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Colorado Can Lead Nation In Marijuana Policy

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By Jessica Peck Corry and Robert J. Corry, Jr.

With the national debate over how--or even whether--to legalize marijuana now hitting a fevered pitch, many eyes are focused squarely on Colorado, where lawmakers are now considering proposals to increase regulation of the state's vibrant medical marijuana industry.

Unfortunately, emotion is trumping fact in too much of this public debate. In a guest column carried in today's Denver Post (authored by Robert and titled "Stop the Medical Marijuana Madness"), as well as through previous commentary we've authored, we lament how a handful of powerful politicians, including some of our fellow Republicans, are using antecdotes, half-truths, and unfounded theories, to make their case for cumbersome regulation, including moratoriums that could prevent new dispensaries from opening at all.

In doing so, these officials are ignoring other critical public policy needs and basic facts proving that the hysteria around the tremendous growth in public demand for medical marijuana is not based in fact. While some regulation of any industry may be appropriate at times, medical marijuana is being unfairly villianized by those who disagree with the state's voters, who have consistently and overwhelmingly maintained a commitment to patient access to such treatment.

From today's Denver Post:

Most elected leaders have a good sense of proportion regarding this issue. A minority of politicians, however, avoid reasonable proposals to tax and regulate marijuana, and instead irresponsibly fear-monger in the worst tradition of Prohibition-era 'Reefer Madness' propaganda. We hear racially charged tales of 'Mexican cartels' supposedly running the medical marijuana business, when the truth is Colorado homegrown marijuana puts foreign cartels out of business, and it is law enforcement that enriches cartels through hostility to medical marijuana.

Even putting aside the state's serious economic woes, any focus on medical marijuana should be far down the list when it comes to the serious health care concerns we face. Today, Colorado is one of more than a dozen states where fatal prescription drug overdoses now outnumber deaths from car accidents.

Doctors across the state mourn the epidemic of "doctor shopping," powerless against preventing patients who have become addicted to prescription narcotics from seeking out multiple prescriptions from different doctors to feed their addictions. The game can become fatal very quickly. And despite this shocking trend, which has resulted in a three-fold increase in prescription drug deaths over just the last decade, anti-marijuana activists publicly express little, if any, concern.

Instead, they continue to blast medical marijuana dispensaries, ignoring their many benefits, including the revitalization of struggling communities, the addition of much needed jobs, as well as the significant tax revenue they provide for municipal coffers. More importantly, they ignore the value of businesses providing alternative medical treatment for our sick and dying, many of whom seek such treatment only after years of living in the haze of pharmaceutical narcotic addiction. While the vast majority of medical marijuana patients abide by the system to the letter of law, activists exploit the stories of a few battle apples as a way to enhance their pro-prohibition polemic.

For legislators eager to villanize medical marijuana providers and their patients, we'd suggest they proceed with caution. Most dispensary owners are astute business entrepreneurs; they welcome commonsense standards as a way to best serve their own economic interests, as well as the interests of the patients they serve. Attacking them without getting the facts will only stunt a productive dialogue on regulation.

In addition, legislators should expect resistance from voters in this era where public support for both medical marijuana and outright legalization has grown substantially over the last decade, and today today is greater than ever before.

In 2000, a strong majority of voters first amended our state Constitution to allow for legal access to medical marijuana. In 2006, more than 40 percent supported a statewide initiative seeking outright legalization of adult marijuana use. While Republicans voters in Colorado still outnumber Democrats by a slim margin, the 2006 legalization effort received more voter support than that year's Republican candidate for governor.

Nationally, polls show that a growing number of voters of all ideological persuasions in other states are interested in following Colorado's lead. A national media survey conducted earlier this year shows that nearly half of Americans support legalization. If legalization advocates can convince just one more voter in every ten, marijuana prohibition could quickly become a thing of a past in many states, including Colorado.

As proud Republicans and even prouder parents of two young children, we're seen as unconventional legalization supporters by many. If we can open minds, we relish the role. But as the Washington Post's Kathleen Parker recently noted, we're actually far from alone in our views among free thinkers within our party.

Republicans committed to our party's founding ideals of individual rights and responsibility should join us. During a FOX News interview yesterday profiling our efforts, we reiterated this commitment. We will not stand by complacently as our federal government wastes our tax dollars to continue a prohibition that costs billions each year and results in 850,000 Americans each year being forced into to our criminal justice system for marijuana-related offenses. In these tough economic times, we owe our children better than to accept the status quo.

Colorado stands at center stage in the national debate over marijuana. In the face of such controversy, we ask those on all sides of the debate to commit to just one thing: let's stick to the facts. With emotions running high and our federal debt running even higher, now is the time to leave no stone unturned in the effort to restore our nation to a place of solid fiscal and philosophical foundations. Our children's future depends on it.

Jessica Peck Corry (www.JessicaCorry.com) and Robert J. Corry, Jr. (www.RobCorry.com) are Denver-based attorneys. Jessica is also a policy analyst with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank.