Mar 022006
 
Authors: Vimal Patel

Mason Tvert on Thursday night was back at CSU, one of the universities where his crusade to legalize pot began.

But this time, the executive director of the pro-pot legalization SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) returned with a little more name recognition and credibility.

The last time Tvert was at CSU, last fall, SAFER was just one of the numerous, easily dismissed pro-pot legalization groups nationwide.

But as Tvert strode into the Lory Student Center's Virginia Dale room Thursday night, he had I-100 – a city ordinance that legalized pot in Denver and made international headlines – under his belt.

Not to a mention a room full of about 35 students and community members eager to collect the nearly 68,000 signatures needed to place the Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative on November's ballot.

"This is definitely a grassroots effort," Tvert told the pot-legalization troops. "We think this is very possible…The hardest part is getting it on the ballot."

The event was sponsored by the newly formed CSU chapter of the Libertarian Party, which advocates limited government.

"It should be your choice what you put into your body as long as you don't hurt anyone else," said Seth Anthony, chair of the group.

The proposed measure would legalize small amounts of pot for adults statewide. It would allow individual cities to determine pot's legality. Some cities, including Fort Collins, have no such city ordinances and are guided by state law.

So if a statewide measure passes, the only way Fort Collins citizens 21 or older could be prosecuted for recreational use of small amounts of pot is by federal law, and it's extremely rare for the federal government to intervene in minor pot cases.

Tvert's visit focused mostly on the nuts and bolts of grassroots signature collecting – "use pens, not pencils," make sure writing is legible, don't use ditto marks in the date, and never take the petitions apart.

"If you take the staples out of the petitions, it's done," Tvert said. "They're going to contest us at every turn."

Tvert and SAFER have almost robotically repeated the message that alcohol is a far more dangerous drug than marijuana, and therefore it's illogical and fundamentally unfair to keep the plant illegal while tolerating the drink.

The executive director explained his group's rationale for hammering that message while acknowledging that other valid arguments exist for pot legalization, including saving taxpayer money by unclogging the criminal justice system.

"Many people don't know marijuana is less harmful than alcohol," he said. "We need to convince them why they should agree with us…That is why we stick to this message."

Brooke Malcolm, a business marketing senior trying to get a Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter at CSU up and running, said she's going to be very active in the SAFER campaign.

"I agree with Mason's idea that that's the best way to start the campaign," she said about Tvert's framing of the alcohol vs. marijuana debate.

Gene Freeland, chair of the Larimer County Libertarian Party, said that Democrats and Republicans both want their personal freedom, but want to regulate others.'

"We're in favor of anything that gives people ownership back of their own body," he said, expressing support for the proposed statewide ballot measure.

Tvert – who on Saturday is scheduled to be at the Cheba Hut on Laurel at 4:20 p.m. – said that no matter what side of the debate one falls on, people like hearing about pot and other controversial topics.

"We do more Fox News gigs than anywhere else," Tvert said of the populist cable news network many accuse of being conservative. "People want to hear about it. That's what sells news: pissing people off."

So whatever the outcome of the proposed measure, the more attention it gets, the better off the long-term pot-legalization movement is, he added.

"All we need to do is put this thing on the ballot," Tvert said. "Even if it fails, we will get our message across."

Vimal Patel can be reached at regional@collegian.com

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