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Multiple Marijuana Initiatives Complicate Colorado Cannabis Reform

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Will out-of-state interests amend Colorado’s Constitution again?

colorado marijuana

{Denver} — On the heals of historic grassroots victories in the state legislature, Colorado cannabis patients and advocates are confused and surprised by an attempt to undermine these victories by a conservative faction of national and local drug policy reform groups.

According to the Denver Post, members of the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, SAFER and Sensible developed 8 different versions of a ballot initiative and filed them with the Colorado Secretary of State on Thursday, May 19, 2011. The MPP/DPA/Sensible/SAFER initiative would create a Constitutional amendment for a marijuana distribution system controlled by law enforcement.
http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_18099454

This filing comes as a surprise to other cannabis reform groups in Colorado. Members of the Legalize2012 Campaign, who have been working on their own ballot initiative language for over a year, were shown a draft of one of the MPP/DPA initiatives only a few days ago. The MPP/DPA/SAFER/Sensible alliance never indicated that they were on the verge of filing. On the contrary, they had seemed open to listening to ideas from other groups in the state.

Westword editor Patricia Calhoun had recently agreed to moderate a community policy debate on June 22 amongst all the cannabis reform groups that were considering running ballot initiatives in 2012. The event was to be called “The Great Legalization Debates of 2012 – Part One“, scheduled for June 22 at Casselman’s Bar and Venue in Downtown Denver. The debate was conceptualized by the Cannabis Policy Institute as a way to start to bring the cannabis movement together in Colorado to search for common ground in future cannabis policy reform and 2012 ballot initiatives.

Legalize it!Mason Tvert of SAFER had agreed to participate, and had just sent an email to Legalize2012.com on May 16, 2011 that said, “I can’t stop thinking about how exciting and impactful it would be if we were able to join forces and move forward together. It would be such a huge catalyst for the movement, and we could really make things happen.”

Given Tvert’s letter on Monday, Laura Kriho of the Legalize2012.com Campaign and the Cannabis Therapy Institute was very surprised to hear that they had filed the initiatives today. “I’m not sure why they did this without telling anybody. Even the legislature gave us more notice to comment on their proposed legislation than they did. It really shows their bad faith. This is the same strategy that MPP/DPA used in 1998 in Colorado when they wrote Amendment 20. Their goal is to divide and ignore the grassroots, and win an initiative no matter what the initiative says.”

As of 11:30pm on Thursday night, no mention of the 8 initiatives is made on any MPP/DPA/SAFER/Sensible website. SAFER did provide Legalize2012.com with a draft on May 12, 2011. Click here to read it:
http://www.cannabistherapyinstitute.com/inits/mpp.dpa.safer.sensible.may12.pdf

According to the May 12 draft, the proposed Constitutional amendment mimics HB 10-1284, a law created by the Colorado legislature in 2010 that gutted Colorado’s medical marijuana law. HB 10-1284 took control of the medical marijuana program out of the health agency and gave it to law enforcement within the Department of Revenue. Senator Chris Romer (D-Denver) who authored the HB 10-1284, said the bill was designed to put 80% of the dispensaries in Colorado out of business. Many grassroots cannabis reform groups, legislators, and attorneys in Colorado opposed HB 10-1284 and lobbied aggressively against it for almost 2 years. The bill attacked patient privacy and removed Constitutional protection from caregivers and patients. The bill created a whole new branch of law enforcement dedicated to cannabis. The MMC model has been subjected to increasingly expensive over-regulation, and many of the smaller businesses have been forced out.

The DOR has been adversarial to the medical marijuana program from the beginning. They have denied licenses without good cause, harassed applicants, held secret meetings, and are on the verge of going online with a massive Patient and Medicine Tracking Database and Surveillance System that will track every seed and gram in the state. The DOR has not granted one license to an MMC applicant, in almost a year since they started accepting applications. Why does MPP/DPA/Sensible/SAFER trust the DOR so much and want to give them total control over cannabis in Colorado?

“I would at least wait until the Department of Revenue had issued one license to an MMC applicant successfully, before I submitted an initiative law that let the DOR run a whole new marijuana program,” says Kriho.

INITIATIVE LANGUAGE FLAWS
SAFER provided Legalize2012.com with a draft on May 12, 2011. Click here to read it:
http://www.cannabistherapyinstitute.com/inits/mpp.dpa.safer.sensible.may12.pdf

Ironically, Denver conservative cannabis group SAFER has always espoused the belief that marijuana should be treated like alcohol. But the MPP/DPA/Sensible/SAFER (MDSS) initiative treats cannabis much stricter than alcohol. By limiting cannabis consumers to one ounce at a time, unlike alcohol with no limits, the MDSS initiative will ensure greater scrutiny on cannabis consumers than any alcohol consumer ever had. Currently, two ounces or less of cannabis is a “petty offense” in Colorado and results in only a ticket and $100 fine. Medical patients are also allowed to have two ounces under Amendment 20. Creating a Constitutional standard that only one ounce is safe will only cause confusion.

