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Feature: Colorado Marijuana Possession Legalization Initiative Makes the Ballot

The Colorado secretary of state announced Wednesday that an initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for people aged 21 and older has submitted sufficient signatures to make the November ballot. Organized by SAFER Colorado, the group that won a surprise legalization initiative victory last year in Denver, the Colorado Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative would push the state to the forefront of marijuana law reform by simply changing one sentence in the state statutes.

The announcement came less than two weeks after SAFER Colorado handed in more than 130,000 signatures, well more than the 80,000 needed to qualify for the ballot. The secretary of state's office certified the measure for the ballot based on a statistical sampling of the signatures.

"We are thrilled," said SAFER Colorado's Steve Fox. "We had well more signatures than we needed, and that allowed us to get this quick qualification instead of having the secretary of state going though our petitions line by line," he told Drug War Chronicle.

The initiative, which will be known as Amendment 44 on the ballot, asks voters to vote yes or no on the following question: "Shall there be an amendment to section 18-18-406 (1) of the Colorado revised statutes making legal the possession of one ounce or less of marihuana for any person twenty-one years of age or older?"

Under current Colorado law, possession of up to an ounce of marijuana is a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by a fine up of to $100. According to legislative staffers who prepared an analysis of the initiative, some 3,700 adults were convicted of simple marijuana possession last year.

Colorado now joins Nevada as states where voters this November will decide whether to radically reform the marijuana laws. In Nevada, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and its local affiliate, the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana are pushing an initiative that would not only legalize possession of up to an ounce, but would also allow for the regulated sales of like amounts.

MPP is not involved in the Colorado effort, but hopes it succeeds, said communications director Bruce Mirken. "This was a little bit of a surprise," he told Drug War Chronicle. "We wish them well. Nobody should underestimate these folks -- they surprised the whole world with their success in Denver last year."

In an odd way, that victory spurred the statewide effort. After the citizens of Denver voted for the ordinance, local law enforcement officials refused to abide by it, instead choosing to prosecute people under the state law. SAFER Colorado wants to take away that option. If the measure passes in November, communities in Colorado that want tougher marijuana laws would have to pass local ordinances and charge offenders under them.

The campaign will continue to emphasize its tried and tested theme that marijuana is safer than alcohol and, at the least, should not be treated more severely. That theme resonated strongly with students at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, both of which passed non-binding resolutions calling for equalization of penalties, as well as with voters in Denver last fall.

SAFER Colorado campaign director Mason Tvert was right on point Wednesday. "The campaign will highlight the hypocrisy of laws that prohibit the use of marijuana while allowing and even encouraging the use of alcohol, an infinitely more harmful drug," he said in a statement greeting the secretary of state's announcement.

Now it is time to win the election, said Fox. "We are doing some fundraising so we can distribute our materials and get our message out," he said. "We have a lot of fun items -- t-shirts, buttons, stickers -- that are aimed at people who support us but who don't necessarily get around to voting all the time. It is their duty to get out and vote, and we will do what we can to encourage them."

It will be an uphill battle to win in November. In the only polling done so far on the measure, the Denver Post found it losing 51% to 37%. But Fox looked at those figures and found the glass half full.

"We think that's pretty good as we head into this campaign," he said. "If only 51% support marijuana prohibition before we've even really begun to get our message out, we think we have a pretty good chance of winning. Listen, SAFER is the Barry Goldwater of marijuana. Even if we don't win this time, we are saying what should be done with the confidence that people will come around to our position. It is an undeniable truth that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol," he said. "Our campaign is here in Colorado, but this is about ending marijuana prohibition across the country, not just in one state. We are in this to win over the long haul."

One bright spot for the campaign is the lack so far of any organized opposition. "We have a crazy drug warrior lady who is making noise, but she is not a sophisticated opponent," said Fox. "We have seen one outside drug warrior set up an issue committee here in Colorado, and there are rumors that the attorney general is planning to put together an opposition group possibly made up of law enforcement officials, but that hasn't happened yet," he explained. "We hope that the law enforcement community will understand that they are law enforcers, not law makers, and they should let the people decide what the laws will be."

