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Exclusive: Colorado’s dueling marijuana initiatives threaten to confuse voters

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, July 8, 2011 15:59 EDT
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Two distinctly different initiatives to end marijuana prohibition in Colorado are on a collision course over legislative language that local reform activists warn could “paint a target” on the backs of recreational marijuana consumers.

While it’s not clear that would indeed be the result, the two groups — Legalize 2012 and The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol — are warily eyeing each other as the 2012 election draws nearer by the day, preparing their campaigns and, increasingly, targeting one another as they jostle for the public eye.

The Legalize 2012 campaign, a small group of local Colorado drug reform activists who organized to further loosen the state’s medical marijuana laws, claims it is preparing a constitutional amendment that would drop all criminal penalties related to marijuana. The group also wants to exempt marijuana consumers from federal law by extending the same legal protections law enforcement officers fall under when handling illegal substances, although it is unclear if such an idea would hold up in court.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, on the other hand, is more conservative, better-financed and, most importantly, run by the nation’s largest marijuana lobbying firms: SAFER, NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project.

It would allow adults over 21-years-old to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, open the door to taxed, over-the-counter sales of marijuana for recreational purposes and reform sentencing guidelines for larger possession charges. It would also legalize the farming of industrial hemp and permit adults to cultivate up to six marijuana plants of their own.

Another key advantage to the Regulate campaign: the full text of their initiative is already online, but Legalize 2012 says their’s won’t be far behind.

“We want true legalization,” Laura Kriho, one of Legalize 2012′s activists, told Raw Story. “But more importantly, we don’t want our constitution amended with bad marijuana law.”

She specifically pointed to the medical marijuana provisions the Marijuana Policy Project helped pass in Colorado in 2000, insisting that it triggered a massive growth in the police surveillance of cannabis patients and warning that the new initiative could “put a target” on the backs of recreational users too.

“While it looks like a step forward on the face of it, we don’t want any more bad marijuana law in Colorado,” Kriho said. “If you write a constitutional amendment, you have to get it right on the first try. [...] They’re taking that medical marijuana program that we’ve been fighting and converting it to all marijuana. Somehow they trust the Department of Revenue to do a good job in this. It’s clear this is either being run by the dispensaries, or it’s being run for them to ensure their monopoly continues.”

But Brian Vicente, one of the leading proponents of the Regulate campaign, sees that as a non-issue.

“All that is false,” he told Raw Story. “Ultimately, this would remove penalties for adults possessing marijuana. It absolutely is legalization. It may not be exactly what some stakeholders are looking for, but we believe it will be a step in the right direction. What we’re doing is establishing a [legal] floor, not a ceiling. This law can be changed and expanded to allow more broader criminal penalty reforms. In the mean time, we think it’s a responsible measure and that we can get the majority of Colorado voters to support it.”

Vicente added that their proposals would generate roughly $70 million in tax revenues for the state in just its first full year, whereas there is no such analysis or projection for Legalize 2012′s forthcoming proposals.

He also said that what they’re pushing for is a “regulated market” for marijuana where adults are allowed to cultivate the plants in their own homes — not just reforming sentencing to give the appearance of legalization. They won’t call it legalization, however, because of the stigma that tends to raise in some voters’ minds.

“Our initiative went through an incredible vetting process [...] It is very strong language, and it is the language that is going to win,” Vicente continued. “Our coalition is the broadest coalition to ever bring a statewide marijuana measure in front of the voters. It involves every national drug policy group in the country, as well as three major drug policy groups in Colorado. [...] Our coalition has passed every single major piece of marijuana legislation in the last 20 years. These other folks, to my knowledge, have never passed another local or statewide initiative.”

Mason Tvert, the Regulate campaign’s executive director, went so far as to insist that “there is no Legalization 2012 campaign” because they have not yet filed their initiative. He added that they attempted to reach out for input from the Legalize 2012 campaign, but the local stakeholders supposedly weren’t willing to cooperate.

“We absolutely will not be changing our initiative,” he said. “It’s the strongest, most viable marijuana initiative ever drafted [...] This one group complained about the fact that we didn’t want to do what they didn’t want to do. It’s that long history of a small group of activists who cannot work with others and would rather tear things down than build things up.”

Photo credit: Flickr commons.

(H/T: American Independent)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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