Grassroots Radio Colorado, John Suthers, October 11, 2012
Station: KLZ, 560 AM
Show: Grassroots Radio Colorado
Date: October 11, 2012
Topics: Amendment 64, Marijuana, Medical Marijuana, Dispensaries, Growth Operations, Growers, Alcohol, Tax Revenues, Fine, Jails, Prisons, Teachers, Administrators, Schools, Drop-outs, Suspensions, Expulsions, Legalize, Drug Policy, Colorado Constitution, Statute, Federal law, THC Content, Workplace, Drug Test, Youth Use of Marijuana, Rocky Mountain Employers’ Council, Alcoholism, Drug Treatment, Possession, Emergency Room Admissions
GUEST HOST DERRICK WILBURN: […] We are joined right now by the Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. And we are talk a little bit about Amendment 64. Attorney General Suthers, are you there?
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF COLORADO JOHN SUTHERS: I sure am, Derrick. Glad to be with you this evening.
WILBURN: Thank you for giving us some time. We know we’ve only got you for one segment, so rather than go through the usual hyperbole and what a great guy you are and talking about the kids at college, let’s jump right in and get to the issues of the moment, because we’re going to lose you here in fifteen minutes. Um, can you give us just a quick overview [of] Amendment 64? What is it, matter-of-fact speaking? Where do you stand as regards to the amendment? And then we can get into some question and answer.
SUTHERS: Well, first and foremost, Derrick, it is an amendment to the Colorado constitution, which is one of my most serious problems with it. It’s not a statutory change. It’s an amendment to the constitution that would allow —legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by anyone over the age of 21. I say “legalize”—in other words, it would immunize you from any state prosecution. It would still remain illegal under federal law. And of course, that’s one of the problems also. One of the things it doesn’t do, that a lot of people are under the mis-impression of, that it somehow limits the amount of marijuana that can be grown in a grow operation or can be part of the retail process. It places no limits on that, which I think will virtually guarantee that Colorado will be a net exporter of marijuana to other states, which is also one of the problems I have. I’m opposed for a variety of reasons, some of them legal. One of them has to do with my experience with use youth [sic] of drugs, and particularly marijuana. I’ve already told you, I’m opposed to a constitutional amendment. Drug policy does not belong in a constitution. The Consitution is for the framework of government, the principles of that government. Drug policy needs to be changed as it – and sometimes change quickly, that—it ought to be in statute, not in the constitution. This problem that is created by – you know, the proponents say, “We want to regulate marijuana like alcohol.”
WILBURN: Just like alcohol.
SUTHERS: Let’s stop right there. Alcohol is legal under federal law. Marijuana is not. You cannot regulate marijuana like alcohol for that basic reason. One of the things that regulation of alcohol leads to is the regulation of content. When you pick up a can of beer at the grocery store, you look at the content and you know that it is 6% alcohol. When you go into a marijuana dispensary, even now under the medical marijuana regime, and under legalization too, —uh, yeah, they may venture some guess as to what the THC content is, but they’re not obligated to produce marijuana with a consistent THC content. And of course that is part of the problem. THC content today is several times what it was thirty years ago.
SUTHERS: The – I think it’s going to create all kinds of workplace issues. A lot of workplaces have federal contracts, have federal dollars flowing through them. They’re obligated by federal law to have drug-free workplaces. We’ve got a statute in Colorado [that] says you can’t sanction people for out-of-work legal conduct. So it’s inevitable that we’re going to have people smoking pot on Saturday night on their own time and flunking a drug test on Tuesday and being sanctioned for it and saying, “Hey! Wait a minute! I’m–“
WILBURN: –This is my constitutional right! Now, there’s a good point.
SUTHERS: Yeah. “I’m doing this on my own time.”
WILBURN: Let’s drill down on that for a couple of seconds. 303-477-5600 if you would like to talk with your Attorney General. He is on the line with us right now. So, I go out Saturday night. I smoke some marijuana. I blow a couple of bongs or joints, or whatever it is I do to have a good time. I show up at work at the city of Denver on Tuesday to drive a bus, and they say, “Hey, go downstairs and pee into a cup.” And I test positive. And they fire me. So, is your contention that I can now turn around and say, “You cannot fire me for exercising what is my constitutional right.”