Colorado's official nickname is the Centennial State, but one of its unofficial sobriquets is the Highest State, based on its towering mountains and its average elevation. If Colorado voters approve Amendment 44 in November, undoubtedly many will consider it to be even more deserving of that nickname.

Marijuana: Colorado Legalization Backers Turn In 110,000 Signatures in Ballot Bid

Organizers of an initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in Colorado turned in more than 110,000 signatures to the secretary of state Monday afternoon. The initiative needs 67,829 valid signatures to make the November ballot.

If the measure makes the ballot, Colorado will join Nevada as states where voters will have a chance to decide on removing all criminal penalties for the possession of personal amounts of marijuana by adults. Currently, Alaska is the only state to allow adults to legally possess marijuana -- up to one ounce in the privacy of their homes.

Organized by SAFER Colorado, the initiative is an effort to replicate the success the group had in Denver last year, where residents voted to legalize the possession of up to an ounce under city ordinance. Denver police and prosecutors, however, have ignored that vote and continue to ticket and arrest people under state law.

"This past November, the people of the city of Denver voted to make the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana legal for adults under city ordinances," said SAFER campaign director Mason Tvert. "Yet our cowardly city officials blatantly ignored the will of the people and have continued arresting and prosecuting Denver residents under state law for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol. We think that is wrong, and it appears more than 110,000 people in the great state of Colorado agree with us."

Marijuana Activist Wants Judge Off Referendum Case (Pennsylvania)

Location: 
PA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Derrick and News-Herald
URL: 
http://www.thederrick.com/stories/08092006-3014.shtml

My South Dakota Medical Marijuana Lawsuit Research

Our article about the South Dakota medical marijuana initiative and the likely lawsuit against state Attorney General Larry Long over what initiative supporters contend is his biased and possibly illegal description of the initiative that will appear on the ballot, got bumped this week, but we expect it to happen next week. I held off for a couple of reasons: First, the lawsuit has yet to actually be filed. Second, I couldn't manage to make contact with South Dakotans for Safe Access sole spokeswoman Valerie Hannah until Friday morning. Hannah, a Gulf War veteran who suffers from nerve gas exposure, will fill me in on what's going on Monday. We published the first story about the pending lawsuit last issue, beating the Associated Press, which came out with its own story Tuesday. While the AP explained that initiative supporters faulted the AG for his ballot language about doctors possibly losing their DEA prescribing licenses, it failed to mention the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Conant v. Ashcroft, where the court ruled quite clearly that physicians have a First Amendment right to recommend medical marijuana without administrative penalty. Conant is a precedent, but it is not controlling in other circuits since the US Supreme Court refused the Justice Department's appeal of the decision. That is the only possibly out for Long--his ballot language says "doctors may" face problems with the DEA. Yes, and monkeys may fly out my butt.
Location: 
United States

SAFER to Submit More Than 110,000 Signatures in Support of Marijuana Legalization Initiative

MEDIA ADVISORY For Immediate Release August 3, 2006 SAFER to Submit More Than 110,000 Signatures in Support of Marijuana Legalization Initiative Proponents to hold press conference immediately prior to submission on Monday Contact: Mason Tvert, 720-255-4340 DENVER - On Monday, August 7, Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) will file its initiative petition to legalize up to one ounce of marijuana under state law with the Secretary of State for approval for the November ballot. Prior to submitting the petitions, SAFER will hold a press conference in front of the Denver City-County Building at 11 a.m. "This past November the people of the City of Denver voted to make the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana legal for adults under city ordinances," said SAFER Campaign Director Mason Tvert. "Yet our cowardly city officials blatantly ignored the will of the people and have continued arresting and prosecuting Denver residents under state law for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol. We think that is wrong, and it appears more than 110,000 people in the great state of Colorado agree with us. "The unresponsive officials in the Denver City-County Building are responsible for this initiative, which will eliminate the law they are using to punish their own law-abiding citizens," continued Tvert. "So it is only appropriate that we kick off our official campaign right under their noses where they cannot help but sense the ire of those citizens they purportedly represent." Initiative petitions must contain 67,829 signatures of registered voters for the measure to be placed on the November 2006 ballot. What: Press conference to announce submission of signatures to qualify marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot *** Photo opportunity - campaign signs and boxes of petitions - weather permitting *** Where: Denver City-County Building, 1437 Bannock Street When: Monday, August 7, 11 a.m. Who: Mason Tvert, SAFER campaign director and head of the Colorado Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative Committee
Location: 
Denver, CO
United States

