Colorado may become the new battleground for marijuana legalization. A proposal likely to be on the ballot this November asks the state government to regulate cannabis like alcohol. Colorado joins Washington and Missouri, who will soon have similar ballot propositions, while a smaller push occurs in Michigan. Numerous pro-legalization groups have pushed the initiative in Colorado to try to make the illicit drug safer and to combat the problems that have come with medical marijuana legalization. All states, from Colorado to Michigan, should explore legalization initiatives and begin regulating marijuana in a safer and more realistic manner.

If passed, the ballot proposal would allow citizens to possess marijuana in small amounts. The initiative is led by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The group’s goal is to control the illicit drug and take it out of the underground market, earning state revenue off taxation and keeping it out of the hands of young people. In 2006, a similar proposal was up for vote in the state but failed largely due to the lack of funding for advertising. Today, with a well-established medical marijuana industry in Colorado to fund campaigning, the ballot is expected to be more widely accepted.

While medical marijuana is legal in Colorado, the current system is in need of change. The state has seen countless dispensaries pop up in the last decade. Many communities are angry at the pot-peddlers that cater to customers who some deem ineligible for medical cannabis. About 88,000 Colorado residents currently have medical marijuana cards. Of these, an unusually large number are men in their 20s and 30s. The federal government complicates the issue by shutting down legal dispensaries in Colorado and across the nation that have “stepped outside their legal boundaries,” even though those boundaries remain largely undefined. By legalizing cannabis, Colorado residents would be rid of the shroud of hypocrisy surrounding medical marijuana use.

When a similar legalization effort was put on the ballot in California in Nov. 2010, stark opposition was seen by the state’s beer industry. Since Colorado hosts Coors and countless other private microbreweries, the proposal may face the same opposition. Alcohol industries opposed to the bill view marijuana as a form of unwelcome competition. In this fight for recreational dollars, the alcohol industry doesn’t have much of an argument. In a recent study published in The New York Times, researchers found that smoking the equivalent of a joint a day for seven years has no apparent effect on lung function. Alternatively, thousands of deaths are caused by alcohol’s long-term health effects. The alcohol industry’s arguments are driven by self-interest and should not be taken into account by voters.

Young and old alike will continue to smoke marijuana whether it’s made legal or not. Though the current abuse of the medical marijuana system raises doubts about legalization, the decriminalization of marijuana would create a safer and more efficient way to deal with the issue. Colorado voters should choose to legalize cannabis to better control substances in their state.

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