If you’d like to get both sides on Amendment 44, the marijuana legalization measure that’s on the November ballot, the place to be Tuesday evening is Gates Concert Hall in the Newman Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Denver.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers will debate SAFER Colorado’s Mason Tvert at an event titled “Ballot Measures 101: Issues and Insights.” The debate is at 7:00 pm, is free and open to all. The debate will cover other ballot proposals, and Amendment 44 may be the last one scheduled, so don’t worry about arriving late.

If you can’t attend in person, you can view it later on 9NEWS.

Amendment 44 would make it legal for persons over 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Denver voters passed the measure last year, but state authorities have decided to charge Denverites under state law. If the state law is modified in November, it will mean only the feds can bust adult marijuana smokers for possession anywhere in Colorado.

The law will have no effect on other crimes committed by marijuana users. For example, it will still be illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana or to distribute marijuana to a minor (see the debate over that issue here.)

If you think this law isn’t necessary because cops and drug agents don’t bother with marijuana smokers, think again. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report released last week, marijuana arrests reached an all-time high in 2005 — 42.5% of all drug arrests were for pot. Pot arrests have doubled since the 1990’s.

In 2005,

Of those charged with marijuana violations, approximately 88 percent — some 696,074 Americans — were charged with possession only. The remaining 90,471 individuals were charged with “sale/manufacture,” a category that includes all cultivation offenses even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use.

As the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) points out:

Arresting hundreds of thousands of Americans who smoke marijuana responsibly needlessly destroys the lives of otherwise law abiding citizens,” [NORML Executive Director Allen] St. Pierre said, adding that over 8 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges in the past decade. During this same time, arrests for cocaine and heroin have declined sharply, implying that increased enforcement of marijuana laws is being achieved at the expense of enforcing laws against the possession and trafficking of more dangerous drugs.

St. Pierre concluded: “Enforcing marijuana prohibition costs taxpayers between $10 billion and $12 billion annually and has led to the arrest of nearly 18 million Americans. Nevertheless, some 94 million Americans acknowledge having used marijuana during their lives. It makes no sense to continue to treat nearly half of all Americans as criminals for their use of a substance that poses no greater – and arguably far fewer – health risks than alcohol or tobacco. A better and more sensible solution would be to tax and regulate cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco.”

I think legalizing adult possession of small amounts of pot will result in greater law enforcement resources being available to target dealers of more dangerous drugs, like meth and heroin.

SAFER Colorado’s blog is here.