Colorado's Amendment 64 Was Just the Beginning

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Common Dreams

Colorado's Amendment 64 Was Just the Beginning

In 2012 I supported Amendment 64 in Colorado -- the "regulate marijuana like alcohol act." Amendment 64 is a common sense step toward ending the archaic prohibition mindset that has resulted in the U.S. leading the world in the incarceration of our people -- a prison system packed with non-violent drug offenders.

Adding insult to injury, the system as it stands today is racist and classist -- police arrest low level dealers and users, who then face obscenely long mandatory minimum sentences -- unless they know higher level drug dealers to turn in and trade for lower sentences.

For low level offenders who don't have anyone higher up to trade, jail is inevitable, while higher level dealers can often bargain their way out of prison. What's the cumulative effect of this system? People of color and the economically poor are filling up our jails and becoming a permanent underclass.

According to the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, African Americans and whites have nearly identical rates of illicit drug use: 10 percent and 8.7 percent respectively. But according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, African Americans are 10 times more likely to be jailed for marijuana than other racial groups.

Marijuana legalization is the first step towards correcting this unnecessary tragedy. It's ridiculous that we continue to incarcerate anyone for using a substance that actually causes far less damage than alcohol. No one goes out looking for fights on marijuana. No one dies from marijuana intoxication. And no one should be jailed for possessing marijuana. Prohibition is an antiquated concept that's been politicized for far too long.

According to Bureau of Justice Statistics report on Drug Use and Dependence, nearly 13 percent of federal and state inmates are incarcerated for marijuana offenses, costing taxpayers over one billion dollars per year. A study by the CATO institute projected that legalizing marijuana would generate 8.7 billion in annual tax revenues. That's a budgetary swing of nearly 10 billion dollars. Now imagine plunging most of that money into our educational system. The benefits would be immense.

With the ascendance of the baby boomers I believe we've finally reached a tipping point. The majority of my generation knows better than to believe the government's breathless anti-marijuana propaganda. In November, in Colorado and Washington, we finally proved it. Amendment 64 passed with 66 percent of the vote.

Governor John Hickenlooper recently signed the bill into law. Business interests, public health advocates and state agencies worked together to provide guidance for regulation and taxation. The bill that resulted is one of the first in the world to fully integrate cultivating, manufacturing and distribution of marijuana into a regulatory framework.

The bill creates a Marijuana Enforcement Division, places a marijuana tax on next year's ballot, and establishes guidelines for consumers and industry. Individuals must be 21 years or older to purchase marijuana. They are limited to the possession of one ounce and may cultivate up to six plants. Driving under the influence of marijuana, like alcohol, remains against the law. The regulatory framework provides sensible rules that I believe can stand as a model for the rest of the country as the inexorable progress of legalization marches on.

Washington State made similar strides towards legalization and I hope these states are the harbingers of a national change toward a more sensible drug control policy. I encourage everyone to get involved in your own state. Eventually we'll reach enough of a critical mass to prompt reform at the federal level and we can end this national outrage once and for all.

Susan Sarandon

Susan Sarandon is an actress, activist and mother.

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