Legalizing marijuana would aid organized crime, John Walters says

By R. SCOTT RAPPOLD THE GAZETTE

The nation’s top anti-drug warrior came to Colorado Springs on Wednesday to denounce a statewide ballot measure to legalize smallscale marijuana possession.

U.S. drug czar John Walters called marijuana use a “disease” and said Amendment 44 would result in more drug use among adults and teens.

If it passes next month, Colorado would be the first state to legalize marijuana possession through a ballot measure.

Walters’ visit, which also included stops in Denver and Grand Junction, shows the measure is attracting high-level interest from far beyond the state’s borders.

“You already have a shocking

number of young people reporting using marijuana,” said Walters, who spoke against the measure along with Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera and Chamber of Commerce CEO Will Temby.

The measure, which would allow possession of up to an ounce, is sponsored by Safer Colorado, a group that successfully overturned a Denver marijuana law last year. The group argues marijuana is safer than alcohol.

Walters, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the measure would create a legal market for a substance manufactured, transported and sold by organized crime.

“The same mafias that kill people on the border and slaughter judges and prosecutors in Mexico make the bulk of their money from marijuana,” Walters said.

He acknowledged it is “somewhat controversial” for someone from the White House to get involved in a state-level ballot issue but said his office is getting involved to counter out-of-state interests in favor of legalization.

“This is an attempt to use Colorado. Let’s be clear,” Walters said of Amendment 44. “It’s important that people recognize it’s not your fellow citizens funding this.”

Outside the press conference at the Chamber of Commerce, Amendment 44 supporters held their own event blasting the drug czar’s visit.

Campaign director Mason Tvert said the Office of National Drug Control Policy is inappropriately meddling in a state issue.

“This is a federal agent, our federal government coming to our state and lying to people about a state initiative,” Tvert said.

“It’s absolutely absurd, and I think the people of Colorado Springs, if anyone, should be opposed to this misuse of government resources.”

He acknowledged that about half of the financial support for Amendment 44 is from outside the state.

“They see this as an opportunity for a state to take a stand. People in Alabama, Mississippi, they don’t have an opportunity to take a stand like this,” Tvert said of the out-ofstate donors.