Sheriff Bill Masters Plans Ahead
SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – Colorado’s historic vote to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana passed at the polls on Nov. 6 by nearly 55 percent, despite opposition at high levels.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper opposed it, as did State Attorney General John Suthers, who called it “very bad public policy,” but assured voters that his office would work nonetheless to ready “this new provision in the Colorado Constitution” for implementation.
San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters, a longtime and vocal critic of the War on Drugs, has his own concerns about the passage of Amendment 64.
“I’m not thrilled,” says Masters, who describes himself as believing “pretty strongly in state’s rights.
“I wish the state legislators had had the courage to sort these regulations out without the force of a Constitutional amendment,” he says, suggesting that state legislators declined “to change the laws as the people demanded, because they didn’t want to get branded as soft on drugs.”
On Thursday, Nov. 8, two days after the election, Masters sent out a memo anticipating possible problems as the state government begins to implement a new policy regarding marijuana cultivation and sales for recreational use, while those activities remain illegal under federal regulations.
In that memo, Masters urged officers to not report marijuana violations to federal authorities without his approval.
“I don’t think the feds would ever prosecute,” he says, “but it’s still illegal, under federal law, to distribute marijuana.”
Masters, who like his deputies speaks Spanish, also wrote, “If a person is in possession of 1oz. or less of marihuana [sic] and you are arresting them for an offense unrelated to the marihuana, try not to take the marihuana into custody with them….Get them to leave the marihuana in a car, home, to give a friend for safekeeping etc.”
In a recent interview, Masters described his reasoning on that front: “I don’t want to get into this game of, well, we gave him his marijuana back and he went out to the parking lot and drove away and got into an accident and we are somehow responsible.
“I also don’t want to be responsible for [marijuana] if we seize it” and hold it, he explained.
To that end, Masters wrote in the Nov. 8 memo, “If you come across marihuana [sic] that a person over 21 has in their possession and you inspect it for weight, etc., try to avoid handing it back to them directly…. Although unlikely, I don’t want anyone to get in trouble with the federal government for distributing marihuana [sic].”
There are some positives in the state’s vote to legalize marijuana, Masters observed.
One is the fact that marijuana is “the number one” cash cow for the Mexican cartels, “so this is going to kind of ruin their business, at least in Colorado,” he said.
To that end, he wrote in the Nov. 8 memo, “Continue to arrest persons who are transporting bulk quantities marihuana for sale (load cars) that once again do not have the state issued permits for transportation. “
Another positive: “The state is going to be able to license testing centers, so that people can know how much THC,” or tetrahydrocannabinol, the active chemical in marijuana, “is in a particular type of marijuana.”
Masters predicted that, eventually, vendors could label marijuana “much like the labeling that’s required for alcohol.”
The result could be a resurgence of more “marijuana light” on the market.
“If you’re smuggling marijuana,” he observed, “instead of having 200 kilos on the market,” it’s preferable to have, say, one-half that amount, with a much higher THC content, a fact that has led to a market flooded with increasingly potent marijuana.
“The same thing happened during Prohibition,” he said, of the years from 1920 to 1933, when the sale of alcohol was illegal. “During Prohibition, nobody drank beer – it was too bulky; you couldn’t hide it.”
Instead, “everybody drank hard alcohol – and that has never stopped.”
On the sales front, he predicted “some rather difficult requirements” for parties seeking to cultivate and sell marijuana for recreational use, from the state, so that “in the end, you’re going to have background checks and licensing insurance.
“Only the strongest stores will be able to survive,” he said, once the “proper regulations are set, so that the ones that survive will have their act together.
He anticipates that the state “is going to require some type of video cameras” and other controls similar to what “we have now in medical marijuana dispensaries,” Masters said. “They’ll probably demand that every sale is recorded, so that we know it’s not being sold to underage people.
“I certainly plan on enforcing the regulations diligently – whatever the state requires,” he said, “much as we do with bars.”