The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 7, Colorado's largest labor union, said Monday that its members endorse Amendment 64, a ballot measure that aims to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults and regulate the drug similarly to alcohol.

"Amendment 64 will foster economic growth and enhance public safety for our members across Colorado," UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova said in an advisory. "Removing marijuana from the underground market and regulating it similarly to alcohol will create living-wage jobs and bolster our state and local economies with tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue and savings. By taking marijuana off the streets and putting it in retail stores, we can stop steering money toward gangs and drug cartels, and start directing it toward legitimate, job-producing Colorado businesses."

A media statement added that UFCW's endorsement was seconded by the Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association (OPCMIA) Local 577, the Colorado Progressive Coalition, ProgressNow Colorado, and the New Era Colorado Foundation.

The endorsements come at a critical moment for Colorado drug reformers, who saw their lead narrow significantly in polling released Monday. The Denver Post found that among likely voters in Colorado, 48 percent support legalization, while 43 percent remain opposed. That represents a big drop in support for legalization and a small gain for the continued prohibition since the Denver Post's last poll in September, which found that 51 percent favored the initiative while just 40 percent opposed it.

With the election just weeks away, advocates and opponents of the measure are ramping up their advertising campaigns in an effort to blitz voters with as much information as possible, and the UFCW is only the most recent group to rally in favor of legalization. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said Thursday that more than 300 Colorado doctors endorsed the measure on the basis that marijuana is scientifically proven to be less harmful than alcohol. They've also cut an ad featuring singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge speaking frankly about how marijuana helped her overcome the worst symptoms of her cancer treatments.

The physicians group followed endorsements by 11 members of the law enforcement community, along with 130 college professors from across the country and Colorado's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

On the other side, numerous elected officials have endorsed the Vote No on 64 campaign, including Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Attorney General John Suthers, Speaker of the House Frank McNulty. Others opposing legalization include the Fraternal Order of Police, the County Sheriffs of Colorado, the Association of Chiefs of Police, the Colorado Education Association and various chambers of commerce across the state.

Even so, with progressives and labor unions lining up behind the measure, the economic argument for legalization may become the key front in the state, especially after the Colorado Center on Law & Policy found in August that Colorado could gain as much as $32 million from taxes on marijuana in the first year alone. That economic model, however, is also being cited by critics, who correctly note that it assumes that usage would go up and prices would come down -- a contrast that inhabits the core of the opposition's argument.

"We are proud to have the support of our state's largest union and these statewide organizations committed to improving our economy and creating living-wage jobs in Colorado," Betty Aldworth, advocacy director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said in prepared text. "We don't understand why some of our political and existing business leaders want to keep marijuana in the underground market, where sales are not taxed and the profits benefit criminal enterprises instead of legal businesses. If Amendment 64 passes, businesses and workers win, and drug cartels and criminals lose."

Colorado is just one of three states considering full legalization this November. Washington and Oregon may also establish a similar regulatory framework, should voters approve.


Photo:, all rights reserved.