Prickly Progressives Impede Pot Progress

Progress Now, a Colorado-based advocacy group issued a statement condemning Focus on the Family President James Dobson for using a signature gathering service that has also worked with the marijuana reform group SAFER.

James Dobson is spending tens of thousands of dollars of Focus on the Family's money to hire paid signature collectors to solicit people for the so-called "marriage initiative" under the guise of protecting Colorado's families. He needs 68,000 valid signatures by August 8 to qualify. Many of these very solicitors paid for by Dobson also are working to collect signatures for an initiative to legalize marijuana in Colorado simultaneously.

For starters, they’re just signature gathers. They’re professionals who work for whoever pays them. It would make as much sense to complain that SAFER and Dobson patronized the same Kinkos.

What’s really troubling here is the implicit negativity of Progress Now’s statement. While they claim that “this is about hypocrisy” and “not about the merits of legalization,” I don’t think you can feign neutrality on the marijuana reform issue while simultaneously trying to skewer a political opponent simply for operating in proximity to it.

For a real example of hypocrisy, try to reconcile Progress Now’s seemingly positive positions on drug policy with their refusal to support marijuana reform in Colorado.

Progress Now accepts suggestions regarding their policy positions here.

My suggestion is not to say this unless you mean it:

[We] support reform to drug laws so that less people are sent to prison and more people are rehabilitated from chemical addictions.
Location: 
United States

Medical Marijuana: South Dakota Ballot Description Erroneous and Apparently Illegal

Organizers of South Dakota's medical marijuana initiative are in for a tough fight in the socially conservative Upper Midwest state. All they ask is that it be a fair fight, but South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long (R) apparently isn’t ready to provide them with an even playing field. Long's office this week issued the summary of the initiative that will appear on the ballot, and that summary contains biased and factually incorrect statements -- an apparent violation of South Dakota law.

The summary language provided by Attorney General Long and appearing on the South Dakota Secretary of State's election web page is as follows:

"Currently, marijuana possession, use, distribution, or cultivation is a crime under both state and federal law. The proposed law would legalize marijuana use or possession for any adult or child who has one of several listed medical conditions and who is registered with the Department of Health. The proposed law would also provide a defense to persons who cultivate, transport or distribute marijuana solely to registered persons. Even if this initiative passes, possession, use, or distribution of marijuana is still a federal crime. Persons covered by the proposed law would still be subject to federal prosecution for violation of federal drug control laws. Physicians who provide written certifications may be subject to losing their federal license to dispense prescription drugs."

While initiative supporters point out several examples of biased or irrelevant description -- referring to "any adult or child" instead of "anyone" in an attempt to raise the specter of youth drug use, referring repeatedly to federal laws against marijuana possession -- it is the final sentence of Long's summary that really leaps out.

Long writes that doctors "may be subject to losing their federal license to dispense prescription drugs in they write recommendations for medical marijuana use," and that's just wrong. The only federal court precedent in such matters, Conant v. Ashcroft, clearly states that physicians may not be punished by the DEA for exercising their First Amendment right to recommend a patient use marijuana. In Conant, the Supreme Court refused to hear the Justice Department's appeal of that US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion.

