Jan 242007
Authors: Vimal Patel

Hey, winning over 2 of 5 Colorado voters isn’t too shabby.

That’s what Mason Tvert tells himself.

More than two months after Tvert and SAFER’s pot-legalization measure got smoked, the group is planning to branch out nationally and plant the seeds of legalization on other college campuses, like it did about two years ago at CSU.

But the group’s efforts in Colorado are far from done. The group is set to be in C144 of Clark at 7 p.m. today as part of Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s spring kickoff event.

Despite the November loss, it’s moving forward expressing optimism and success at the election results and the future of the marijuana legalization landscape.

Voters shot down Amendment 44, which would have legalized possession of up to an ounce of pot, 59 to 41.

And given all the decades of propaganda against marijuana and the powerful institutions opposed to its legalization, Tvert said, campaign workers should be proud of the election results.

“They were right about where we were expecting,” he said. “We weren’t disappointed in the least.”

Tvert said “it’s pretty amazing” that more than 2 of 5 Coloradans voted for the measure despite the powerful coalition opposed to marijuana legalization, including prominent politicians, law enforcement and even the national drug czar.

“If it was possible to make marijuana legal with $60,000, it would have been done a long time ago,” he said, referring to the money spent on the post-petition campaign drive.

SAFER – Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation – spent about another $120,000 on the petition drive to gather the required 68,000 valid signatures to place the measure on the ballot. The group’s most visible claim was that marijuana is far more benign than alcohol, and therefore it’s illogical and fundamentally unfair to keep it illegal while tolerating the drink.

“It’s an argument that a lot of people have been forced to think critically about,” said Seth Anthony, chair of the CSU Libertarian Party, which campaigned for the legalization measure.

The group started in 2005 when it sponsored student initiatives at CSU and CU-Boulder calling on administrators to loosen penalties for students caught with marijuana. Both measures handily passed, with 56 percent of the vote at CSU.

Although the measures were non-binding and scored no practical changes in how CSU and CU-Boulder administrators dealt with pot offenders, SAFER used the results as part of the group’s public relations assault to claim the officials were, yet again, trampling on the will of the people.

It also used the mini victories as a springboard for Initiative 100 in Denver, which, to the shock of many, voters approved in November 2005. The measure legalized possession of up to an ounce of pot in the city, but the drug remained illegal under state and federal laws.

Although two prominent legalization measures – Nevada had a similar ballot initiative – were defeated in November, some say progress, slowly but surely, is being made.

The Nevada measure, which went further than Colorado’s by offering a system of marijuana taxation and regulation, got 44 percent of the vote. A similar legalization measure four years before got 39 percent.

“There’s a lot of residual fear that people have about marijuana, which to some degree is the result of decades of propaganda and fear campaigns,” said Bruce Mirken, communications director for The Marijuana Policy Project, the group behind the Nevada measure.

“I think what we learned is that it’s harder than anyone realized to overcome those irrational fears with rational arguments.”

But there’s some hope, he said. While the Colorado and Nevada measures were shot down, a handful of cities and counties nationwide – from Eureka Springs, Ark., to Santa Monica, Calif. – passed ordinances making possession of small amounts of marijuana their lowest law enforcement priority.

For good or bad, Mirken said, marijuana is here to stay and the only question now is how society deals with it: Should it be regulated and legally available or pushed underground where it will remain under the control of the criminal element?

“To me,” Mirken said, “it’s a no brainer.”

Managing Editor Vimal Patel can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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