Election Day is finally here and Colorado is not only a key swing state in the battle for the presidency, by the end of Tuesday, voters could legalize marijuana for recreational use, effectively ending marijuana prohibition in the state and forever altering a decades long drug war.
Over the last several months, we've debated the issue of marijuana legalization here at HuffPost Denver, seen data from the Marijuana Arrest Research Project that showed that in Colorado more than 210,000 people have been arrested for marijuana possession over the last 25 years -- and of those arrests, people of color have been disproportionately impacted -- and we've also seen the report from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting data that in the United States, someone is arrested for marijuana every 42 seconds.
We've heard from the advocates on why they believe marijuana should be legalized as well as the skeptics who spoke about both the risks and rewards of Colorado's groundbreaking marijuana legalization measure.
But now it's time for the voters to decide and according to the latest poll from Public Policy Polling from Monday -- the last poll taken on Colorado's Amendment 64 before Election Day -- the ballot measure looks like it has a strong chance of passing on Tuesday.
According to PPP, 52 percent of voters support Amendment 64 while only 44 percent are opposed to the measure leaving the state "set to legalize marijuana tomorrow," PPP's Tom Jensen writes about the results of their latest survey.
This is the highest percentage of support that PPP has found since they began surveying the issue of marijuana legalization. Back in September, PPP found 47 percent in favor of A64 and 38 percent against with 49 percent in favor of marijuana being legal, in general.
The highest support ever polled was from a June Rasmussen survey of 500 likely Colorado voters which showed 61 percent were in favor of legalizing marijuana if it is regulated the way that alcohol and cigarettes are currently regulated.
Voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington are all considering measures that would effectively end marijuana prohibition in their respective states. Marijuana legalization has become an issue that defies the stereotypes of party lines, garnering the support of key progressives and conservatives in Colorado, Washington and Oregon. And although all three states have pot initiatives on their ballots, Colorado and Washington's pot ballot measures appear to be quite popular with voters, according to recent polling.
If marijuana is legalized in Colorado under Amendment 64 it would be taxed and regulated similar to alcohol and tobacco. It would give state and local governments the ability to control and tax the sale of small amounts of marijuana to adults age 21 and older. According to the Associated Press, analysts project that that tax revenue could generate somewhere between $5 million and $22 million a year in the state. An economist whose study was funded by a pro-pot group projects as much as a $60 million boost by 2017.
Of course A64 has its share of high-profile opponents including Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet the Colorado Education Assocation and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. But A64 has drawn a wide-array of support from individuals, groups and politicians including: conservative firebrand Tom Tancredo, members of the military suffering from PTSD, religious leaders from various faiths, the NAACP, Colorado's largest labor union, law enforcement, as well as hundreds of professors and physicians from around the state.
However, the big unknown still is if the federal government would allow a regulated marijuana market to take shape. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was a vocal opponent of California's legalization initiative in 2010 saying he would "vigorously enforce" federal marijuana prohibition, has continued to remain silent on the issue this year.
In September, Holder was urged by by nine former heads of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to take a stand against marijuana legalization again. "To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives," the nine said in the letter to holder obtained by Reuters.
Earlier this month those same DEA drug warriors joined by former directors of the Office of National Drug Control Policy on a teleconference call to put additional pressure on Holder to speak out against Colorado's marijuana measure as well as similar initiatives on the ballot in Washington state and Oregon.
The drug warriors say that states that legalize marijuana for recreational use will trigger a "Constitutional showdown" with the federal government.
In a report published Sunday by NBC News, President Obama's former senior drug policy advisor said that if the marijuana initiatives pass, a war will be incited between the federal government and the states that pass them. "Once these sates actually try to implement these laws, we will sen an effort by the feds to shut it down," Sabet said.
But proponents of the legislation say they don't foresee federal agents interfering in states that have legalized cannabis, citing the federal government's silence on the issue this election cycle.
Election Day is here and the DOJ has yet to formally announce its enforcement intentions regarding the ballot measures that, if passed, could end marijuana prohibition in each state. The clearest statement from the DOJ came from Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who said his office's stance on the issue would be "the same as it's always been." During a recent appearance on "60 Minutes" Cole elaborated, "We're going to take a look at whether or not there are dangers to the community from the sale of marijuana and we're going to go after those dangers," Reuters reported.
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