Marijuana advocates vowed from the Capitol steps Wednesday to put a statewide measure legalizing adult pot possession on Colorado’s November ballot and mobilize an army of voters to pass it.
The statewide campaign is fueled by outrage over Denver authorities’ rejection of Initiative 100, said Mason Tvert, campaign director for the initiative’s sponsor, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER).
City voters passed the initiative in November, ostensibly making it legal for adults to possess up to 1 ounce of pot. Denver law enforcement officials, however, continue to ticket small-time pot-possession violators under state law. They always have prosecuted the vast majority of possession cases, saying that state law is unaffected by local statutes.
The Colorado Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative seeks to pass a state law identical to the Denver measure, Tvert said, so Denver officials can no longer “ignore the will of the voters by hiding behind state law.”
Tvert acknowledged that because the initiative will only amend drug statutes, not the Colorado Constitution, state lawmakers simply could overturn its passage.
But he warned that lawmakers who try “goose-stepping around the will of the people who put them in office” could find themselves voted out.
The measure needs nearly 68,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
To raise them, “we plan on bringing out an army of new voters in this state and mobilizing students across the state to get involved, collecting signatures and passing this initiative,” Tvert said.
He said he’s sticking with the controversial campaign that apparently helped win in Denver:
It argues that adults should have the right to choose marijuana as a safer alternative to alcohol, which pot advocates blame for deadly violence and car wrecks.
Even critics of the I-100 campaign say Tvert tapped into rising opposition to the national war on drugs by arguing it was diverting scarce funding for police ? and for fighting violent crime ? to prosecute otherwise law-abiding, nonviolent pot-smoking residents.
Now SAFER is drawing support for the state initiative from a 4,500-member organization of current and former narcotics agents, police chiefs, prosecutors, prison wardens, judges and federal agents.
“The war on drugs has been too long and too disgustingly failed and far too destructive,” said Jack Cole, executive director of the international group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).
“Since 1970, we’ve spent more than a trillion dollars on this war and all we have to show for it each year is we arrest another 1.6 million people in this country for nonviolent drug offenses,” said Cole. “Fully half are marijuana arrests.”
Cole retired as a detective lieutenant after 26 years with the New Jersey State Police. He spent 14 of those working undercover as a narcotics agent.
When it comes to the SAFER initiative, Cole said, “we support them 100 percent.”
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers takes a sharply different view.
He said law enforcement doesn’t spend a great deal of resources prosecuting small pot-possession cases, and strongly opposes legalizing even small amounts of pot, calling it “a dangerous drug.”
Cole’s fellow LEAP members have given more than 1,400 talks against drug prohibition in the past two years.
“I would love to debate your attorney general,” he said. “Let’s talk about what drugs are dangerous and what drugs aren’t: Cigarettes kill 430,000 a year in the United States. Alcohol kills 110,000 every year … But there has never been a recorded case of a death from ingesting marijuana.”
Story from Rocky Mountain News