Amendment 64: How Public Employees Will Be Affected

December 12, 2012

OK, admit it. Since Amendment 64 passed, you’ve heard from your friends far and wide. The comments, while not identical, have a common theme:

  • Wow, I guess it’s literally Rocky Mountain High now!
  • Can’t believe that Hostess plant in Denver closed; the demand for Twinkies is going to skyrocket!
  • Back when we nicknamed you guys “Greenies,” we were talking about your license plates – not your dope.
  • Have you heard? Cheech and Chong are moving to the Mile High City.

Most Coloradans have maintained a sense of humor about the jokes resulting from the passage of Amendment 64, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. I keep wondering what the punch lines are for the state of Washington -- are their jokes not as funny as ours?

But once the laughter winds down, those of us employed in the public sector sometimes admit to mixed feelings about the situation. We’re forced to acknowledge that the passage of 64 reflects, among other things, a new fiscal reality for governmental entities. Revenues are down while the demand for programs has increased, and it’s become increasingly clear that the majority of Americans want more services than they’re willing to pay for.

There’s no way to know for certain if Amendment 64 would have passed without the prize of a lucrative new source of tax revenue, but based on anecdotal comments, it’s doubtful. True, there was a substantial kernel of liberal and libertarian voters who viewed the policing of personal marijuana use as an overextension of government powers (and a waste of money), but it was the economic impact - an estimated $5 to $22 million in annual tax revenue - that pushed the “yes” count over the 50% mark.

More than legalized gambling via the state lottery (tightly controlled and very low stakes) or casino gambling in certain Colorado locations (small, isolated historical areas), Amendment 64 represents an accelerated expansion into the enterprise of sin taxes. So here’s a short list of some of the mixed feelings public employees are dealing with in the newly green Colorado:

  • Teachers have a fresh source of badly needed revenue for school funding, but as they put their best efforts into educating students, they wonder about the IQ-depressing effects of long-term marijuana use.
  • Law enforcement officials can stop paying attention to small-time users, but have to worry about Colorado becoming a home base for criminal organizations to grow and ship marijuana to states where it’s still illegal.
  • Social workers can be glad that fewer parents will be imprisoned (especially young, minority males who are disproportionately prosecuted for drug possession), an event that creates an absentee parent today and an unemployable parent in the future. But how many more children will be exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke on a regular basis?
  • Corrections personnel can look forward to some short-term relief in overcrowded facilities but are concerned about the potential for long-term issues if legalized marijuana leads to increased hard drug use.

Bottom line: The citizens of Colorado have authorized a bold social experiment, and public servants are on the front lines in dealing with both the advantages and any disadvantages of the new environment.  Those citizens will be relying on us to make the best of this situation, and that’s no joke.

Tell us how Amendment 64’s passage will benefit and/or challenge your role in public service by leaving a comment below.

Other articles you may be interested in:
The Fiscal Cliff: How It Will Affect You