Signature gathering began last Thursday for an initiative that would end marijuana prohibition in Colorado and create a system in which its sale would be taxed and regulated. Sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the initiative could be only the first of several competing marijuana initiatives aiming at Colorado's November 2012 ballot.
That means it is likely to come up with the resources to hurdle the relatively low bar of gathering 86,000 valid voter signatures in the next 180 days and actually be on the ballot next year.
"Voters in Colorado are ready to end marijuana prohibition and begin regulating and taxing it in a manner similar to alcohol," said Vicente, one of the initiative's two formal proponents. "By regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol Colorado can tightly control its production and sale, generate tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue, and redirect our limited law enforcement resources toward serious crimes."
According to the campaign, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 would:
- Remove criminal penalties for the private possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, and for the home-growing of up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed locked space, similar to the number allowed under current medical marijuana laws;
- Direct the Department of Revenue to establish a tightly regulated system through which it licenses retail stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities;
- Require the general assembly to enact an excise tax of up to 15% on the wholesale sale of marijuana applied at the point of transfer from the cultivation facility to a retail store or product manufacturer (sales tax will also be applied at the point of retail sales);
- Direct the general assembly to establish a system of regulating the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp;
- Give cities or counties the right to ban marijuana establishments either through elected officials or via citizen initiative;
- Leave current impaired driving laws intact; and
- Preserve the right of employers to maintain their current employment policies (meaning those employers who use drug tests could still fire someone who tests positive).
"This will be a high-energy, volunteer-powered grassroots campaign," said initiative proponent Tvert. "We're excited to begin petitioning and speaking to voters one-on-one about the benefits of repealing the wasteful prohibition of marijuana and replacing it with a tightly controlled system in which it is regulated and taxed like alcohol."
The system the initiative would set up is more restrictive in some ways than today's alcohol regulation. For example, there are no legal limits on the amount of alcohol someone can possess. That means possession of more than an ounce or more than one's harvest would still be a criminal offense, as would growing more than six plants.
The initiative's less-than-absolutist position has in turn helped motivate advocates of a more radical approach. One group working to bring what they call a "true legalization" initiative to the ballot is Legalize 2012, led by long-time Colorado activist Lauro Kriho. Kriho and company are still working on the language for their initiative, but have attacked the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative as not "legalization" and not "similar to alcohol."
Whether Legalize 2012 acts as a drag on the Like Alcohol initiative like Stoners Against Prop. 19 did in California last year or whether it boosts its prospects by making it appear that much more pragmatic and palatable to Colorado voters remains to be seen. It's going to be an interesting next year and a half in Colorado pot politics.