Rob Douglas: Steamboat: A petri dish for legal pot |

Rob Douglas: Steamboat: A petri dish for legal pot

Rob Douglas

Six months after the sale of recreational marijuana became legal under Colorado law, newspapers across the country are filled with reports and editorials debating the merits of that voter-mandated change. Meanwhile, the best petri dish for evaluating the impact of legal pot may be Steamboat Springs.

On Saturday, The Washington Post examined the ramifications of Colorado's legal marijuana on neighboring states. "At Colorado's borders, a dividing line over marijuana," is composed of anecdotal reports from towns on both sides of Colorado's eastern border with Kansas and Nebraska and, as might be expected, finds divergent views between the states.

"State lines can be symbols of divisions over values and cultures. Abortions were once legal in some states but not in others. Fireworks are okay on one side of some state borders but verboten just a mile away. Laws governing liquor sales vary widely by state. So it should be no shock that as attitudes toward marijuana have shifted, fault lines have appeared along state boundaries."

On Sunday, The New York Times initiated a series of articles about marijuana with an editorial calling on the federal government to "repeal the ban on marijuana" in order to "put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level."

While noting that The Times' Editorial Board "considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties or even simply legalizing all use," the editorial argues the harm to social justice outweighs continued delay of federal legalization.

"The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals."

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A few days later, The Denver Post Editorial Board used The Times editorial as a springboard to ask by way of headline, "Has pot reached a tipping point in the U.S.?"

After contending that state governors and U.S. senators who are unanimous in their opposition to legalized pot will eventually bend to the will of the growing majority of citizens who favor legalization, and agreeing with The Times' opinion that the federal government should repeal its ban on marijuana, the editorial concludes:

"The nation is undergoing a monumental shift in the way its policymakers think about and deal with marijuana, and it’s time to let the people of each state craft policy that is best-suited to their own concerns."

Meanwhile, the best argument for why the U.S. government should drop marijuana from the federal criminal code, thereby completely freeing state and local lawmakers to craft laws that reflect the mores of their communities, can be found in Steamboat.

On Wednesday, in "Pot sales 'low impact': 6 months into rollout of recreational marijuana, officials say it's a 'non-issue,'" the Steamboat Today reported the views of key players when it comes to the effect legalized marijuana has had on the city. The statements of two community leaders are noteworthy as they would speak out if they thought legalized marijuana was harming the social or economic fabric of Steamboat.

When it comes to crime, Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae told the newspaper, "I think it has been relatively low impact."

And Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Tom Kern said in a prepared statement, "The recreational sale of marijuana has been a non-issue in the business community. Steamboat's two dispensaries are great Chamber members — supportive and very involved. Just like any other retail business, recreational marijuana has provided sales tax dollars to our city and state."

Steamboat's experience with legalized marijuana is still in its developing stages. But given the unique nature of Steamboat — a small, geographically isolated community that is governed by part-time citizen legislators — it may be the best community in the nation to study legalized marijuana's impact in the coming years.

For now, residents of Steamboat should be proud that the Steamboat Springs City Council and city officials have worked in tandem with local marijuana entrepreneurs to make legalized marijuana a success.

To reach Rob Douglas, email or follow him on Twitter @RobDouglas3