Pubdate: Thu, 30 Aug 2007
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Copyright: 2007 Boulder Weekly
Author: Paul Danish
Cited: Denver City Council
Cited: Citizens for a Safer Denver
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Ever wonder why marijuana is still illegal? It has nothing to do with
the inherent safety or danger of the drug. It's been known for decades
that it is less harmful than alcohol in terms of its potential to
addict, of its potential to cause violent behavior and of its
potential to cause long-term health risks.

If you want to know why marijuana is still illegal consider the
remarks some Denver City Council members made Monday evening before
voting to put a marijuana initiative on the Denver ballot this
November. The initiative, sponsored by Citizens for a Safer Denver,
would make enforcement of laws against marijuana possession Denver's
"lowest law-enforcement priority."

The council voted unanimously to put the initiative on the city's
ballot this November (as required by law), but not before several
council members used the occasion to dis both the initiative and Mason
Tvert, Citizens for a Safer Denver's chair.

Councilwoman Carol Boigon said the initiative "made a joke out of the
electoral process."

"I think it is an unserious effort - an effort aimed at street
theater, at capturing media attention, at making light of it," she
said. "Were this a serious effort, it would be at the state."

Amazingly, she didn't say whether she would support a serious effort,
but let it ride.

A joke, eh? Well there isn't much humor either in arresting 500,000 to
750,000 Americans a year (including about 2,500 in Denver) and giving
them criminal records for an activity that is less harmful than
drinking beer, the activity that has made the mayor of Denver a

Tvert's attempts at ending this outrage are both more serious and more
successful than most. Two years ago, Denver voters passed an
initiative sponsored by Tvert's group that repealed the Denver city
ordinances against possession and private use of marijuana. The
measure passed with more than 54 percent of the vote. Denver's police
department responded by increasing the number of citations it issued
for marijuana possession by 15 percent, using the state law that's
still in effect. Given that performance in the face of a vote of the
people, it is entirely reasonable to ask the voters where they think
Denver's law-enforcement priorities should lie with regards to pot.

As for the suggestion that Tvert should confine his efforts to trying
to change state law against marijuana use, evidently Councilwoman
Boigon has never heard the phrase "think globally, and act locally" -
or "politics is the art of the possible," for that matter.

Council President Michael Hancock also seems to be ignorant of the
concept of politics as the art of the possible - and of politics as
the art of compromise.

Hancock accused Tvert of having "sold out your people" by offering the
council a compromise. Tvert's group had offered to withdraw the
ordinance if the council formally acknowledged that pot use is less
harmful than booze use, committed to looking into policies that
reflected that view and passed a moratorium on citations for minor pot
possession during the Democratic Convention.

The initiative process in most Colorado cities, including Denver,
provides that if the city council passes the ordinance the petition is
seeking to put on the ballot or an ordinance that satisfies the
petition's sponsors, the petition can be withdrawn and no election
will occur. In other words, the initiative process provides for
consultation and compromise.

Far from selling out the petition's signers, Tvert is playing by the
rules and representing their interests. Hancock, on the other hand, is
showing contempt for both the initiative process and the role of
compromise in it.

Councilman Chris Nevitt has a somewhat different perspective than his
colleagues. He said he doesn't support the initiative, even though he
could not find a fundamental difference between marijuana and alcohol,
and even though in his opinion "the war on drugs is as misguided,
wasteful and ultimately as futile an enterprise as the war in Iraq."

Now there's a profile in courage for you.

The reason the war on marijuana never ends is that politically it's a
sideshow. When it comes to electing public officials, people
(including marijuana users) rarely decide which candidates to vote for
on the basis of where they stand on pot. Consequently there is no
downside for elected officials in allowing it to continue - or for
show-boating and posturing the way Denver's council members did.

It isn't widely recognized, but the thing that really sealed the fate
of the Vietnam War was that elected officials started losing their
jobs for supporting it. Chances are it will be the same with the drug

When candidates find they can lose an election because there's a
significant percentage of voters in their districts who make
deescalating the drug war their first priority when deciding who to
vote for, that is when the enforcement of marijuana laws will really
become law enforcement's last priority.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake