DENVER– Backers of Amendment 64 to legalize marijuana contend that statements in the blue book, the state-published voters’ guide, are unfairly biased against the ballot initiative.
Denver District Court Senior Judge Leonard Plank will weigh their arguments against those of the Colorado Legislative Council on Wednesday.
Amendment 64 proponents filed a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the blue book from being printed. They want the Legislative Council staff to reinsert arguments in favor of the ballot initiative that were stripped last week.
Proponents said that three sentences were deleted in the “For” statement that read:
“The use of marijuana by adults may be less harmful than the use of alcohol or tobacco, both of which are already legal for adults to use and are regulated by the state. Furthermore, marijuana may be beneficial for individuals with debilitating conditions. The consequences of burdening adults with a criminal record for possession of small amounts of marijuana are too severe, and there are better uses for state resources than prosecuting low-level crimes.”
During the Sept. 5 meeting of the Legislative Council, proponent Brian Vincente requested a few changes to the “For” statements, including the deletion of references to tobacco.
“Tobacco has a very negative connotation in the minds of voters,” said Vincente.
He also asked that the “For” statement clarify that Amendment 64 prohibits public consumption of marijuana and upholds the right of employers to set restrictive drug policies for their employees.
“We think it’s important to address these issues head on,” declared Vincent, who wanted to counter myths perpetuated by Amendment 64 opponents.
The reference to tobacco was omitted after sate Sen. Mark Scheffel (R-Parker) made a motion to divide the first paragraph into two separate statements, and delete the words that could not be factually supported. For example, marijuana can be purchased illegally, but unknown is the growth of the underground market.
The motion passed unanimously, and only later did House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino realize the committee had deleted three sentences – not two words – in the “For” statement. His motion to reinstate the sentences failed for lack of a two-thirds vote.
Restoring those statements may be determined by Judge Plank, who plans to make a ruling Wednesday. The blue book, which is now being edited, is scheduled to be printed and mailed to 1.9 million voters by Oct. 5.
A factor in the court’s decision may be weighing “Against” statements that grew longer during the hearing last week as rapidly as “For” statements shrunk.
State Rep. Nancy Todd (D-Aurora) successfully added a health warning: “Greater accessibility and acceptance of marijuana may increase the number of children and younger adults who use the drug, which due to their ongoing brain development may be especially dangerous.”
More controversial was the proponents’ contention that the ballot initiative, if passed, would generate an estimated $60 million in escrow tax revenue and $40 million would be allocated to public education by the legislature. It also instructed legislators to pass a ballot initiative asking voters to approve the tax in the future.
The proponents did not circulate a petition for a tax increase initiative, Vincente said, because it would have required an additional 150,000 signatures and was “cost prohibitive.”
“We believe it is unfathomable that (the legislature) would not take action to enact this excise tax,” said Vincente. “The legislators we’ve spoken to and the public absolutely want this.”
Citing the blue book summary, state Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver) countered, “It’s requiring the legislature to ask for a tax… That would be unconstitutional for the legislature to be told they would have to do that.”
Michael Dougherty of the Attorney General’s office said the promise of $40 million in tax revenue going to public education “sounds compelling,” but there is no guarantee the tax will be placed on the ballot, approved by voters and generate that amount of money.
Dougherty cautioned that those “ifs” could lead to a lot of litigation down the road.
To solve that issue, Senate Majority Leader John Morse(D-Colorado Springs) moved a catchall disclaimer that unanimously passed.
Added to the blue book “Against” arguments is:
“This initiative requires that the general assembly enact an excise tax. The current constitution forbids a member of the general assembly to be bound to vote for or against any bill or any measure pending for or proposed to the general assembly. Because of this inherent conflict, the excise tax outlined in this measure might not be imposed. Additionally this issue may result in significant litigation.”