SUTHERS: It’s my contention that you will say that. Um, to be fair to the proponents, there is language in it saying it gives them no additional right in the workplace. But we have seen with medical marijuana, lawyers for individual using medical marijuana constantly pushing the envelope. We had a case that went to the courts here on a Denver city employee that was fired and flunked a drug test. We’ve had a case that – involving Workmen’s Comp. There’s a memo out by the Rocky Mountain Employers’ Council that talks about – this is a guarantee for the employer to have a great deal of litigation over these issues. I also want to point out that we’ve got court decisions now saying that any contract involving marijuana in Colorado between like a grow operation and a dispensary can’t be enforced. It’s violative [sic]of public policy and can’t be enforced in the courts. We just had a ruling the other day saying that marijuana growers and dispensers are not entitled to the bankruptcy law, because it’s a violation of federal law and against public policy. Derrick, if I may – I know we don’t have a whole lot of time, I do just want to mention my real concern about youth use. We know from 35 years of experience, and it’s very clearly tracked, that when the perception of risk of marijuana goes down, the use of the drug by teenagers goes up. What we are doing by putting these stores on every street corner with people twirling signs in front of them, is giving kids the impression that there is virtually no consequence to this. In fact, if you start smoking marijuana before the age of 18 you’ve got a one in four chance of being a serious drug addict, whereas if you don’t start smoking until after 21 you’ve got a one in twenty-five chance. I think we are going to see – we are seeing from medical marijuana and we’ll see even more from legalization serious problems in our schools, higher dropout rates. And this is the society where we all pay for this. You know, in a libertarian utopia, everybody would suffer the consequences of their own choices. But in America, you’re going to pay the emergency room costs, you’re going to pay the costs of this guy dropping out of school, the public assistance cost, and unfortunately, the prison cost.
GUEST HOST CARISA ZGLOBICKI: Mmm-hmm. That makes a lot of sense. I was wondering if you could touch base on, you know, there’s a lot of talk about the economic benefits of the Amendment 64, and I wanted you to see—you know, hear your side on what that really means.
SUTHERS: Yeah, we’ll take on some tax revenue. But keep in mind, to this very day, the tax revenues that we take in from alcohol pay for about 10% of the social costs we incur from alcoholism. And I think you can project pretty much the same with marijuana legalization, any revenues the government takes in will be a fraction of the social cost that will be imposed.
ZGLOBICKI: So, basically, we’ll have –
SUTHERS: And for example, just to give you an example, okay, the city government or the state government takes in the revenues, but it’s the school districts that are going to deal with the drop-outs and kids coming to school high, and all that kind of stuff. So, it’s not going to necessarily to equate that the tax benefit is going to be the one that suffers the economic consequences.
WILBURN: Now, Mr. Attorney – here’s one that you here all the time. We have jails – city, county, state jails, filled with people, taking up space. We’re feeding them three a day – three hots and a cot. We’ve got to employ people to keep them in there. All this monkey business is costing us an arm and a leg, and they’re in there because they got busted with an ounce-and-a-half of weed, uh—
SUTHERS: Total, complete myth.
WILBURN: –driving down the street.
SUTHERS: Total, complete myth. Three tenths of one percent of the entire prison population of this country is there for possession of marijuana in any amount. And these are people, this is hundreds of pounds, and tons, and all that kind of stuff.
WILBURN: Three tenths of one percent?
SUTHERS: Yes. The possession of one ounce of marijuana in Colorado is a petty offense. It’s a hundred dollar fine, no possible jail. We have systematically over the years lowered our sentences for possession of all drugs, including marijuana. But our goal is to get pe – users into drug treatment. The average first possession offender even on a felony level, will be offered a deferred sentence into a drug court. If they comply with the requirements, their case is dismissed. They can say they’ve never been convicted of a crime. It’s only when people repeatedly violate, violate probation that any jail or prison even comes into the picture. People go to prison for selling large amounts of marijuana. They go to prison for selling cocaine, heroin. They don’t go to prison for possession. That’s just a fact. And any suggestion to the contrary is a complete myth.
WILBURN: We’re down to just a couple of minutes. I’m looking at the Regulate Marijuana-dot-org site, and right on there, “Impact to Consumer” [it says] “many people die from alcohol use. Nobody dies from marijuana use.”
SUTHERS: Well, people die from being hit by cars driven by people with marijuana use. And one of the emergency admissions – and you can look this up, in the National Institute of Health, we’ve got skyrocketing – marijuana is second to alcohol in the cause of emergency room admissions.
WILBURN: Mmm-hmmm. I can believe that easy. Okay. We’ve got to get out in about 30 seconds. So, speaking to the voters, where can they go? How can they get involved? Above and beyond just casting a ‘no’ vote, which I personally hope everybody does, what can somebody do to get involved, and help you win this fight.
SUTHERS: Well, you can go to the website “Vote No on 64”. And get well-equipped with the arguments so that you’re able to kind of – the proponents have raised a lot more money than the opponents, because the industry is well-healed and wants to promote this. It’s all, mostly, out-of-state money. So you’re going to get blanketed with advertisements in the next month, and you need to be able to get the arguments to counter it. So, get educated. Read the Blue Book. There’s — I think, in the voters’ Blue Book, there’s a good discussion on it. And think about the future. If you’ve got young kids, you really need to think, and maybe ask for some candid conversations with teachers and administrators. It’s tough for them to acknowledge the pervasive problem of marijuana in the schools, because typically, they’re trying to pass school bonds and all that kind of stuff. But if you can get them to talk frankly with you, they’ll tell you. Even with the onset of medical marijuana, the pervasive use by youth of marijuana in the schools, and the number of suspensions, and the number of expulsions has really skyrocketed. And it’s a big problem
WILBURN: Colorado State Attorney General John Suthers, thank you so much for calling in and sharing with us on this topic. Come back at the top of the next hour. Carisa and I are going to kick this around for a couple of minutes. We will be back after this obscene profit break.