Colorado officers share experience with legalization of medical marijuana
In addition to the presidential election, arguably the most discussed topic for voters concerns Issue 5, which would legalize marijuana in Arkansas for medicinal purposes.
While the support group — Arkansans for Compassionate Care — is asking voters to have "compassion" and agree that marijuana will help people with serious illnesses, there are many state leaders who say there is more to Issue 5 than what voters realize.
Sgt. Jim Gerhardt and Commander Jerry Peters, who are affiliated with the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, know firsthand about legal medical marijuana. Voters in their state passed a similar bill back in 2000 and the law for medical marijuana went into effect by 2001.
They said voters now look back and have "serious regrets."
"In 2008, a lot of people started to exploit loopholes in our law, because there was no dispensary system voted on. It was only supposed to be for patients and caregivers to grow marijuana and possess it and use it," Gerhardt said. "But then there was a huge exploitation of loopholes in our law. What people did is start opening up storefront dispensaries and claiming that they had dozens and dozens of patients."
Today only about 2 percent of the thousands of registered medical marijuana cardholders in Colorado actually have a serious illness, Gerhardt said. He said there are now hundreds of marijuana dispensaries throughout the state; there are hundreds of people now allowed to legally grow marijuana at their own homes, exposing the medicines to children; advertisement fliers about marijuana circulate from vehicle windshields to mailboxes and are included in magazines and newspapers. A litany of other issues could be stated, he said..
"In Denver there are more marijuana dispensaries than there are Starbucks coffee houses," Gerhardt said. "In fact, there are 70 licensed Starbucks in Denver and more than 300 licensed (marijuana) dispensaries. It's out of control."
He added, "People are standing out on street corners with signs that read 'Get your discount marijuana here.' In university towns, there are a lot of local publications there, and when you open up the magazines there are pages and pages of advertisement for 'Get your medical marijuana card and come here for marijuana.'"
But Peters said even in the rare towns where there aren't marijuana dispensaries on nearly every corner, there are numerous problems with those that grow marijuana in their own homes. When all those living under the same roof all have medical marijuana cards, the amount of marijuana they can grow significantly increases. Peters said there are even problems with people claiming to live in a particular home, but use it only for growing marijuana.
"There are people growing it in their homes clandestinely and trying to grow a lot more plants than they are allowed," he said. "It's caused a true change in law enforcement because now we have to verify people's ability to grow (marijuana) and how much they can they grow or not grow. And the vast majority are way out of compliance to the point where our citizens who initially voted for this regret it. They say it is not what they intended it to be at all."
There is also a serious problem with mold in the homes in which marijuana is grown. As an example, in homes where officers discover that methamphetamine was made, that home will always have those harmful chemicals. Peters said the same thing applies to homes where marijuana has been grown. Everything can be mold-infested, from the walls to the ceilings, he said.
Peters tells a personal story of a Colorado detective who was in perfect health, but entered a home growing marijuana. He said the mold that was floating in the air got into the detectives's lungs and then spread throughout his body.
"(The detective) is in serious condition today," Peters said. "And that mold is in marijuana that people are smoking. Ironically, there maybe some that are smoking it for medical reasons and what is supposed to help them is making them worse."
Supporters of medical marijuana, particularly the Arkansans for Compassionate Care, said, "Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act will allow Arkansas patients, with a doctor’s recommendation, to use medical marijuana for serious debilitating medical conditions. Patients will be able to purchase their medicine at a well-regulated not-for-profit dispensary."
On the www.arcompassion.com website, it reads that "more than 17,000 published papers in the scientific literature" has analyzed marijuana and that it is "remarkably safe." It says there are no records of overdose, but also suggests that people speak with a physician before deciding to use marijuana for medicinal use to see if it is "safe and appropriate."
ACC also said that a "2010 nationwide ABC News/ Washington Post poll found that 81 percent of Americans think that doctors should 'be allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes.'"
Ryan Denham, ACC campaign director, said that supporters of Issue 5 are also concerned with youth using marijuana. However, he said that Issue 5 "is one of the most highly regulated laws ever drafted and you cannot compare this law to California or Colorado (medical marijuana laws)."
Gerhardt and Peters, however, said that the Arkansans for Compassionate Care is not looking at the overall picture. They said voters need to research the issue of medical marijuana and what has occurred in Colorado.
"When people voted for this in 2000 in Colorado, everyone thought if someone is sick and dying and wants to smoke a joint, I'm not going to stand in their way. So there was a lot of care and compassion in the vote," Peters said.
"The problem is that the care and compassion has quickly turned to capitalism. What we have found in our experience, since 2008 really, is that more people are trying to divert the sales of marijuana for people using it for medical purposes. And there is so much advertisement for marijuana that it is continuously ending up in the hands of children."
Gerhardt added, "It is out of control and what people didn't know was coming was storefront dispensaries that are right in strip malls with grocery stores and they not to far from schools. They are everywhere."
Peters and Gerhardt said what is happening is that the medical marijuana is quickly turning into a back-door way of legalizing marijuana. He said those that argue that marijuana is no worse than alcohol aren't realizing that if marijuana is legalized, then you are compounding the problem.
Gerhardt said that in Colorado the number of intoxicated drivers — alcohol and those high on marijuana — has significantly increased.
"That means more drunk drivers on the streets causing serious accidents," he said. "Not to mention more people getting high in homes with children that not only exposes the children to marijuana smoke, it also means that more children are in danger because their caretakers were too busy getting high."
Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group responsible for the current medical marijuana initiative, says this state won't see those kinds of issues. But Gerhardt and Peters said that voters in Colorado were told the same things back in 2000. They said that marijuana use is prevalent in Colorado and even though marijuana is still illegal under federal law, law enforcement officials in their state face numerous problems due to all the loopholes in their law. Now the state Legislature there has issues in closing those loopholes.
"The law passed in 2000, it amended our state constitution and the language used is etched in stone until the voters of Colorado decide to do something about it," Gerhardt said. "(Dispensaries) started making money off of these marijuana transactions and it gave them the ability to hire lobbyists to go down to the Capitol and basically legislate in the dispensary system that had been operating under a gray law. It was a back-door way of legalizing marijuana and now we have hundreds of dispensaries throughout Colorado. We are very handcuffed with our law, because once it passed, it was in our state constitution and there is not any way to change it unless the people vote to change it."
He added, "I believe the desire of the people that promote (medical marijuana) are really trying to get a foot-hold in toward social acceptance of marijuana. There is a lot of push back in Colorado that has occurred because of this. Medical marijuana has been a disaster for us in Colorado."
For more information about the issues by those that opposed Issue 5, visit http://www.facebook.com/TrueCompassionArkansas. For more information about those supporting medical marijuana, visit www.arcompassion.com.