A one-ounce standard will also require the Department of Revenue to convert their massive Patient and Medicine Tracking Database and Surveillance System to a massive database for all cannabis and cannabis users, to track how much cannabis is bought and sold. The MDSS initiative does contain some language that attempts to restrict the Department of Revenue from gathering names of cannabis consumers, but this provision is not well-worded, and may be thrown out as unenforceable.

The MDSS Initiative would also allow for and set Constitutional standards for driving discrimination, employment discrimination, and tenant discrimination of marijuana users. The MDSS Initiative makes “Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana” a new Constitutional crime, completely wiping away victories scored by patient advocates to kill a THC/DUI bill in the state legislature this year.

Some of the 8 versions of the MDSS Initiative reportedly also allow a 15% excise tax, which will create more funding for the Department of Revenue marijuana police force. The MMED already has a budget larger than the entire Colorado Bureau of Investigation, all funded by the medical marijuana industry. Do we really want to be handing over a 15% per ounce extra tax to buy more handcuffs?

This initiative exacerbates the situation created by HB 1284: one group of cannabis consumers is now paying to prosecute, harass and discriminate against the other group of cannabis consumers. Good pot users paying to jail bad pot users. We have seen with the bloated MMED budget that all their money is going to investigate, track and harass medical cannabis consumers. Do we really want to unleash this law enforcement force onto all cannabis users? This is not is “legalization”.

The lines have been clearly set now on the division of cannabis reform policy in Colorado. The MPP/DPA/Sensible/SAFER initiative has chosen to ignore any local efforts for a real legalization ballot initiative in favor of writing an initiative that appeals to law enforcement. They have decided that they don’t want to work with anyone else in the state and are unwilling to compromise on their language. They have decided that instead of helping to fix the flaws in Amendment 20, which they wrote, they would amend the Colorado Constitution with another unworkable, poorly-written law with little support among long-time activists.

HISTORY OF MPP/DPA IN COLORADO
This unilateral move by MPP/DPA/Sensible/SAFER cast doubts that any cannabis law reform ballot initiative in Colorado would be successful. These conservative groups seem to want to duplicate the strategy of dividing and ignoring the progressive grassroots, as MPP/DPA did in their medical marijuana campaigns of 1997/98 nationwide.

Many people don’t know that billionaire currency manipulator George Soros funded Amendment 20 in 1997/98 through the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), headed by Rob Kampia in DC, and the Open Society Institute, headed by Ethan Nadelmann. Nadelmann now works with the Drug Policy Alliance, based in New York and California, but also funded by Soros. Bill Zimmerman and Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights, based in Santa Monica, CA were hired to run the 1997/98 medical marijuana ballot initiative campaigns in 4 states.

DIVIDING GRASSROOTS SUPPORT
Then, their strategy was to ignore and divide grassroots support for cannabis reform by introducing initiatives that competed with initiatives sponsored by local groups in Colorado, Maine, Alaska and Washington, D.C.

In DC, MPP submitted a competing initiative to local ACT/UP medical marijuana initiative, after the locals had already collected thousands of signatures. AIDS activist Steve Michael literally died while fighting MPPs plans to destroy the ACT/UP medical initiative. A few weeks before his death, he was attacking them in the press:
“Over my dead body: California firm admits plans to run own Initiative in DC”
http://www.levellers.org/dc1.htm

The strategy to divide the grassroots was intentional. Read:
“Can we win the war without the troops? An Analysis of the Americans for Medical Rights Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative Strategies in the 1998 General Election”
http://www.levellers.org/inits98anal.htm

Cannabis activists statewide are shocked by the MPP/DPA/Sensible/SAFER strategy of refusing to work with any of the other activist groups working on statewide cannabis initiatives

MPP/DPA DOES NOT SUPPORT PAST INITIATIVES
After the signatures for Amendment 20 were collected in 1998, Americans for Medical Rights disconnected their phone and took down the website. MPP/DPA has not provided a dime to help support Amendment 20, or any of the other laws they have written in other states. Every attorney in Colorado agrees that Amendment 20 was poorly-written, but MPP/DPA has not supported efforts to fix their law through the legislature or the legal system. They amended the Constitution with what they called a “symbolic” amendment in 2000, despite the concerns of local activists. They will same thing again in 2012. We will be left with another unworkable and poorly-written law in the Colorado Constitution.

Click here to read letters written to Ethan Nadelmann in 1998 and 1999 concerning their divisive strategies:
http://www.levellers.org/cohip/ethan.lets.html

ACTION ALERT
Please email MPP/DPA/SAFER/Sensible and ask them to withdraw their language and participate in the community policy debate, schedule for June 22 at Casselman’s, to be moderated by Patricia Calhoun. Tell them that you are appalled that they have chosen not to try to work with other local activists, and that you will not be supporting their organizations.

