The Vestiges Of Prohibition

I thought Prohibition — America’s doomed effort to legislate morality and propriety by banning the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages through a constitutional amendment that gave rise to bootleggers, speakeasies, and rumrunners — ended back in the ’30s.  And it did . . . in most places.  But weird vestiges of Prohibition-era laws still can be found even now, more than 80 years later.

we-want-beerTake Colorado, for example.  Thanks to a law that traces its roots back to Prohibition, grocery stores in that state haven’t been able to sell full-strength beer.  If you walk into a store of the grocery chain of your choice in Denver, for example, you can buy 3.2 beer — and that’s it.  If you want to buy full-strength beer, you’ve got to go to a state liquor store. It’s kind of weird to think that such a limitation on beer sales would exist in Colorado of all places, because it has been one of the leaders in the movement to legalize the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana.  But Prohibition-era laws die hard.

Grocery stores apparently put up with the limitation because, until 2008, liquor sales of any kind on Sunday were banned in Colorado, except for the 3.2 beer you could buy in grocery stores.  That restriction no doubt gave grocery stores a boost in Sunday sales to thirsty drinkers who couldn’t buy anything else.  When the blue law ended, however, grocers started advocating for change, the legislature finally acted, and now the 3.2 beer limitation will be ending.  Effective January 1, 2019, you can walk into a grocery store in Colorado and buy a six-pack of Sam Adams seasonal — just like you can in Columbus and pretty much everywhere else in the United States.

For those of us of a certain age, the notion of drinking 3.2 beer brings back memories of our adolescence, when people of a certain age in Ohio (and elsewhere) were permitted to drink 3.2 beer and nothing else.  It was a rite of passage.  I don’t remember much about the quality of 3.2 beer, but I do remember the quantity, because you had a drink a lot of it to attain the desired effect.  The 3.2 beer laws in Ohio ended decades ago, however.

Welcome to the modern world, Colorado!  And down with the Volstead Act!

The Straight Dope From Colorado Road Signs

I’m in Colorado for work, and as I drove my rental car in from the airport I was stopped dead in a massive traffic jam on I-70 heading into Denver.  While I was stopped on the road I saw this sign about driving on I-70 taking up to four hours and saw how that could be true — but the line about “edibles” initially mystified me.  It was only when I noticed the marijuana plant logo at the bottom the sign that I figured out the meaning of the “edibles” and four-hour references.

Still later I saw an “adopt-a-highway” sign indicating that the stretch of road I was on was maintained by “Silver Stem Fine Cannabis.”  I don’t know what was more unnerving — the thought that other drivers in the traffic jam may have mistimed their “edibles” ingestion or the notion of stoned clerks from a marijuana emporium wandering around a highway picking up litter.  It’s nice to know that the Silver Stem proprietors are good corporate citizens, at least.

It’s a brave new world in Colorado!

Atop Lookout Mountain

This week I had a quick trip to Denver for work.  It gave me the opportunity to have dinner in the Mile High City with the Second Secretary, who moved west about 20 years ago to escape Columbus’ winter dreariness — Denver, she cheerfully pointed out, gets sunshine 320 days out of the year — and loves it.

After I was finished with my meeting in one of Denver’s suburbs today, I asked my host if he had a recommendation for something to do before I had to catch my plane.  He gave me two options:  check out Golden, Colorado, an “Old West” town that is home of the Coors’ Brewery, or a drive up neighboring Lookout Mountain, where Buffalo Bill Cody is buried and where that old Indian scout claimed you can see four states.  I chose the latter option, and in this case, at least, the old huckster and Wild West Show promoter probably spoke the truth.  Lookout Mountain offers an amazing and commanding view due east, over the beginning of the Great Plains, where in the picture below you can just see the Denver skyscrapers hard up against the line of the horizon.  If you were scouting for marauding bands of Sioux, or for that matter blue-coated cavalry, you could have worse vantage points.  Lookout Mountain is aptly named.

Be forewarned:  if you drive up Lookout Mountain from the 19th Street turnoff, be prepared for some white knuckling motoring, with lots of hairpin turns, sheer falloffs that make you dizzy just to look at, and cyclists huffing and puffing up the steep inclines on their way to the top.  I felt like applauding them for their efforts, but they were a pain in the butt at the same time.  Every time you would draw up behind a cyclist approaching one of the hairpin turns, you’d wonder whether you should swing around the cyclist standing on her pedals to keep going — and whether by doing so you’d be moving in the path of a white-knuckled driver coming down the mountain in the opposite direction.  Of course, I decided to pass, and I didn’t have any problem.  And when I met a cyclist at the summit, after I relaxed my hands and stopped thinking about the drive up, I offered my congratulations to him.  In the photo below, you can see a bit of the road heading up to Lookout Mountain.


