Top lawman debates pot

Sep 262006
Authors: Vimal Patel The Rocky Mountain Collegian

DENVER – Now’s not the time to wave the “white flag” in the drug war – and if voters pass a statewide pot-legalization measure in November, that’s exactly what will happen, the state’s attorney general said Tuesday night.

“We know that marijuana use by adults leads to an increase in pot use by children,” said Attorney General John Suthers at a debate with pot-legalization advocate Mason Tvert.

Suthers shot off statistics, saying 4.6 million Americans suffer from marijuana dependence, a quarter million were treated for marijuana use in 1999 and that 60 percent of kids cite drugs’ illegality as the reason for not using them.

This, Suthers said, shows Colorado voters should not tread down the path of legalization.

Voters in November are set to vote on Amendment 44, a ballot measure that would legalize up to an ounce of pot for those aged 21 and older.

Tvert, whose pot-legalization group – SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) – was behind last November’s voter-approved Denver measure that legalized pot in the city, said people are going to use mind-altering substances.

And if they do, SAFER’s argument goes, they might as well use pot, which the group contends is far safer than legal alcohol.

“They want to live in the idealistic world,” Tvert said of pot prohibitionists. “We want to live in the realistic world.”

Suthers dismissed this central claim of the group as “moral relativism.”

The debate, held in the Gates Concert Hall in the Newman Center for Performing Arts at the University of Denver, was sponsored by 9News and featured debates on several other ballot issues ranging from gay marriage to education.

After all, he asked, should a polygamist who’s in love with his wives be able to marry them? Or should brothers be allowed to marry sisters?

“Marriage is the building block of society,” he said. “It absolutely ought to be protected by the constitution.”

Crank, a CSU alumni, brought up the polygamist argument multiple times, leading his opponent to pounce.

“Were I your pastor, I might want to know what that’s about,” said Phil Campbell, director of ministry studies at DU. “The love and commitment that my wife and I share is what strengthens my marriage.”

The back-and-forth between Suthers and Tvert was expected, however, as both men questioned each other’s honesty and tactics. The pair have debated before, and for Suthers, it was a better experience this time around.

“He was more obnoxious (last time),” Suthers told the Collegian afterward. “I have met Mr. Tvert before so nothing surprises me.”

When not lobbing attacks against each other, one point of debate was the so-called gateway theory, which states that pot use leads to the use of harder drugs.

Suthers said those who use pot at an early age are likely to become addicted to harder drugs.

Tvert agreed, kind of.

“The people who are more likely to use marijuana are more likely to use other drugs,” he said. “It makes sense.”

But one reason this is the case, he said, is because the government has forced marijuana users to buy their drug in places where harder drugs are available – something that could be eliminated if pot is regulated.

“It’s the ‘illegal’ status of marijuana that makes it a gateway drug,” Tvert said. “When you go to a liquor store, you can’t buy cocaine.”

News managing editor Vimal Patel can be reached at

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