Marijuana debate continues one week from election

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MESA COUNTY, Colo. (KKCO) -- The debate rages on over Amendment 64, with just one week left until voters decide the fate on the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.

Statewide, pot possession arrests are up, even though 100,000 people can legally use medical marijuana. Also, KKCO's partners at Colorado Public News found that blacks and Hispanics are being arrested in higher numbers than whites, even though they use the drug less.

Since 2007, the number of people arrested for possession had been on the decline, but last year, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation reported that number rose by seven percent.

"That's an indication of how poorly regulation has worked so far," Diane Cox with Safe and Healthy Mesa County said.

Cox said that even though 100,000 people now can legally use marijuana, the stats show people still abuse the law.

"We already have a problem. It would just be like throwing gasoline on the fire. We don't need to fuel more drug abuse; we need to start addressing what we have now and try to push it back," Cox said.

But those in favor of Amendment 64 see a different side to the increase in arrests.

"We're wasting $12 million every year out of our law enforcement budgets on enforcing marijuana prohibition, just against adults, for simply using a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol," Betty Aldworth with the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol said.

Aldworth said that more startling are statistics that show in Colorado's ten most populous counties, blacks and Latinos are arrested at two and three times the rates of whites, even though she said studies show they use the drug less.

"People of color-- if they are cited more frequently for these simple marijuana possessions-- are going to have a particularly harder time finding employment and jobs in the future. That's not okay," Aldworth said.

But Cox said legalizing pot isn't a racial issue; it's an issue facing all teens.

"This is an issue that is going to cut across all racial and economic lines. Drug dealers are going to be exploiting all the kids. Sixty- seven percent of the kids nationwide are in drug rehab because of marijuana,” Cox said.

Aldworth said legalizing marijuana will make for a healthier, safer and more just Colorado, saying right now the law is disproportionally enforced, while Cox said Colorado is already third in the nation for teen drug abuse, and more drugs coming in will only hurt the kids.

Colorado Public News reported that 10,259 people were arrested in the state for marijuana possession last year.

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