- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Daily Camera, Aug. 8, on legalizing marijuana at the federal level:

Colorado’s now yearslong experiment with legal medical and recreational cannabis markets has been mostly positive and fascinating, and yet the federal government has been slow to rethink its decades-long prohibitionist position.

We hope the Obama administration takes advantage of its historic opportunity to end or take steps toward dismantling the destructive war on pot. What an irony it would be if Obama, who has openly admitted to pot use in his early years, and who has shown great tolerance toward local legalization laws, left office without having moved the nation away from the antiquated reefer-madness enforcement of past presidencies.

The problem appears to be entrenchment at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which missed the July 1 deadline it set for itself to reach a determination on whether to reclassify marijuana from its current - laughable - position as a Schedule I substance. Like heroin, the classification is reserved for the most dangerous drugs with which the DEA concerns itself.

A DEA spokesman told The Cannabist’s Alicia Wallace last week that the agency remains in the final stages of an inter-agency review. But Denver regulatory attorney Tom Downey, who recently wrote in these pages about the DEA’s reclassification or declassification options, suggested the DEA would not reach a decision this year.

Certainly the issues are complex. But few of the social-ills predictions for Colorado and the small handful of state and local jurisdictions that allow recreational sales, as well as the many that allow medical marijuana, have come to pass. In June, for example, data from the state’s Healthy Kids Colorado Survey showed that marijuana use among high school students has not increased and tracks the national average.

Meanwhile, families trust medical marijuana to help children with seizures and other ailments. Patients with serious conditions seek medical marijuana for a range of treatments. They do so largely without significant scientific study to guide them.

Both medical and recreational markets struggle with the fact that the federal definition of marijuana continues to block law-abiding dispensary owners from reasonable access to banks, creating a largely cash-only business model that invites risk and related security expense. The businesses also face enormous tax penalties and layer upon layer of regulatory hurdles few other legal businesses would tolerate.

In the absence of sensible national rules, Colorado also faces tensions when it comes to regulating medical marijuana patients who opt to grow their own, as we saw last month when state regulators took action against four doctors for recommending excessive numbers of plants to patients. If marijuana were legal, such problems would wither away.

We get it that ending marijuana prohibition would be difficult. Back in 2012, when Colorado voters were asking themselves whether to support Amendment 64, we urged them to vote against it for reasons specific to the amendment itself and yet also called for an end to prohibition at the federal level, which we considered the more appropriate approach.

Perhaps more debate is needed before the feds can get behind full-scale legalization. But without the kind of scientific research that prohibition shackles, it is difficult to see how that debate could be well-informed.

The DEA should step up and look past its ridiculous hard-line approach.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2aQGZNx

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The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Aug. 9, on the changing ecology of Colorado’s national forests:

The U.S. Forest Service is responding to the changing ecology of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests.

One of the outcomes of a “management response” to beetle-kill and Sudden Aspen Decline is that spruce and aspen stands may have a better chance to adapt to a warmer and potentially drier climate under a new forest treatment plan the agency unveiled last month.

But the idea that the Forest Service is managing for the future based on computer models that reinforce the notion of climate change quickly ruffled some feathers. No sooner had Dennis Webb’s article “Cycle of Decline” appeared on Sunday’s front page than the letters to the editor started rolling in questioning the science behind the management plan.

It’s a microcosm of the global climate-change debate, but with local consequences bringing the issue into sharp focus.

Forget the models for a moment. Over the past decade, 229,000 acres of national forest land has been affected by Sudden Aspen Decline. Spruce trees on 223,000 acres have died from beetle infestation.

Those aren’t projections. They’re losses of critical habitat that will only get tougher to restore if temperatures continue to creep up.

By 2060, according to the Forest Service’s climate modeling, almost all of the Uncompahgre Plateau would no longer be able to sustain growth of new aspen and spruce. That means the plateau could be virtually free of either species by century’s end after the remaining trees die.

Aspen could see sizable losses of sustainable habitat on the southern and eastern fringes of Grand Mesa, with spruce slipping into a threatened category across the mesa. The views we take for granted would be unrecognizable to our grandchildren and their children.

The measures outlined in the Forest Service’s treatment plan are designed to improve forest resiliency. If the climate models are accurate - temperatures climb and conditions become more arid - the Forest Service is trying to give the trees their best chance of adapting and surviving.

That seems entirely reasonable, given the alternative. Failing to account for climate change is to leave the fate of the trees to a crapshoot. That’s irresponsible on multiple levels. The loss of mid-elevation forests is alarming in itself, but along the way we’d surely be looking at some expensive intervention proscribed by the Endangered Species Act.

