A question of federal versus state law? Amendment 64 would legalize small amounts of marijuana

Keywords: Poll question,

As voters statewide prepare to cast their ballots to legalize or to not legalize marijuana proponents and opponents are looking at the federal law as well as what the proposed regulation would mean.

Amendment 64, if approved by voters, would allow the sale and purchase of small amounts of marijuana, though the state law would not apply to the federal law, which would still consider the acts to be against the law.

Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell pointed to the now legal law that allows medical marijuana to be sold by dispensaries to people with a medical marijuana card.

While this too is illegal in the eyes of the federal government, there has been little interference since the state law was passed.

Spruell said when one of his deputies finds marijuana on a person, residence or a vehicle, the officer will ask if the individual possesses a medical marijuana card.

If the individual possesses a card, Spruell said, the drug is returned.

”They have no choice. It’s not against the law,” he said of the state law.

If Amendment 64 passes in less than two weeks, Spruell’s deputies will not be allowed to make an arrest for people possessing or selling marijuana if it’s under the legal amount.

Spruell said Colorado has state rights and can do what ever it wants, though the federal government could always come to the state and legally arrest people for possessing or selling marijuana.

They also could do the same to the current patients and dispensary plants that are now selling the drug, which has yet to happen.

“They probably would not, but there is no guarantee,” Spruell said. “It’s hard to know what is going to happen.”

Spruell and other sheriff’s office officials have publicly opposed Amendment 64.

He said the federal government has not said what actions, if any, they would take against states where voters approve decriminalizing marijuana. Voters in both Washington and Oregon will also decide whether to decriminalize marijuana on their state level.

Spruell said possession of marijuana in small amounts is already pretty much decriminalized in Colorado.

Possession of two grams or less is a Class 2 petty offense, and is punishable by a $100 fine and no jail time. The punishment does not increase for repeat offenders, he said. However, it is a felony for those who sell it.

In 2000, Colorado voters approved Amendment 20 that allowed patients with chronic illnesses to purchase marijuana from dispensaries upon getting a card from physicians. Law enforcement reportedly saw an increase in the number of people possessing the drug, though it was now legal, the sheriff said.

Spruell said he thinks if Amendment 64 passes, marijuana would be treated similar to how alcohol is sold. He also said that he believes there is no doubt more people would be operating motor vehicles while stoned or high.

Tom Angell, media relations director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said it’s interesting to differentiate between state and federal law, but mentioned the federal government never intervened into state’s rights since Amendment 20 was approved with 54 percent voting for the measure.

Angell said there is no question states can change their own laws, but added there is also little doubt that the federal government can come to the state and arrest anyone for violating its laws.

Angell said medical marijuana has already been proved profitable to the state through the taxes it charges on the drug and also said he thinks much more taxes would be received if it was completely decriminalized.

Angell said the hope is more states will look at what Colorado, Washington and Oregon are trying to do and follow their lead to cause the federal government to examine its own laws against marijuana.

“It remains to be seen,” he said. “Does it make sense? It’s so hard to predict the future. Everyday people are supporting legalization.”

Angell thinks the federal government could react initially if the movement is passed in any of the three states, but believes it will be short lived.

“You may see some interference from the federal government, but over time that will change,” he said.

According to the latest Public Policy Polling, Amendment 64 leads by a 53 percent to 43 percent margin. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.

michaelm@cortezjournal.com