Hard Work and Preparation: What Marijuana Legalization and Super Bowl Sunday Have in Common

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January 29, 2014 - By Art Way

As a Denver resident and lifelong Broncos fan, I can’t wait for Super Bowl Sunday. How will you be enjoying the big game?  Lots of food? Beer?

This year’s big game features teams from the two states that legalized marijuana last season – the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks.  In Colorado and Washington, grabbing a couple of buds and watching the game doesn’t automatically mean a six-pack of Budweiser.

While I’d love to discuss how my team’s quarterback, the great, Peyton Manning, will dismantle Seattle’s defense – the NFL’s best – let’s take this opportunity to talk about the progress Colorado and Washington have made in reforming marijuana laws, and how much catching up the rest of the country has to do.

Colorado and Washington made history in 2012 when voters approved ballot initiatives to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adult use. Marijuana sales began in Colorado on January 1, and the industry, in conjunction with the state brought in $5 million in sales the first five days. Sales in Washington are poised to begin this summer. Most importantly for these states, legalizing marijuana means that tens of millions will not be spent to arrests tens of thousands of people for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Nothing happens overnight.  The Broncos and Seahawks know this well after disappointing playoff losses last year.   The teams worked hard to get to this point.  The same can be said of CO and WA in reaching their recent drug policy reform milestones.

Colorado has long realized punitive drug policies are a major cause of mass incarceration, and recently revamped their entire drug sentencing scheme.  Denver allowed adults to possess an ounce of marijuana recreationally as early as 2006.  In many aspects, the legalization of marijuana was a continuation of the broad reform efforts and paradigm shift taking place in the state for over a decade.

In Seattle, marijuana has been a low law enforcement priority since 2003. The city has also spearheaded groundbreaking efforts to divert problematic drug users into treatment instead of cycling them through jail.   Just as in Colorado, the legalization of marijuana in Washington was due to years of broad reform efforts.

But the big game won’t be played in Colorado or Washington, and fans from those states who will travel to New Jersey to attend will be coming to an environment different from home – a place where people still go to jail for using marijuana.

This Sunday, anyone who doesn’t live in Colorado or Washington and wants to enjoy the game with some marijuana will be breaking the law. 

Thankfully, President Obama’s administration provided cautionary approval allowing Colorado and Washington to implement these new legalization laws. Just last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a plan to allow banks to deal with state-legalized marijuana businesses is forthcoming.  The tide is turning thanks to long time pioneer reformers in CO and WA, and all over the country and world. 

The NFL could soon come around as well. Commissioner Roger Goodell made waves last week saying he would consider medical marijuana as an option to treat head injuries. Seattle’s head coach, Pete Carroll, echoed that sentiment this week.

Success is best enjoyed after hard work.  Congrats to the Broncos and Seahawks for their hard work over the last two or three seasons.  Congrats to the criminal justice and drug policy advocates of Colorado and Washington for their hard work over the last decade.  Congrats to the voters of Colorado and Washington who made these reforms possible with their foresight and faith.

Oh, and go Broncos!

Art Way is the senior drug policy manager in Colorado for the Drug Policy Alliance and a proud owner of a Rick Upchurch jersey.

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