Mar 272006
Authors: Vimal Patel

The push to legalize adult pot use in Colorado kicked into gear at CSU last week as two student groups set up a table on the Lory Student Center Plaza to collect the required signatures needed to place the Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative on November’s ballot.

Before the measure goes in front of voters, the group behind it must collect 68,000 signatures, and to do so, has tapped into a groundswell of support from college students.

“We plan on bringing out an army of younger voters,” said Mason Tvert, campaign director of the pro-legalization SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation). “We brought out tons of younger voters in Denver.”

Initiative 100 in Denver, approved by 54 percent of the city’s voters in November, eliminated all penalties for adult use and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The drug remains illegal under state and federal law.

The proposed ballot measure would eliminate the overarching statewide pot ban, allowing individual cities to determine the plant’s legality. Fort Collins has no pot ordinance and is guided by state law.

If the measure passes, the only way Fort Collins adults aged 21 or older could be prosecuted for use and possession of up to an ounce of pot would be by federal law.

Experts said it’s extremely rare for the federal government to intervene in minor pot cases.

Two student groups – the CSU Libertarian Party (CSULP) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy – have set up a table to help with the signature-collection effort.

“At this point, not many people know about the measure, so they’re kind of ambivalent about it,” said Seth Anthony, chair of CSULP. “We want to be out there as much as possible.”

Anthony said he collected about 200 signatures in three days last week.

The SAFER campaign

As some 25 citizens – many students – gathered around Tvert in the pot-friendly Cheba Hut on a recent Saturday, the scene resembled the essence of democracy.

College students and graying intellectuals alike surrounded the 24-year-old public face of the SAFER campaign as he explained what needs to be done for pot possession to become legal in Colorado.

Just like he did two days before in the LSC’s Virginia Dale room, Tvert rallied the troops to collect the 68,000 signatures needed to place the Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative on November’s ballot.

“This is an issue that relies heavily on education,” Tvert said. “If we educate voters about the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, then there’s no doubt we can win.”

Opponents of the campaign have branded the legalization effort as one pushed by a bunch of potheads.

An aide to Denver mayor John Hickenlooper even joked about sending the SAFER campaign a shipment of Doritos and Oreos during the I-100 campaign, a reference to the “munchies” experienced by some marijuana users.

But defenders of pot legalization say the issue is of broader scope.

“That’s a pretty narrow opinion of what the initiative is trying to accomplish,” said Brooke Malcolm, a senior business marketing major and cofounder of the CSU chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Malcolm said the risks associated with marijuana use are less severe than with other drugs, including alcohol.

“It’s a safer choice,” she said, repeating SAFER’s core argument. “It doesn’t have anything to do with my personal use or anyone else’s personal use.”

But Tvert relishes the criticism, especially coming from a Hickenlooper aide, since it gives him the opportunity to garner media attention by doing what he does best: stirring the pot.

In response, SAFER sent the mayor a body bag with a fake foot sticking out of it surrounded by jugs of alcohol from the mayor’s brewery and posed the question: What’s worse, an alcohol-poisoning death or the munchies?

The episode earned mention in several of the nation’s top newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times.

“We don’t have millions of dollars. We don’t have the money to buy advertisements,” Tvert said. “We rely on media coverage. We believe this issue is worthy of media coverage.”

Public opinion

According to a recent Denver Post poll, 37 percent of voters would support the legalization initiative, while 51 percent would oppose it.

Although the survey of 625 respondents indicated a double-digit defeat of the measure, Tvert said he’s not the least bit discouraged.

“It was done prematurely,” he said.

The poll only surveyed those with landline phones and those who said they vote in local elections. And college students, Tvert said, rely on cell phones and generally don’t participate in local elections.

Tvert hopes when youngsters are factored into the equation, the measure will get a spike in support.

Vimal Patel can be reached at

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