Marijuana Legalization Faces Mere Contradictions

By Claire Ann Austria

Oct 17, 2016 06:00 AM EDT

David Driskell, the executive director of planning, housing and sustainability for the city of Boulder, Colo., said one of the biggest marijuana-related issues that has arisen for his office in recent years has been the smell.

Driskell says that Marijuana "grow operations" in the city can vary broadly in size, he said - allowing basketball courts and airplane hangars as comparisons - and generally have gotten larger since January 2014, when commercial pot sales began in Colorado.

Driskell said his office requires grow operations to mitigate odors with ventilation and air purification, "but getting compliance is difficult sometimes." Boulder has an inter-departmental team that inspects marijuana facilities. The team includes members of the city's fire, finance, police, planning and business licensing offices, Driskell said. Boulder is home to the University of Colorado's main campus and is a vibrant, outdoorsy city of more than 103,000 - a population similar to New Bedford's.

Driskell said Boulder's amount of registered marijuana dispensaries - referring to both medical and commercial shops - is "in the dozens."

On the other side of the Continental Divide, state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, a Democrat whose district is in Colorado's rural, mountainous northwest, said "the devil is in the details" when it comes to commercial marijuana regulation - and the work is ongoing, nearly three years after sales began.

A complex regulatory landscape soon could face municipalities and lawmakers in Massachusetts, as well, if voters statewide decide Nov. 8 to legalize commercial sales and recreational use of marijuana by adults, via Question 4.

Issues including high drivers and widespread, uninformed consumption of marijuana-infused products (MIPs) - which can include edibles, beverages, botanicals and more - have been among the many concerns of SouthCoast law enforcement and municipal leaders. Many of those leaders say legalization could significantly harm the quality of life in the region and beyond.

Supporters of the ballot initiative say legalizing commercial, recreational marijuana would add oversight and tax revenue to an industry that already exists on the black market.

Colorado is learning, and earning, as legalization unfolds. Sales of recreational and medical marijuana, combined, totaled more than $996 million in 2015, according to the state's Department of Revenue.

Meanwhile, a state survey released in June indicated that marijuana use among Colorado high school students was "relatively unchanged" between 2009 and 2015.

Thirty-eight percent of thousands of students surveyed last year said they had used marijuana at least once, compared to 43 percent in 2009, according to the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, led by the state's Department of Public Health & Environment.

Recreational marijuana also is legal in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Next month, four states - Maine, California, Arizona and Nevada - will decide on legalization along with Massachusetts. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota will decide on medical marijuana.

Massachusetts voters approved medical use in 2012, by a margin of 63 to 37 percent, four years after voting in 2008 to decriminalize possession of less than 1 ounce of pot. That margin was 65 to 35 percent.

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