Ethan Nadelmann <enadelmann@drugpolicy.org>
Brian Vicente <brian@sensiblecolorado.org>
Steve Fox <sfox@mpp.org>
Mason Tvert <mason@saferchoice.org>
Graham Boyd <gboyd@aclu.org>
Art Way <away@drugpolicy.org>
Sean McAllister <mclawoffice@comcast.net>
Rob Kampia <rob@mpp.org>
Rob Corry <robert.corry@comcast.net>

Please send copies to info@legalize2012.com

———————————————

C.A.R.E STATEMENT
A statement by the Colorado Cannabis Alliance (C.A.R.E .) echoes the Legalize2012 Campaigns concerns:
<rico@cannabis-alliance.org>
“Regarding the 8 initiatives filed today by SAFER and Sensible Colorado the in state proxies of the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance. We find the fact that this language was not presented for public comment disturbing, and the rejection of our many concerns expressed unfortunate. It would appear that a secret panel of attorneys many whom do not even live in Colorado, have deemed themselves worthy of amending our State Constitution which affects us all, to benefit the long term goals of a few. C.A.R.E has deep concerns that Colorado is being used as a petri dish to move a self motivated version of a national dialogue on cannabis law reform forward at the expense of safe patient access. The very same attorneys who supported the most draconian medical laws in Colorado to date, now intend to conveniently provide the solution.”

“Do the sponsors even care about the effect this may have on medical marijuana patients? Do they honestly think our Constitutional rights are a national business opportunity? In our opinion the draft initiative we have seen is not progressive enough to risk what little is left of safe patient access and apply yet more negative attention on the burdening MMJ industry. We will reserve our final judgment until we read all initiatives filed, but if it’s the same commerce oriented language that does not address the true issues of the drug war complex it will be challenged.”

Legalize 2012
P.O. Box 19084, Boulder, CO 80308
Phone: 877-420-4205
Web: www.Legalize2012.com
Email: info@Legalize2012.com

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  • Zvi Baranoff

    I have worked as a local organizer & I have worked on national campaigns. I am old enough to remember the friction between the Yippies (seen as crazies in the streets) and NORML (seen as lawyers in suits). And I remember when Jack Herrer cut his hair any donned a suit, quoting Malcolm X – “By whatever means necessary!”

    As an outsider, I will not dream of telling you what to do, but as an outsider I will direct my support in ways that I hope will be the most effective as well as serving the interests of the national movement.

    In an ideal world marijuana would be regulated the same way peppermint is and hemp use would be mandatory to replace oil for fuel, wood for paper, etc. Considering political reality, reasonable demands are to regulate cannabis similarly to cigarettes or alcohol and to allow hemp to compete with other fiber crops. As far as taxes go, don’t think that we will get marijuana legal without (to paraphrase Jesus) “rendering unto Caesar…” That said, I’m thrilled with any step that simply leads to less people going to prison. (I’ve been there and I didn’t like it one bit!)

    When National Organizations want to push for something “winnable” as opposed to something ideal, I think it is wise to consider their analysis. Backers with money want their cash to go to projects with the most bang. I appreciate their perspective. If I had any money I would no doubt want to see it spent wisely. And I appreciate that people like George Soros are willing to put their money up. I have had the unfortunate experience more than once to close an office because the financial support simply wasn’t there.

    It is important for the marijuana movement to build our electoral strength and gain real influence. The next couple of years are going to be critical and we need to present a united front.

    I make no claims to know the details of your State laws or the local political terrain. I appreciate the efforts presented by your local organizations and understand your concern that local sensitivities are recognized. Please tone down the criticism of National Organizations and choose your words carefully. After all, we are all in this together. Hopefully we can find ways to work together. Let’s not burn any bridges.

  • Robert Chase

    I feel caught in the middle. I just met with Brian and Mason Thursday to discuss the language of the draft initiative and working together for legalization in 2012. They never mentioned that they had just filed eight trial versions. It is difficult to see how we can work together when they continue to pretend that they are the CIA and that we are enemy agents.

    I have not had time to review the initiatives Brian filed, and while I doubt that they are ideal, I do not believe any will have the sorts of provisions which poisoned Proposition 19 in California. Any initiative we run must appeal to voters in the middle; voters who use cannabis are surely still a minority. Legalizing only for those twenty-one and older, setting arbitrary limits on the amounts legal to possess or grow, a fifteen percent excise tax — these are all provisions to which enthusiasts might well object, but they are also the kinds of concessions which appeal to (some of) the voters we need to persuade. Legalization is worthwhile on almost any terms, because it strikes a deathblow at the prohibitionist system, and would create the political conditions necessary to consider further deregulation and to release prisoners convicted of cannabis-related offenses — after we legalize for adults, our sense that those prisoners are unjustly imprisoned can become general and make it politically possible to free them. We must always aspire to better, but it is far too early to imagine that we can win total legalization from the disinformed, disengaged general populace. Legalization even with restrictions promises to slash the number of people arrested, improve safe access to cannabis, and lower the price of good cannabis; inarguably, this would be progress.