Colorado Voters to Decide on Legal Pot

February 27, 2012
Dey /Free Photos

DENVER, CO – Colorado voters will decide in November whether to legalize marijuana for all adults, not just medical-marijuana card holders.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced Monday that the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol had submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot. Backers turned in 90,466 valid signatures, nearly 7,000 more than required under state law.

The measure, which was named Amendment 64, is the first initiative to qualify for the Nov. 6 Colorado ballot.

“The people of Colorado are ready to end marijuana prohibition and begin taxing it and regulating it like alcohol,” said campaign chair Mason Tvert, who also runs the Denver-based Safe Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER).

Supporters plan to hold a press conference to launch the effort Tuesday at the group’s campaign headquarters in Denver. Among those scheduled to attend are former House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, Colorado NAACP President Rosemary Harris Lytle, and Denise Maes of the ACLU of Colorado.

The initiative would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants in their home. Specialty shops would be permitted to sell the drug, although cities and counties would have the option of prohibiting such stores.

The measure would also establish a regulatory system to control and tax marijuana sales. The state legislature would be charged with placing an undetermined excise tax on marijuana sales, with the proceeds going to education.

“Regulating marijuana like alcohol will create jobs, allow police to focus on more serious crimes, provide much-needed tax revenue, and will do a far better job of keeping marijuana away from children than the current system does,” said MPP executive director Rob Kampia in a statement.

If voters approve the measure, Colorado would become the first state to allow marijuana for non-medical use. Washington has also cleared a marijuana-legalization measure for its November ballot, and advocates said they hope to place similar proposals on ballots in four other states.

The campaign needed two tries to qualify for the ballot. Supporters turned in 163,632 signatures Jan. 4, but Gessler declared the petition insufficient, needing another 2,409 valid signatures to win a spot on the ballot. The group turned in another 14,151 signatures Feb. 17, and Gessler gave them the seal of approval Monday.

Whether the Justice Department would allow a state to skirt federal anti-drug statutes by legalizing marijuana is another question. The department said in an October 2009 opinion that it would allow states to move forward with regulating medical marijuana, even though marijuana possession is still illegal under federal law.

Even so, federal authorities have intervened on several occasions to rein in commercial marijuana sales. Last month, Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh sent letters to 23 state dispensaries informing them that they were in violation of school drug-free zones and giving them until Feb. 27 to move or shut down.

In January, Walsh defended the crackdown by citing figures showing an increase in drug-related student suspensions since the marijuana-dispensary boom began in 2009. He also cited a report by a Denver Health doctor saying that nearly half of the teenagers admitted for substance abuse said they obtained the drug from someone with a medical-marijuana card.

If the Colorado measure passes, advocates of legalized marijuana are hoping the combination of a cash-strapped federal government and voter support will persuade government agencies to hold back on enforcing anti-marijuana laws.

“It would be a complete waste of government resources to try to prohibit marijuana regulation in states that have approved it,” said MPP spokesman Morgan Fox. “A lot is going to depend on who’s in the White House when that happens.”

Colorado voters rejected an effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2006 by a margin of 60 to 40 percent. California voters defeated a similar measure in 2010, with the opposition led by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, law enforcement and liquor trade associations.

Colorado voters legalized the use of medical marijuana on the 2000 ballot. Thirteen states now permit the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

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