If slippery slope arguments hold any weight, America may be very different in the coming decades. As other progressive states watch what happens in Colorado, more and more legalization initiatives may appear and even pass on state ballots.

And because American law doesn’t appreciate widely varying takes on matters of criminality, a case brought to the Supreme Court isn’t out of the question.

But before connoseuirs of cannabis get too giddy about the possibilities, the measure in Colorado has to pass.

It’s also likely the federal government will refuse to acknowledge Colorado’s right to legalize the substance it has deemed dangerous and without medicinal value.

In that case, the whole movement may just go up in smoke.

Trenton Sperry is a political science and legal studies senior.