Dec 17, 2011 11:39 PM by Andy Koen

Marijuana legalization effort advances

Colorado voters will be deciding in November whether the state should become the first to completely legalize marijuana. This week, the group Sensible Colorado announced that they have collected enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

Bob Wiley is a local spokesperson for the group. He says marijuana arrests are a burden on the criminal justice system and that taxing the drug could generate revenue.

"We are spending an inordinate amount of money chasing down Willie Nelson," Wiley said. "What we need to do is focus our law enforcement resources against real criminals."

The milestone in the legalization push comes the same week that a new nationwide survey was released that reports a spike in the use of marijuana by American teens after a decade of decline.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers says that report reinforces a trend he's already noticed among teens in our state.

"Seventy percent of the teenagers in marijuana addiction treatment in Colorado say their primary source of the drug is a patient," Suthers said.

The ballot language calls for marijuana to be sold like alcohol. Buyers must be at least 21 years of age and must provide proof of their age when purchasing the drug.

Wiley says those provision alone likely won't keep marijuana out of the hands of teens but that an education campaign could help . "We've prevented a lot of alcohol use and tobacco use by education and information ... that is science-based," Wiley said.

But Suthers says voters were given a similar pitch about the medical marijuana model and the results point to the contrary.

"We had a 34 percent increase just last year, one year, 34 percent increase in the number of kids disciplined for distributing marijuana at school."

A previous legalization effort in Colorado failed back in 2006. More recently, voters in California turned down similar legislation in the 2010 election. Click here to read the proposed ballot language of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012.

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