By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Despite Californians rejection of a ballot initiative last week that would have legalized marijuana for adults in the state, Colorado activists are moving forward with a legalization effort of their own.
Some of the top names in the national legalization movement met in Denver over the weekend to discuss the prospects of legalizing marijuana after the failed attempt in California. Also on Saturday, activists met with students at the University of Colorado at Boulder to energize their efforts in drumming up support for legalization.
Mason Tvert of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, a pro-legalization group, believes Colorado will now become a main focal point for efforts to legalize marijuana. Tvert’s group is planning to run an initiative on the 2012 Colorado ballot that would legalize marijuana.
Tvert said he was upset that the legalization ballot initiative failed in California. However, he believes the initiative was a “massive net gain” because it sparked a major national debate.
Tvert added that Colorado is a much different state than California and credited his group’s efforts with helping convince many people that marijuana is a safer drug than alcohol. Additionally, Los Angeles banned almost all medical marijuana dispensaries, while Denver grandfathered in approximately 200 medical marijuana centers.
“The most important thing is that Colorado isn’t California,” Tvert said. “It’s a different political climate, also has a different climate in regards to marijuana.”
Tvert believes that having Democrat John Hickenlooper as governor will be better for the legalization effort than Gov. Bill Owens, the Republican who was in charge when SAFER previously tried, and failed, with a legalization ballot initiative in 2006. However, Hickenlooper has generally dodged questions about marijuana and has stopped far short of advocating for the drug’s legalization.
“Ultimately all we can ask is that he doesn’t obstruct the progress for the state,” Tvert said. “He should leave it to the voters and work on behalf of whatever they decide.”
Some voters in parts of Colorado decided last week that they don’t want medical marijuana around them. Approximately 20 cities and municipalities voted to ban dispensaries, while nine municipalities voted to allow them.
Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, a pro-marijuana activist group, didn’t see the dispensary bans as being a serious blow to the pro-legalization effort.
“The more people vote on marijuana, the more the support rises because they’re forced to think about it,” he said.
Tvert and Vicente are working together to craft a legalization ballot initiative for 2012. Meanwhile, another pro-legalization group — Cannabis Therapy Institute (CTI) — is going forward with its own legalization initiative for 2012. Although the groups share similar goals, they disagree on one main issue — how much marijuana should be able to be taxed.
Laura Kriho of CTI believes any legalization initiative should only allow the sales tax to be charged on marijuana.
Meanwhile, Tvert’s initiative would likely cap any possible excise tax on an ounce of marijuana at $50. Tvert believes banning an excise tax on marijuana would be “a nail in the coffin” for the measure.
Vicente hopes that the two groups will be able to reach some agreement and work together. He believes the public sentiment is swinging in favor of legalization.
A Rasmussen poll released in May found that 49 percent of Colorado voters support legalizing marijuana. The pro-legalization poll numbers are significantly higher than when Colorado voters rejected a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana on a 61-38 percent vote in 2006.
Californians rejected the legalization of marijuana on a 56-to-44-percent vote.