Webb touched on the uncertainty of climate modeling. Jim Worrall, a forest pathologist with the USFS Rocky Mountain Region 2, said he hopes the alarming predictions are wrong, but they’re the best idea researchers have now of what the future holds.

Planning for the worst and hoping for the best is better than hoping for the best and pooh-poohing any predictions based on climate science.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2aY6LyA

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The Denver Post, Aug. 9, on protecting Colorado’s peaks while visitation increases:

Congratulations to all of Colorado’s many fourteener peak baggers, those hardy souls who trudge up high-altitude trails.

Most of the 100,000 people who moved to Colorado in the past year likely did so for jobs, though many also came to enjoy the fabulous outdoor recreation opportunities. But increased visitation to our state’s 54 summits above 14,000 feet produces a paradox.

The fourteeners’ popularity creates economic growth for communities near the trails, says a recent report from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the state’s highest mountains. The organization estimates the fourteeners get 260,000 human visits annually, with peak-baggers each year delivering $70.5 million in economic impact; some hikers spend twice as much daily as a business traveler to Denver, says the first study of the role fourteeners play in Colorado’s economy. The report underscores how important outdoor recreation is to our state and why many Coloradans want the mountain environment protected.

But Coloradans may be loving these peaks to death. A lone hiker wandering off the path won’t cause as much damage as a motorized vehicle that goes off-trail, but over time thousands of footprints can inflict great harm, especially on alpine tundra. Hikers are more likely to wander off the designated route if the trail is in poor condition, yet a 2015 study found that trails on the fourteeners are in dire health, with 26 trails built in the last 20 years needing $6 million in improvements and 16 user-created trails needing $18 million for new trail construction.

One example: Mount Bierstadt, among the most popular fourteeners because it’s close to Denver and relatively easy. Longtime peak baggers remember stomping through tall willows and slogging across ice-cold streams, but in 1999 the Fourteeners Initiative started building a much more ecologically sane path. Today, a well-marked trail steers clear of fragile terrain and provides wooden bridges across high-altitude wetlands. Yet even Bierstadt’s trail needs repairs.

Why? People don’t respect the land, or perhaps don’t understand how much harm they do. Large groups spread out across the tundra and trample delicate lichens because people want to walk side-by-side and chat. Other hikers don’t heed the wisdom that during Colorado’s summers, they must be off the summit before noon - chased by afternoon thundershowers, late-arriving trekkers scurry down the peak off-trail, tearing up tundra.

Caring Coloradans can volunteer for the nonprofits trying to protect the mountains, including the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. They should encourage the state’s congressional delegation to better support three chronically underfunded federal agencies that manage the fourteeners: the National Forest Service (Longs and Blanca), the Bureau of Land Management (Redcloud, Handies and Sunshine) and the National Forest Service, which is responsible for most of the rest. (Culebra Peak is on private property.)

And all hikers should follow the crucial “leave no trace” ethic: stay on the trail even if it’s muddy, walk single-file, pick up the trash - and get an early start on any high peak.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/2be0iBC

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The Pueblo Chieftain, Aug. 6, on problems with the Pueblo County jail:

Pueblo County commissioners have hired HGF Architects to study possible solutions to problems with the county jail.

Just nine months ago, nearly 57 percent of Pueblo voters rejected an additional 1 percent sales tax for 10 years that would have funded a new jail, improved sheriff’s department salaries and replaced equipment. It’s highly unlikely another study would change the voters’ minds anytime soon.

Rather, the study ought to focus on specific ways to accommodate the jail needs within the regular county budget. As for overcrowding, Pueblo County could explore available surplus space for inmates elsewhere in Southeastern Colorado. A serious search might find vacant cells in private prisons or other local jails willing to take Pueblo inmates for a reasonable daily cost (per diem).

“I want to make sure that we have some definitive goals in mind and not just to study it,” Sheriff Kirk Taylor said. “We run the risk of analysis paralysis if we continue to do that and that doesn’t do anybody good.”

We agree with Taylor’s first statement, but not his second, “But I don’t think we could afford to not build a new jail.”

The sheriff’s desire for a comprehensive plan that includes not only the physical plant but staffing and other issues appears to be unrealistic without an infusion of more money, which likely means a tax hike. Besides, if the need is really there, a tax lasting only five or 10 years wouldn’t provide a permanent solution.

This time, county officials must think outside the box. This means fixing the most pressing jail needs within current means, not higher taxes.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2aY7Iaf


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