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Interview with Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado

Interview with Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado

We interviewed Brian Vicente, founder of Sensible Colorado, a non-profit organization dedicated to working for an effective drug policy. Find out what Mr. Vicente has to say about the state of drug laws, particularly in his home state.

AllTreatment: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Brian Vicente: I have been a licensed attorney in Colorado for about seven years.  After graduating from law school, I founded Sensible Colorado, a non-profit organization, to research, educate, and advocate for effective drug policy.

AllTreatment: What are your current views on drug laws in general.
Brian Vicente: When the “War on Drugs” began some 50 years ago, the federal government mistakenly believed that it could influence the use of drugs with tough laws and by locking people in prison.  Sensible Colorado envisions a system where drug use once again becomes a health issue instead of a criminal one.  This is especially true of marijuana, a drug that has been used by human beings for thousands of years for therapeutic and recreational purposes.

AllTreatment: For the context of our readers, describe the state of the drug laws in Colorado.
Brian Vicente: When Colorado passed Amendment 20 in 2000, we decided that people could use marijuana to treat certain illnesses based on research conducted by the medical community.  For the 130,000 Coloradoans who have been issued Medical Marijuana Registry identification cards, they may possess up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants, with no more than three mature, producing plants.  However, marijuana use, possession, cultivation, or distribution for non-medical purposes is illegal under state and federal law. Depending on the quantity of marijuana possessed, penalties at the state and federal level range from minimal penalties for simple possession under state law (usually $100 fine and community service) to multiple years in prison.

AllTreatment: What are some of the advantages/disadvantages of the current law?
Brian Vicente: With respect to the medical use of marijuana, Amendment 20 has been a major step forward in allowing patients to choose, with the help of their doctor, which medicine is right for them.  For instance, those patients who suffer from severe chronic pain may find marijuana to be a better alternative than pharmaceuticals like Oxycotin and Vicotin.  However, the medical use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.  And despite the protections under state law, licensed Colorado medical marijuana patients remain subject to potential federal prosecution.

AllTreatment: What are some of the current drug law's problems?

“With respect to the medical use of marijuana, Amendment 20 has been a major step forward in allowing patients to choose, with the help of their doctor, which medicine is right for them.”

Brian Vicente: In addition to the federal prohibition on marijuana use of any kind, the State of Colorado currently prohibits the use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana for non-medical purposes.  Under both state and federal law, cultivation of more than a half dozen plants is classified as a serious criminal offense, called a felony.  A felony conviction can have serious consequences on people’s lives, including the denial of voting rights, denial of access to public benefits like food stamps, suspension of driver’s licenses, ineligibility for federal student loans, and limitations on work options.

AllTreatment: What changes would you like to see for it?
Brian Vicente: Currently, we are working hard on a 2012 Colorado ballot initiative that will legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older.  The goal of the initiative is to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol. We believe it is in Colorado’s best interest to:  (1) Remove the threat of arrest and jail for adults aged 21 and older who safely and responsibly use marijuana while maintaining penalties for criminal behavior, such as distributing to minors and driving while under the influence; (2) Create a realistic system of regulation for the manufacture, taxation, and sale of marijuana; and (3) Use the sales tax generated by marijuana sales to fund healthcare, prevention education, and drug treatment.

AllTreatment: The major tagline for Sensible Colorado is "working for an effective drug policy." What would be your ideal one?
Brian Vicente: An effective drug policy requires our government to rethink how it manages drug use.  As long as we continue to put our citizens in prison for using drugs, we will fail to address the real health issues that are at stake. 

AllTreatment: Would you see any problems with your proposed policy?
Brian Vicente: Change is never easy.  Getting the regulatory framework for marijuana in place will not happen overnight, but we believe that Colorado is ready to try a different course of action with respect to how our government manages drugs and drug use among our citizenry.  

AllTreatment: What are the current problems preventing the Colorado government from passing such a law?
Brian Vicente: Well, the 2012 ballot initiative is a proposed amendment to the State’s Constitution.  If a majority of voters support the initiative next year, we will have taken a big step forward in terms of creating a drug policy that is better suited for the health and well being of our citizens.  Hopefully, Congress will follow suit.

AllTreatment: What is your overall goal with Sensible Colorado?
Brian Vicente: Generally speaking, the “War on Drugs” has failed, and Sensible Colorado is determined to find a better solution—one that centers on health and not on criminality.


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