Interestingly, the internet sources describe Lookout Mountain as one of the “foothills” of the American Rockies.  Foothill?  Seriously?  If there was a summit like this in the glacier scrubbed rolling hills of Ohio, people would drive from miles around to check it out.  But when you’re just one of the easternmost parts of the majestic Rockies, perhaps “foothill” is a fair description.  After all, Lookout Mountain is part of the front range of the Rockies, and the summit, where Buffalo Bill’s grave is found, is only a measly 7400 feet or so about sea level.  Never mind that that is about 7000 feet taller than pretty much everything we’ve got in Ohio!

Buffalo Bill’s gravesite is a simple stone marker in a grove of coniferous trees that have a delectable, spicy smell.  I’m not sure why people pitch coins onto the gravesite, but they do.  Being a bit of a huckster himself, Buffalo Bill would probably like that.

Not In Kansas Anymore

 After arriving in Denver and enduring the Avis experience yesterday, I stopped at a Wendy’s for a quick burger — and there, across the road next to the fast food, was a “recreational marijuana” shop called Euflora.  It’s the first one we’ve seen on our trip, so I had to snap a picture as we drove by.

I imagine Colorado’s fast food outlets aren’t exactly unhappy to have one of their restaurants located next to a place where customers know they will soon have the munchies.  I wonder if this Wendy’s store’s sales have increased since Euflora opened next door?

Euflora had the same bright signage and clean outward appearance of other commercial establishments in the suburban sprawl.  At first we thought the shop had three drive-thru windows, which made us laugh — but then we realized the building was obviously a converted bank branch.
From a bank to a legal pot shop.  The world is changing before our eyes.

Dope And Hope

The politics of marijuana are changing.

As exhibit number one, consider Michelle Malkin, a reliably conservative political commentator. Yesterday she wrote about her visit to a marijuana shop in Colorado — not to rip the legalization movement, as you might expect, but rather to describe the positive impact marijuana use has had for her mother-in-law, who is dealing with cancer and has experienced problems with loss of appetite. By using the legal marijuana in Colorado, her mother-in-law’s food intake has improved, leading to hope that she will get stronger and weather the ravages of cancer treatment. And, as a bottom line, Malkin notes that the operators of the shops carefully run neat businesses, pay taxes, employ people, and provide goods and services that people like her mother-in-law want and need.

A number of states have changed their marijuana laws in recent years, but Colorado appears to be the focus of attention. In states like Ohio, where there doesn’t seem to be an significant movement toward either approval of medical marijuana or decriminalization on a state level, I expect that legislators are taking a hard look at the Colorado experience. Are significant additional tax revenues are being produced? Is there any appreciable effect on crime? Are people like Michelle Malkin’s mother-in-law benefiting? Is the legal sale of marijuana having any impact on tourism? The answers to those questions will tell us whether states like Ohio, which tends to be a follower rather than an innovator, may change its marijuana policies.

High On Tax Revenue

Colorado is set to become the first state to regulate and tax the recreational use of marijuana.  Don’t expect it to be the last.

The Colorado legislature has passed a series of bills dealing with marijuana.  In the wake of a 2012 voter initiative that approved recreational use of marijuana by people over 21, the legislature has decreed how many marijuana plants people can grow for their personal use (no more than 6), how much marijuana visitors to Colorado can buy (a quarter ounce), and how marijuana offered for sale must be packaged (in child-proof containers that specify potency).

As far as taxes are concerned, Colorado ganja will be subject to a 10 percent sales tax and a 15 percent excise tax.  In other states where the sale of “medical marijuana” is taxed, significant revenues have been obtained; in California, $100 million is raised annually from such taxes.

We can expect other states to follow Colorado’s lead, for entirely predictable reasons.  States need cash, and that means they need things to tax.  Through “medical marijuana” exceptions, the use of recreational drugs has become increasingly accepted by Americans — and that use is largely untaxed.  With Colorado, and Washington, and other states taking the lead, what state legislator who’d like to have a bit more revenue to spread around to his pet programs can resist a marijuana tax?  At all levels of government our politicians are addicted to taxes, and this is another way for them to get their fix.