Nov 13

Contradictions and Public Perception of Colorado Marijuana Legalization

In 2012, Colorado became one of two states to legalize the recreational use of small portions of marijuana for Colorado residents over the age of 21. The images on Election Day in 2012 were those of celebration – silencing those critics who were confident the measure would be defeated by Colorado taxpayers (including Governor John Hickenlooper). The celebrations revealed a wide variety of mistaken perceptions among Colorado citizens about what is now lawful with the passage of Amendment 64. Public confusion is impacting professionals, particularly criminal defense attorneys (with decades of trial experience) and changing the way marijuana possession/distribution charges are defended, prosecuted, and viewed by Colorado judges and juries (particularly juries drawn from urban settings like Denver). The reality is not nearly as much has changed in Colorado in the wake of marijuana legalization as the public seems to believe, particularly when it comes to the rules and policies of private organizations that aren’t in any hurry to align those policies with pertinent aspects of marijuana legalization.

For example, following the passage of Amendment 64 and its provision for the legalization of recreational marijuana use, cultivation, and possession, some Colorado residents mistakenly thought this new law gave them carte blanche rights to use marijuana – at any time, and in any place, they desired. The perception that Colorado residents now had this carte blanche was particularly evident throughout downtown Denver and other Colorado cities during the celebrations of Election Day, 2012. True, you could not be arrested or charged with a crime if you possessed / used one ounce or less of marijuana in very limited locations (such as your personal residence). However, one of the many practical considerations totally ignored by jubilant Denver residents was the fact that employers’ specific policies on marijuana and drug use hadn’t changed. Employers can absolutely still fire, suspend, or discipline an employee for smoking or using marijuana on or off the job.

Or take the example of professional athletes of Denver or Colorado-based sports teams. These individuals are still prohibited from using any amount of marijuana as stipulated by NFL league-wide policies (as well as team-specific policies and conditions of individual contracts). A 48-foot wide, 14-foot tall billboard located in close proximity to Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium displays a football leaning against a draft beer and states, “Stop driving players to drink! A safer choice is now legal (here),” and features the Denver Broncos signature color scheme.

A petition to reform NFL rules to bring them into alignment with state laws in Washington and Colorado is currently gaining supporters’ signatures on Marijuana legalization advocate Mason Tvert has stated, ““The NFL’s harsh marijuana penalties do nothing to promote the health and safety of the players….We hope [NFL] Commissioner Goodell will explain why the NFL is willing to promote the use of alcohol among its players and fans, but unwilling to recognize that a safer alternative is now legal here.” NFL Executives declined to comment about the billboard specifically, but according to USA Today, league spokesman Brian McCarthy has stated, “We [the NFL] do not plan on changing our policies.”


These are just a few examples that illustrate why, contrary to popular belief, Colorado’s legalization of marijuana may not give residents of Denver, Boulder, or throughout Colorado, significantly more freedom to use marijuana than they had before November of 2012.



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