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Waiting for the smoke to clear

Colorado and other jurisdictions move ahead while U.S. feds discuss personal marijuana use



With Whistler resident and Olympic medal winner Ross Rebagliati's plan in the news to open a number of medical marijuana dispensaries across the country, and news, broken last year by the Pique that a medical marijuana grower plans to set up a large operation in the Sea to Sky corridor, questions around the use of marijuana are staying in the headlines. While many organizations in B.C., including the Union of B.C. Municipalities, have come out in favour of decriminalization, our neighbours to the south have taken it one step further. In this Dispatches reporter Allen Best looks at the debate in Colorado, where last November voters approved an amendment to the state's constitution that allows possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people aged 21 and older.

Unlike some, Jim Schmidt admits that he has inhaled. "It makes me cough," he says frankly of smoking marijuana.

That hacking is well in the past. Schmidt, 65, a former mayor and current council member in Crested Butte, Colo., drives a bus for a living and is barred from ingestion of marijuana by any method. But he believes that legalization of marijuana for medical purposes in Colorado has been a step in the right direction. The suffering of several cancer-ridden friends has been lessened because of their use of marijuana. "It definitely helped them," he says.

The Crested Butte Town Council and other local jurisdictions in Colorado will soon have to decide to accommodate, if at all, the further legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

In November, 54.8 per cent of Colorado voters approved an amendment to the state's constitution that allows possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people aged 21 and older. The margin in ski towns and resort valleys was higher yet. At 79 per cent in favor, San Miguel (Telluride) lead the state, followed by 75 per cent in Pitkin County (Aspen), 69 per cent in Summit County (Breckenridge), and 65 per cent in Eagle County (Vail).

In most cases, marijuana was a bigger hit than Barack Obama, the first president to openly admit having smoked it.

Now, the federal government must decide how to respond to the legalization of marijuana by states. Washington state voters also legalized marijuana for recreational use, and 17 states and Washington, D.C., allow use of the plant for medicinal purposes. Activists reportedly plan to push for legalization initiatives in California, Oregon and other states in 2016, the next presidential campaign, when young voters are most likely to vote.

But possession and use of marijuana remains against federal law, a fact noted by federally chartered banks. They have been leery of granting loans to marijuana businesses for fear their assets will be seized. Observers say the federal government can't ignore states thumbing their nose at federal laws. But with immigration, financial debt and climate change already on the agenda, will Congress have time to wrangle through this issue?

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