A founding father of legal pot reveals regrets | PERSPECTIVE
- Robert Corry April 2021
People attending an Amendment 64 watch party celebrate on Nov. 2012, after a local television station announced the marijuana amendment’s passage in Denver.
Editor’s note: Robert Corry played a prominent and pivotal role in the movement to legalize marijuana in Colorado. The University of Colorado graduate and Stanford-trained lawyer helped draft ground-breaking Amendment 64 on Colorado’s 2012 state-wide ballot — permitting production and retail sales of recreational pot. Corry also designed and implemented the dispensary framework for patients and caregivers under Amendment 20, enacted by the state’s voters in 2000 to allow medical use of marijuana. As a trial attorney, he represented hundreds of clients accused of marijuana-related offenses, and he litigated cases and administrative actions involving Amendment 64’s implementation. Yet, nearly a decade after voter approval of his handiwork, he now professes deep disappointment and wide-ranging regrets. In today’s Perspective, he issues a searing indictment of how legalization has turned out. He decries the legal marijuana industry’s “crony” capitalism and its cozy relationship with government. He lets on, “I wish I could be proud of what we created, but I’m not. The outcome of 64 is shameful, hurts people, and Colorado is not ‘safer.’ ”
We started with the best of intentions. Colorado Amendment 64, which I helped draft, made three promises:
- End marijuana prohibition; legalize it; protect individual rights to grow and distribute on a personal level; focus limited police resources against real crime with actual victims.
- Create a free-enterprise system, taxed and regulated similar to alcohol for commercial sales, to allow for true competition and innovation by upstanding businesspeople.
- Regulate industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity distinct from the psychoactive drug. To be legally considered hemp, plants and finished product must meet a strict ceiling of 0.3% or less delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”), the psychoactive ingredient.
Based on these three promises, Colorado voters passed 64, the “Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative.” The campaign focused on the question of what is “safer,” marijuana or alcohol. SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) was the name of the primary advocacy organization behind 64.
I helped write Amendment 64, litigated numerous cases before and after 64 to make it a reality, and also helped design implementing regulations at the state and local levels.
I wish I could be proud of what we created, but I’m not. The outcome of 64 is shameful, hurts people, and Colorado is not “safer.”
I have remained consistent through the years in advocating for legalization, an end to marijuana prohibition, and an end to criminal prosecution of marijuana offenses.
What I have changed my mind on — applying current reality I was too naive to anticipate 10 years ago — is the wisdom of a commercialized, for-profit, elitist, government-protected, privileged, monopolistic industry that perpetuates itself and its obscene profits, to the detriment of the public good and the planet earth.
No true free enterprise exists in this regulated industry, but rather a small oligopoly of crony capitalists who are given privileged government licenses. Licenses are capped, and new entry is nearly impossible. Extreme regulations are created and supported by the big players, and benefit these big players over smaller competitors. The regulators daily pass through an unrestrained revolving door between government and the industry they supposedly regulate. True competition is lacking. Industry exploits its centrally planned regulatory system to fix inflated prices, and government chips in extreme taxes at levels imposed on no other product. Regressive pricing disproportionately harms the poor. And the quality of this overpriced commercialized product is awful, and harmful to adults and children alike. No wonder we still grow it ourselves, even though that’s still a crime.
The inmates are running Colorado’s marijuana asylum. Amendment 64 created a corporate lobby that punches far above its weight. To demonstrate this industry’s unjustified political clout, even during a pandemic, the governor and the Denver mayor deemed marijuana businesses “essential,” while schools, churches, gyms, and most other nonbig box stores were shut. So, it was not “essential” to educate our children — our future — but it was “essential” to maintain those children’s access to high-potency corporate marijuana. And access it they surely do.
The pot lobby has cleverly cultivated an image of hip social responsibility. But underneath the hipster beards and effete skinny jeans, lurks old-fashioned corporate crony greed, rent-seeking, and regressive suppression of the poor. The fawning that legislators and executive branch officials bestow on this criminal cabal is mystifying.
Especially with a supposedly “progressive” Legislature. This industry genetically modifies plants at a level that would make Monsanto blush, fouls our planet with chemicals and wasteful growing systems, harms the poor and children, is dominated by the wealthy and privileged, and proclaims its brilliance to a nauseating degree.
… To genetically engineer high THC levels, corporations grow indoors, in gigantic football-field sized warehouses. Growers of this GMO eliminate the plant’s natural pollination process and clone mutant female plants as inbred, and thus weaker and more susceptible. To duplicate the light of the sun requires arrays of large artificial lights, emitting extremely hot temperatures and using massive quantities of energy. Growers “trick” the mutant plants into excessive flowering by artificially altering daytime or growing seasons indoors. Massive rows of air conditioning units run day and night to cool indoor growing operations, taxing power grids. Big air fans also need to keep dank air moving inside. Genetically modified indoor plants are also more susceptible to environmental pests such as powdery mildew, black mold, spider mites, or others which feast on the indoor plants within the controlled environment without natural predators. To kill bugs, growers soak the plants in chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. The toxic carcinogens are ingested by the consumer or run off directly into Colorado’s scarce water.
See also Cannabis GIANT Carbon Footprint
On a proportional basis, corporate marijuana is Colorado’s worst environmental polluter. It pumps chemicals and carbon greenhouse gases into our air, uses tons of energy, harms our climate, dirties our drinking water, and ruins our environment. It stinks, literally and figuratively. Most of the foul-smelling warehouses are next door to a poor or minority neighborhood, whose children grow up smelling the skunky chemical stench. None of this is necessary; marijuana should be grown outdoors, but then artificially pumping up THC potency would be harder and more expensive.
And this is only the actual plant flower. When the corporations further manipulate it to produce concentrates or edibles, even more poisonous chemicals, more power and energy, more runoff, are used to bring the THC levels up in wax, oil, shatter, or edibles.
In 2016, I filed a class-action lawsuit against one of Colorado’s largest marijuana corporations, caught using the notorious Eagle-20 Fungicide on their marijuana plants. Eagle-20 is designed only for outdoor ornamental plants, i.e. outside flowers that you only look at, not plants consumed by humans and definitely not for indoor enclosed environments. Eagle-20 contains myclobutanil, a chemical which, when heated, turns into hydrogen cyanide, a lethal gas. The effects of this awful gas are even more pronounced when it is concentrated and stuck into artificial plastic vape pens for heating, which are easier to carry and harder to detect, thus have become the preferred method of consumption for teens, along with glass “dab rigs” that resemble crack pipes.
The quality of this “marijuana on steroids” is artificial and unappealing, if one’s mind and taste buds are clear. The “high” is not really a positive happy high at all, but either a dead numbness or a scary psychotic paranoia, especially with edibles or concentrates. Frequent users develop tolerance, and eventually crave it. A permanent addict customer base, resulting in higher profits.