The Denver City Council voted unanimously Monday night to ensure that as legal recreational marijuana sales begin on Jan. 1 for adults 21-and-over, those 18 to 21 who are caught with pot won't have to face lasting legal consequences.
Their initial approval still has to pass a final vote next week, but the measure's passage would decriminalize pot possession for people between the ages of 18 and 21. Penalties for those within that age range would no longer include jail time or permanent convictions on their records -- just fines.
With the likely passage of the new measure next week, the penalties for underage adult possession of one ounce or less would simply mirror those already in place for those who are over 21 and who are caught in public with marijuana (prior to Jan. 1, 2014). The fines would increase from $150 for the first offense to $500 for the second and $999 for the third and each subsequent offense.
“We do not want this age group to have their legs cut off before they get started in life,” said City Council Member Albus Brooks, who championed the measure.
The 2012 passage of Amendment 64 legalized recreational marijuana use for adults age 21 and older, and limited possession for personal use to up to an ounce. However, adults between the ages of 18 and 21 who are currently caught with one ounce of pot of less can still face high fines or up to one year in jail.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2012, 21.3 percent of young adults aged 18 to 25 admitted to using illicit drugs -- the highest percent of any age group -- and the most widely used drug was marijuana.
NORML, a pro-legalization group that "assists the victims of cannabis prohibition" claims that arrests and prosecutions for marijuana possession are incredibly costly to taxpayers.
"Taxpayers annually spend between $7.5 billion and $10 billion arresting and prosecuting individuals for marijuana violations. Almost 90 percent of these arrests are for marijuana possession only," NORML claimed in a study titled, "60 Years of Prohibition."
"This in no way is making it legal for these young people to possess or consume marijuana," Brooks told The Denver Post. "What it does do is make it so that these kids don't have to live into adulthood with mistakes they might have made when they were 19."