Pubdate: Sat, 17 Dec 2011
Source: Summit Daily News (CO)
Copyright: 2011 Summit Daily News
Author: Kristen Wyatt - The Associated Press


LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) - Marijuana isn't the kind of thing one expects
to be asked about on a trip to a county administrative building. But
folks outside an Arapahoe County building on a recent afternoon were
surprisingly receptive to two men gathering signatures to petition a
pot question onto ballots next year.

The petition, circulating for months, asks whether Colorado should be
the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Activists
backing the measure say they've far cleared the 86,000 signature
threshold to make ballots, and could have petitions to state officials
for approval by the end of the year.

After that, they start the harder work - persuading Coloradans to
embrace a direct challenge to federal drug law.

Outside the Arapahoe County building, many voters were intrigued by
the ballot proposal. Some who signed on said they've never used
marijuana but are annoyed by what they consider Colorado's two-step
with the feds over whether marijuana is allowed but just for sick
people, and how it should be sold and taxed.

"If we're going to have marijuana, I think it should be controlled,"
said 80-year-old Barney Richardson of Denver. Richardson has seen
medical marijuana dispensaries proliferate, and doubts the validity of
some medical ailments on the part of patients. "I don't like the way
the government's controlling things now, so let the people decide a
different way."

Richardson said he's never smoked pot. But he added, "I used to smoke
cigarettes, and think those ought to be banned."

Another man who signed the petition, 43-year-old Rick Rome of
Centennial, said he doesn't use marijuana either but finds pot laws a
waste of taxpayer money.

"We're looking at tremendous expenditures for drug crimes," Rome said.
"I think it's a civil rights issue."

The organizer of the ballot petition, Emmett Reistroffer of the
Marijuana Policy Project, has worked in marijuana advocacy in several
states and says Colorado's libertarian streak and longtime experience
with medical marijuana makes it a logical place to challenge federal
prohibition of the drug.

"Right now in Colorado, marijuana's like this dirty little secret,"
Reistroffer said. "It's sort of underground, sort of medical, but
still illegal under federal law. If we're going to change this, we
need to fight on the state level."

If it's cleared for ballots, the marijuana question would ask voters
whether the drug should be allowed in small amounts for adults over
21. The measure would also instruct state lawmakers to ask voters for
an excise tax on the drug. It would say that marijuana can't be used
"openly and publicly" and that pot must be grown in locked, enclosed
places. Medical marijuana, in which patients suffering certain
ailments can seek doctor recommendations for the drug, would still

Mason Tvert, head of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol,
said his group plans to shift into campaign mode once the measure is
cleared for the ballot. He said the campaign already has more than
150,000 signatures, which would likely guarantee a place on the ballot
even after invalid signatures are tossed.

Despite the likelihood the marijuana question makes ballots, Tvert and
other activists concede their odds are long for getting voters to
legalize pot.

Reistroffer, the petition organizer, said he thinks the odds of
success at the polls are about 30 percent. He talked about federal
saber-rattling over medical marijuana, with the Drug Enforcement
Administration cracking down on dispensaries in California and Montana.

"I don't think the thought process has gone that far, where people are
willing to say, 'Let's challenge this,"' Reistroffer said.

The proposal has already raised opposition from law enforcement
authorities in Colorado, including the state's top lawyer, Republican
Attorney General John Suthers. A marijuana legalization question on
ballots in 2006 failed badly.

And so far, the pot campaign isn't rolling in money. According to
state filings, the issue committee working on the campaign, called the
Coalition To End Marijuana Prohibition, had only about $20,000 on hand
in mid-October. Much of the money came from out-of-state donations,
especially from the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project Foundation.

Tvert said the campaign will start slow, trying to persuade voters
that marijuana doesn't pose the public threat some fear it does.

"We will be focused on educating Colorado on the fact that marijuana
is safer than alcohol," Tvert said, echoing the campaign's argument
that pot should be limited and taxed, but still legal for adults.

Tvert worked on the unsuccessful 2006 campaign and said the state's
attitude toward pot is much different now. He expects donations to
pick up for a fall media campaign in support of the ballot measure.

"Colorado has made the most progress in establishing sensible
marijuana policies and we have no doubt Colorado will be the first
state in the country to end marijuana prohibition," Tvert said.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.