According to the South Dakota criminal code, "Publication of false or erroneous information on constitutional amendments or submitted questions is a misdemeanor. Any person knowingly printing, publishing, or delivering to any voter of this state a document containing any purported constitutional amendment, question, law, or measure to be submitted to voters at any election, in which such constitutional amendment, question, law, or measure is misstated, erroneously printed, or by which false or misleading information is given to the voters, is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor."

Initiative supporters told DRCNet this week they are examining their options. Expect more news on this front next week.

Philanthropist Pledges $3.5 Million Matching Grant to MPP

Here is an email that went out today from the Marijuana Policy Project: Philanthropist pledges $3.5 million matching grant to MPP! Dear Phil Smith: The Marijuana Policy Project has received a commitment from a major philanthropist to match the first $3.5 million we can raise from the rest of the planet. This is a huge opportunity for MPP and all of us who are working to end marijuana prohibition. If we succeed at securing $3.5 million + $3.5 million = $7.0 million in revenues this year, all of the projects mentioned below will be fully funded this year ... and into next year. Would you please help make this financial windfall a reality by making your own contribution today? The matching funding comes in two stages. The first $2.3 million that you and other MPP allies donate will be matched by $2.3 million from the philanthropist. Then, if we can raise an additional $1.2 million from you and other allies, the philanthropist will again match that with $1.2 million of his own. We've already raised $2,026,479 this year. If each of the 101,000 subscribers on this e-mail list were to donate just $5 each, we would immediately jump over the $2.3 million hurdle. But not everyone on this e-mail list will donate $5 — or even read this e-mail message — so please consider donating $10, $50, $250 (you'll receive a DVD of MPP's TV debates and other highlights), or $1,000 (you'll become a Lifetime Member of MPP). Does money really make a difference? In a word, "Yes." Please consider these two thoughts: - Because 78% of the American people already support allowing patients to use marijuana "to reduce pain and suffering," according to the latest Gallup poll, the only thing that's preventing us from making medical marijuana legal in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and all 50 states is our ability to hire lobbyists and/or to put medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot. - Because 36% of the American people say "the use of marijuana should be made legal," according to Gallup, we need to continue dedicating resources to educating the public on the harms of marijuana prohibition ... until a majority of voters agree. In short, money is one of the most critical factors that will determine how quickly we — which includes you — can end marijuana prohibition. It's not the academic commitment of the people who agree with MPP ... or the righteousness of our cause ... or our willpower, or our intelligence. These elements are all important, but it's money that translates good ideas into good laws. If you're able to help us reach the $3.5 million milestone — preferably by October 1, so that we can actually use the money to pass key ballot initiatives this November 7 — we'll be able to fully fund the following: - MPP's ballot initiative in Nevada to end marijuana prohibition entirely, which Nevadans will be voting on this November. - The ad campaign we recently launched on Jim Hightower's national radio show. - Local ballot initiatives to make adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority for local police in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Missoula County (Montana), and Portland (Oregon) ... which all five communities are voting on this November. - The medical marijuana initiative in South Dakota that — if passed by a majority of the voters this November — would make South Dakota the 12th medical marijuana state ... and the first medical marijuana state in the midwest. - Public opinion polling to help us determine where to run similar statewide medical marijuana initiatives in 2007 and 2008. Will you please help achieve what you believe in by voting with your dollars today? MPP is doing everything it can to end the government's war on marijuana users, but we need the financial means to achieve the goal. I want to thank you in advance for any help you can provide. Financial support from supporters like you is literally the only thing that makes our work possible. Sincerely, Rob Kampia Executive Director Marijuana Policy Project Washington, D.C. P.S. If you join MPP's pledge program at a level of $5 or more per month, you'll receive your choice of MPP's colorful "Stop Arresting Patients" t-shirt, a DVD of the award-winning medical marijuana documentary Waiting to Inhale, or the DVD BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters. And if you donate $250 or more (or sign up for a monthly pledge of at least $50), we'll also mail you a compilation DVD featuring the TV and radio ads, TV news coverage, and raw video coverage from MPP's campaigns last year
Location: 
United States

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