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Sep 14, 2012 1:41 AM by Jacqui Heinrich

Amendment 64: to legalize or not to legalize?

It's one of the most controversial ballot questions voters will face in November: should Colorado legalize marijuana? It's the next step in a process that has seen Colorado voters legalize medical marijuana.

Under Amendment 64, adults 21 years and older could legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana; experts say that's about 60 joints.

If legalized, marijuana sales will be taxed, with the first $40 million in revenue going to Colorado public schools.

Supporters say taxpayer money is wasted under marijuana prohibition, and legal or not it's still on the streets. Mason Tvert, an author of the proposal, says legalizing the drug will regulate its production and sales, which will actually keep it away from young people. "We can be saving $12 million per year in criminal justice resources and we could also be generating up to $60 million a year when it comes to new revenues and savings," Tvert told News 5, citing a study by the American Center on Law and Policy.

Colorado State Attorney General John Suthers disagrees in the strongest terms; he says legalizing marijuana will further impact high school drop out rates, and revenue generated from taxing the drug will be insignificant. "The amount of money we pay for people that drop out of high school as a result of their lack of productivity and their reliance on public assistance, prison costs and things like that, we'd pay much more money than we'd ever bring in," Suthers says.

Attorney General Suthers says he's opposed to the amendment mainly because marijuana is still illegal under federal law; legalizing pot in Colorado could pose problems for employees undergoing drug testing for federal jobs or in industries that don't tolerate drug use.

Jeff Dorschner, a spokesperson for U.S. Attorney District of Colorado, says the federal government isn't changing its tune. He released a statement to News 5 saying, "We enforce federal law and Congress has determined that possession and trafficking of marijuana is a violation of federal law."

Suthers says proponents of Amendment 64's claims that legalizing marijuana will disable drug cartels is also false, pointing to cartel involvement in the medical marijuana industry. "They're going to look for the cheapest supplies and if the cheapest supply is the cartel, they're still going to be the supplier," he says. Furthermore, the amendment doesn't include a residency requirement, so buyers could feasibly travel to Colorado to purchase marijuana, then distribute it in other states.

If Amendment 64 passes, it will alter the Colorado State Constitution; legislators will be unable to enact any changes, since amendments to a constitution are only something voters can approve. Both sides are asking voters to consider the options before November.

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