After his group's reverberating pot victory last week making Denver the first U.S. city to legalize the use of recreational marijuana, Mason Tvert has garnered national attention.
He's been juggling calls from several of the nation's top newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, and debating pot opponents on cable networks like Fox News and MSNBC.
But the main focus of Tvert, executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), is still CSU and other Colorado universities, which he says are at the forefront of the national alcohol problem – one that could be alleviated if drinkers would toke instead.
At CSU, Tvert said his group plans on ratcheting up the pressure to force administration officials to stop penalizing pot smokers.
"Marijuana is a relatively benign substance and it's far less harmful than alcohol," he said. "There's not one single law that says a school needs to penalize a student for using marijuana."
Currently, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is grounds for up to a $100 fine and a mandatory $100 drug-offender surcharge, according to state law. It's a petty offense, "like a speeding ticket," Tvert said.
The same way university officials don't punish students who receive speeding tickets, they shouldn't punish students who get caught with pot, he said.
Ron Hicks, assistant director of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct Services, said each case is taken on an individual basis. Depending on the severity, possession of marijuana can lead to anything from a letter of warning to expulsion.
But he also added that no student has ever been expelled for a first-time possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. If a student is expelled, it's the result of more serious violations or a history of disciplinary action.
"We want to make them understand what they violated," he said, "so they don't put themselves in that position again."
University officials would not comment on whether they believed marijuana to be less harmful than alcohol.
"We're not going to promote one hazardous substance over another," said CSU spokesman Brad Bohlander.
Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown said Tvert's campaign, which argued that a world filled with pot smokers would be safer than a world filled with drunks, was deceptive and misled voters.
"I still believe marijuana is a gateway drug," he said. "Some users, not all, go on to harder drugs."
Tvert, 23, said his group was created last year after the alcohol-poisoning deaths of two Colorado students, including CSU student Samantha Spady.
"If they would have used marijuana instead of alcohol, they'd still be alive," he said, adding that there has never been a marijuana overdose death or a lung cancer death to a marijuana-only smoker.
Tvert blames the CSU administration for trying to protect the university's image without doing what's right. Fort Collins officials and college administrators need to realize the town has a problem with alcohol and deal with the issue more proactively, he said.
"Currently, we have a dishonest policy that pushes students to choose alcohol over marijuana," he said. "If they want to cut down on serious alcohol problems, they need to give students an alternative."
Tvert acknowledges that pot has negative effects. But so do cheeseburgers and skim milk, he said. The point is the drug is not as harmful as alcohol, but rather a safer alternative to it.
City and state officials have said Denver voters' decision to make pot legal will have no bearing on how the law is enforced. State and national laws trump local laws, they say.
But the victory in Denver has energized the movement to legalize marijuana, and has given groups like SAFER, which have traditionally been marginalized by weed opponents, a newfound respect and legitimacy.
A spokesman for Denver mayor John Hickenlooper had joked about giving the pro I-100 campaign a delivery of Oreos and Doritos, Tvert said. This was a reference to the craving for snacks that many pot-smokers experience.
But SAFER fired back. They sent the brewery-owning Hickenlooper a body bag with a fake foot sticking out, surrounded by jugs of alcohol from his brewery, and posed a question to the mayor: "Which is worse, an alcohol-induced death or the munchies?"
It's attention-grabbing tactics like this that launched a tiny campaign into the national spotlight.
Brown said voters approved the measure – which passed 54 to 46 percent – for three main reasons: a lack of organized opposition, people thought it was a meaningless vote, and voters believed it to be a protest vote against the controversial federal drug war.
The councilman joked that Tvert's actions and words lead him to believe the 23-year-old could be with an alcohol prohibition front group.
SAFER also links alcohol and violent crimes such as abuse and sexual assault. In fact, Tvert has made a connection between the abundant flow of alcohol in Fort Collins and the unusually high number of reported rapes in the city.
He also shoots back at critics who say marijuana users are financing gang-related violence, saying one way to eliminate the criminal element of marijuana is to have the government regulate it.
But some, like Brown, say the argument is ridiculous.
"That's like saying the German air raids against London were really urban renewal," he said. "That's the kind of logic he implies… It's very frustrating trying to communicate with the guy."
SAFER officials said they have plans in place to make pot use legal in all of Colorado and the nation.
Since the passage of I-100 last week, SAFER has been inundated with thousands of messages throughout the country and the world, most supportive but a couple death threats as well, Tvert said.
In the Nov. 1 election, the most prominent issue was Referendum C, but its passage didn't grab national and international headlines as forcefully as the approval of I-100.
But whether one considers SAFER a serious political force or a serious joke, it's clear pot smokers throughout the land now have the rallying point they've been lacking: the will of the voters in a major American city.
"When we started on the CU and CSU campuses, it was the beginning of a national movement, and it's clearly picking up," Tvert said. "The tides have changed."