DENVER (AP) – Denver voters told authorities to back off from enforcing marijuana laws for the second time in as many years, passing an initiative to make the drug the “lowest law enforcement priority.” The initiative passed easily Tuesday (November 6th) despite protests from city officials who said it was meaningless. It likely sets up a court challenge over the whether a voter-passed initiative can govern the priorities of police and prosecutors.
The vote was the third marijuana initiative sponsored by Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and its outspoken leader, Mason Tvert. He noted the initiative passed despite opposition from editorials in The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News as well as from city officials. “Everyone said vote ‘no’ and the people of this city still voted ‘yes’,” Tvert said. “I think that sends a clear message that people want change.”
Tvert and his group successfully pushed a 2005 initiative to legalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana for adults over 21, but the move failed to blunt arrests because authorities continued to enforce state laws. Tvert tried to pass an identical measure at the state level and 2006 but was rebuffed by statewide voters. He said despite the lack of change after the 2005 vote, this vote will make a difference if city officials follow it. “This should change things in Denver,” Tvert said. “If the city carries on with marijuana arrests, they are going to be breaking the law.”
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper disagreed. “The decision of who gets prosecuted is the role of the district attorney,” Hickenlooper said, noting that position is independently elected. City officials have already declared that this latest offering to make the drug the lowest priority is not enforceable and Hickenlooper said it would not change much even if it was. “Possession is already one of the lowest if not the lowest priority,” Hickenlooper said. The initiative does call for the city to create a community-based panel on marijuana and the mayor said that will be formed.
City Council members were so convinced of the measure’s irrelevance that when Tvert forced their hand with a petition getting it on the ballot, they considered passing it into law themselves to speed a court challenge. They decided against that plan, however, because it would have put them on record as voting in favor of relaxing marijuana enforcement.
Denver election officials said about 8,000 ballots had not yet been counted Wednesday out of some 90,000 cast, but Tvert’s initiative was leading by about 8,400 votes.
Denver joins Seattle, which adopted a similar measure in 2003. The Northwest city saw a significant decrease in the number of arrests for marijuana possession the years after it went into effect, according to the Seattle Times. Additionally, The Bay Area Reporter says San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Monica have also adopted similar legislation.
– This article is from 9 News Colorado; watch the news video on the lower right side of the webpage
– See the SAFER Denver website for the Initiative’s wording and more information