Rant & Rave: SAM and Todd Helton

January 11 2013, 2:05 PM

Rant: SAM's after-the-fact anti-legalization efforts don't ring true. 

On Thursday, organizers of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) launched their national organization with a press conference at the Denver Press Club. The group is led by a left-right coalition that includes former Democratic congressman Patrick Kennedy (pictured, above), former George W. Bush speechwriter and conservative columnist David Frum, onetime Bush and Obama drug policy appointee Kevin Sabet, and a number of physicians, researchers, and drug policy activists.

SAM's mission, in short, is to propose and advocate for anti-drug solutions it considers to be more rational than the failed "War on Drugs" policies of the past. The group is, however, vehemently opposed to marijuana legalization in almost every form. Although it does agree that small-time users shouldn't be sent to jail, SAM also suggests that certain drug offenders, including first-timers, might need to be forced into addiction screening, treatment programs, and drug education classes.

Throughout the press conference, the speakers continuously cited statistics about the harm marijuana can do to children and adolescents, and they repeatedly invoked the bugaboos of the alcohol industry, Big Tobacco, and foreign drug cartels, all of whom, they argued, would be empowered by widespread legalization.

Here's the problem with SAM's arguments: Amendment 64 was explicitly designed to set up a regulatory system that will mitigate the influence of foreign cartels by moving more marijuana production to American soil. It was designed to improve upon the regulatory frameworks for alcohol and tobacco that, while imperfect, have made great strides in making it tougher for kids to acquire these adult products. No one on the pro-64 side would dispute the harm marijuana can do to a teenager's developing brain, and everyone who worked to help legalization pass agrees that keeping it out of kids' hands was one of the primary motivations for the effort.

Unlike Colorado's foray into the medical marijuana business, the passage of Amendment 64 has not resulted in the rampant availability of legal weed. Not a single retail outlet yet exists because the state is taking its time to sort out the issues and make the transition as smooth as possible; it may be 2014 before we see weed openly for sale. Moreover, at least one of the members of Governor John Hickenlooper's 24-person task force that was assembled to address these issues, Dr. Christian Thurstone, is an openly anti-legalization board member of SAM, so all sides of the issue are amply represented.

It's difficult to criticize anyone who wants to protect children. But in this case, SAM's mission is designed to undermine what the adults of Colorado—after years of thoughtful debate and after weighing the facts and myths—have clearly decided they are prepared to accept and address. (It's also worth asking why SAM's founders, so eager to demonize alcohol and tobacco in their anti-marijuana arguments, haven't devoted more attention to crusading against these far more harmful products and their pernicious political lobbies, whose indisputable ills and effects have been common knowledge for 20 or 30 years.)

In becoming one of the first two states to legalize marijuana possession, Colorado has a chance to demonstrate how accountable adults, working together, can formulate a sensible approach to regulation that protects children while helping to eradicate the stigma from a substance that—when bought, sold, and used responsibly—simply doesn't deserve the demonization. So far, SAM's efforts reek of so-called "nanny state" policies at their meddlesome and anti-freedom worst.

Rave: Todd Helton's last ride.

One thing we can all agree on is the greatest Rockie ever. This week, Todd Helton announced that he's recovered enough from the hip injury that shortened his 2012 season to give it one more year, making 2013 a victory lap of sorts for the Rockies' veteran first baseman, if not for the team. With the Rockies in serious rebuiling mode after their worst season ever, we can at least look forward to a six-month sayonara to one of Denver sports' truly class acts—and our best candidate to one day be the Rockies' first-ever Hall of Famer.

—Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.