All eyes on Denver’s marijuana laws

Lawmakers should use Denver as a gauge to determine marijuana’s effects.

On Tuesday voters in Denver approved the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana for its residents who are older than 21. The new measure follows a medical marijuana law in the state and takes a step beyond laws in other cities that make enforcing such possession the lowest law-enforcement priority. Proponents of legalizing marijuana for recreational use claim the drug is safer than alcohol, and even go so far as to say it will decrease alcohol-related car accidents and crime such as domestic abuse and street violence because adults have a choice as to which drug to use.

In terms of health, marijuana is less addictive and has different effects on a user’s mental state than alcohol does. But long-term health effects do exist, and as with alcohol, users react to the drug in different ways. Now a major city has decided that possessing the drug in small amounts is legal under its ordinances, the country should keep a close eye on the effects it has on Denver’s social scene and alcohol-related incidents. Nationally, lawmakers should use Denver as a gauge to determine the effects of legal marijuana. Social scientists and law enforcers should start now gathering statistics and doing studies to gather some hard evidence as to whether legalizing marijuana correlates with the reduced crime rates and less-congested legal systems proponents so often cite.

Essentially, Denver’s new law protects possessors from prosecution only by Denver authorities. State and federal laws still apply, which means possessors could still be charged under those jurisdictions. But state and federal authorities around Denver should take this opportunity to let the city’s law stand and see what happens.

Denver citizens have voted to make themselves an example and, as a result, opened themselves to scrutiny and criticism. But they should be grateful for that. If the new law works as well as citizens seem to think it will, and truly prevents more problems than it causes, more cities will legalize the drug and eventually, state and federal laws might be revised as well.