Pubdate: Mon, 27 Aug 2007
Source: Denver Daily News (CO)
Copyright: 2007 Denver Daily News
Cited: Denver City Council
Cited: Citizens for a Safer Denver
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


At least four Denver City Council members and the mayor have smoked 
or ingested marijuana, a fact that has pot proponents screaming 
hypocrisy over the unanimous decision of Council not to support a 
ballot initiative that would make marijuana the police department's 
lowest enforcement priority.

City Council members look at it from very different terms, arguing 
that the initiative is not about marijuana, but instead about the 
Council's right to dictate to the police department what should be 
their enforcement priorities. The City Council decided unanimously 
last week that it does not have the right to tell the police 
department how to conduct its enforcement.

The proposed ballot initiative is up on final reading tonight before 
the City Council and a courtesy public hearing on the topic will be 
held before the Council makes a final decision whether to send the 
question to voters this November. There is unanimous consent to let 
voters decide the question, but not to immediately enact the proposed 
ordinance into law.

The Admitted Smokers

A recent Denver Daily News investigation determined that Mayor John 
Hickenlooper, Councilwomen Marcia Johnson, Carla Madison and Jeanne 
Robb, and Councilman Rick Garcia have all experimented with marijuana 
at least once in life.

The majority of Council remained silent on the question, with six of 
the elected officials refusing to comment.

Councilmen Michael Hancock and Paul Lopez said that personal 
experience kept them away from marijuana, and Councilwoman Jeanne 
Faatz said she also never tried the drug.

As for the Council members who refused to comment, most either said 
it was "none of (the Denver Daily News's) business" or joked about 
having grown up during a time when marijuana was prevalent.

"I'm going to go on record saying I've never smoked pot. I've also 
never parked illegally and never sped," joked Councilman Chris Nevitt.

"I'm 60-years-old, I went to school at the University of Michigan, do 
a little research," said Councilwoman Carol Boigon, placing herself 
in college during the flower child times of the 1960s, but refusing 
to comment on whether she ever used marijuana.

Serious No-Comments

Others were more serious in refusing to comment.

"That's none of your business," answered Councilwoman Peggy Lehmann. 
"And if I had smoked marijuana, it was illegal. If I had ever smoked 
it, it's always been illegal and it's still illegal."

Citizens for a Safer Denver, the group spearheading the ballot 
petition process for the proposed ordinance, said Council members 
should be making a statement and vote in favor of the ordinance so 
that other good people like themselves are not faced with a possible 
criminal record for smoking pot.

"I think it's safe to say most of these elected officials would not 
be where they are today had they been arrested for marijuana in their 
past," said Mason Tvert, executive director of Citizens for a Safer 
Denver. "I have to wonder how many future Denver leaders' lives were 
derailed this past year after they were caught doing what our 
officials once did."


One such official is Hickenlooper, who said his decisions in life 
should not be the basis for public policy.

"As I've already been open about in the past -- and as I assume many 
would expect -- I made personal choices when I was younger that I 
neither support nor condone for others and certainly wouldn't 
encourage through public policy," Hickenlooper said.

The mayor's spokeswoman, Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, defended the mayor's 
opposition to ordinances that lower the enforcement policy for 
marijuana as not hypocritical, but as lessons learned in life.

"Given that the mayor didn't contemplate running for elected office 
until he was 50, I'm sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that he 
made personal choices during his younger days that he wouldn't 
encourage as mayor through public policy," she said. "That's not 
hypocritical -- that's common sense."

Madison was another one to embrace the spirit of full disclosure and 
explained that she stopped smoking pot because she felt it was not for her.

Pot Makes You Stupid?

"Marijuana just isn't a good drug for me, it makes me stupid," she 
said, stating that she quit smoking pot when she was 21 years old. 
"Some people become eloquent and energetic, but for me I become one 
of those stupid people."

Councilman Doug Linkhart supported the 2005 ballot initiative to 
legalize the simple possession of marijuana in Denver, but refused to 
comment on his personal experience with the drug.

"I don't want to get into that, I don't think it's appropriate for 
this ballot issue," he said.

Hancock said he never tried marijuana because he is confident that it 
is a gateway drug that leads to more harmful substances.

"I'm convinced through personal experience and empirical data that 
marijuana is a gateway drug," Hancock said, noting that he watched 
his brothers lose their "sense of control" when they smoked pot. 
"Those who sit back and promote the use of any illegal substance 
quite frankly concerns me."

Gateway Drug

Councilwoman Judy Montero agreed that marijuana is a gateway drug. 
She refused to comment on her personal experience with the drug, 
arguing that the issue is not about her.

"I'm not going to answer that, this isn't about me," she said. "(My 
constituents) can think what they want, I'm not going there with this 
initiative because it's not about me, it's about what was before us 
when they brought their petition."

Gateway to What?

Tvert pointed to the fact that at least four on Council and the mayor 
all smoked marijuana, but never became addicted to drugs.

"Councilman Hancock claims marijuana is a 'gateway drug,' but our 
mayor and council members never went on to use harder drugs, with the 
exception of alcohol, of course," Tvert said.

Councilman Charlie Brown, who led the opposition effort in 2005 to 
Initiative 100, refused to comment on whether he ever used marijuana, 
stating that he's "sick" of the issue and that the proponents never 
admit to using marijuana themselves.

Tvert said he has smoked pot: "I've certainly used marijuana, and I 
think it's unfortunate that the only drug I can use legally in Denver 
- -- alcohol -- is far more harmful," he said.

Symbolic, Unenforceable

For most elected officials, however, the issue is with supporting an 
initiative that is symbolic and unenforceable. Officials argue that 
marijuana is illegal statewide and by federal law and therefore 
police officers are sworn to uphold those laws, despite the will of 
local voters.

"This particular referendum being considered by City Council is yet 
another symbolic measure by which some voters will -- as they have in 
the past -- register frustration with the federal war on drugs, their 
support for medical marijuana or their sense of humor -- particularly 
since they know it won't change the law," Hickenlooper said, adding 
that simple marijuana possession is already a low priority for the 
Denver Police Department.

Lopez said he cannot support an ordinance that lowers the priority of 
drug enforcement in his neighborhood.

Wrong Message

"For my district, it's the wrong message," Lopez said, stating that 
he grew up with people who sold drugs -- relationships that made him 
want to stay away from illicit substances, including marijuana. "In a 
district where we lack youth programs and positive outlets, it's the 
wrong message."

Faatz said it's a matter of not wanting to overstep her role as a 
city councilwoman.

"I want the law enforcement officers to enforce the laws that are on 
the books," she said. "It's not my role as a city councilperson to 
pick and choose."

Johnson admitted that she had once ingested marijuana, but that her 
personal experience is irrelevant to the current ballot issue.

"I had a brownie once, there may have even been a bowl going with it 
. I got a good taste and even a case of the giggles, but I voted 
against it because I'm thinking of the message to little children," 
Johnson said.


Garcia said his decision to oppose initiatives that make marijuana a 
lower priority is based on research, not from his personal experience 
trying marijuana when he was 20-years-old.

Robb echoed similar sentiment, admitting that she once as a teenager 
smoked pot and then had to drive some sick friends home, an 
experience that she said was "very difficult." She does not buy 
Tvert's argument that initiatives to legalize or lower the priority 
of marijuana enforcement is aimed at saving good people from criminal trouble.

"The odds are that it is very unlikely that if you speed once, you'll 
get a ticket," Robb said. "But, if you speed habitually, you do." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake