Pubdate: Thu, 03 Nov 2005
Source: Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
Copyright: 2005, Denver Publishing Co.
Author: Alan Gathright, Rocky Mountain News
Cited: SAFER (
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project ( )
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


23-Year-Old Turns Tables on Drug War With Denver Victory

It's not even noon and Mason Tvert already has hit seven television
and five radio news shows in his post-election victory lap as the
architect behind an effort to make Denver the first U.S. city to
legalize adult marijuana possession.

Tvert has drawn international coverage by turning the tables on the
drug war.

He calls marijuana the "safer alternative" for society and criticizes
the "hypocrisy" of elected officials who condemn pot while condoning
alcohol use, despite studies showing that alcohol fuels deadly
violence, car wrecks and abuse.

He even hounded Denver's super-popular, brewpub-owning mayor, John
Hickenlooper, to debate - a challenge the mayor ignored.

"I've gotten calls from as far as Australia and Germany," Tvert said
Wednesday after wrapping an appearance on a national Fox News morning

Not bad for a 23-year-old kid who just graduated last year from the
University of Richmond, in Virginia.

The burly 6-footer defies the sleepy-eyed stoner stereotype. He's a
hyper political junkie in a dark pinstriped suit who sticks like glue
to his talking points while juggling nonstop interviews on two ever-
buzzing cell phones.

For the record, the Phoenix native refuses to say if he smokes

"That's like asking a pro-choice person if they've had an abortion,"
he said. Besides, he added, admitting smoking a drug that's still
illegal under state and federal law would be "self-incriminating."

Indeed, Denver law enforcement officials and city leaders warn that
amending local law will change nothing because possession busts will
continue to be prosecuted under state law.

"It is still illegal to possess less than an ounce of marijuana
anywhere in the state, and that includes Denver," Denver District
Attorney Mitch Morrissey said in a statement Wednesday.

Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a petty offense and
punishable by a fine.

Tvert accuses Denver officials of "defying the will of the voters" if
they ignore the 7 percentage-point victory Tuesday for the Alcohol-
Marijuana Equalization Initiative.

"We're going to be encouraging folks who do get cited under state law
to take their cases to court," he said.

"And we will show just how damaging and how many problems it causes to
keep citing nonviolent marijuana offenders who would otherwise be
law-abiding citizens."

What's next for the Johnny Appleseed of weed? He vows to take the pot-
beats-booze crusade to other Colorado communities, although he won't
name any yet.

"This is something that is going to spread across the country because
people are starting to open their eyes to look beyond 70 years of
marijuana prohibition propaganda," he said.

After graduating from college in 2004, Tvert started the fight as a
foot soldier for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

He campaigned against Arizona congressional candidates who "think it's
OK to send sick and dying people to jail for using" medical marijuana
prescribed by their doctor.

In January, he moved to Boulder and created the nonprofit Safer
Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, whose three-person board
includes himself and current and former members of the Marijuana
Policy Project.

After the University of Colorado and Colorado State University were
rocked by student deaths from binge-drinking, Tvert engineered
successful nonbinding student elections last spring urging university
officials to make sanctions for marijuana no more severe than those
for comparable alcohol violations.

In June, he moved into a south Denver townhouse and launched the
Initiative 100 campaign, driven by 200 volunteers and funded by
$32,000 in individual contributions, in-kind donations from his
nonprofit group and independent billboard funding from a national
marijuana-reform group.

Tvert's aggressive campaign drew harsh criticism - and lots of news

City Councilman Charlie Brown blasted SAFER for "deceiving" voters
with lawn signs urging them to "Make Denver SAFER," which he said
could have fooled people into thinking I-100 was an anti-crime
initiative to boost police staffing.

A backlash by domestic violence groups also forced SAFER to cancel a
billboard showing a battered woman with the slogan: "Reduce family and
community violence in Denver" - without mentioning marijuana.

Undaunted, Tvert kept buttressing his arguments with studies
underscoring alcohol's societal harm and even quoting former drug czar
Barry McCaffrey, who said, "The most dangerous drug in America today
is still alcohol."

Tvert dismisses suggestions that he's an out-of-state

"I'm really enjoying Denver, so I'm planning on staying around here
for a long time," he said.



* Age: 23

* Birthplace: Phoenix

* Pets: "I used to have a guinea pig."

* Favorite book: Les Miserables

* Favorite movie: True Romance

* Web site:
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake