Colo. groups look to legalize marijuana in ’12

Activists plan to launch campaigns but won’t collect signatures yet

DENVER – Colorado marijuana activists, undaunted by California’s failure to legalize the drug, said last week they are launching two separate campaigns to legalize marijuana for adults in 2012.

The groups announced their intentions even as voters in more than two dozen Colorado municipalities decided last week to ban medical marijuana centers.

But advocates who want to legalize the drug see hope in Colorado, one of 14 states where medical marijuana is legal, and where Denver voters approved an ordinance making marijuana possession the “lowest law-enforcement priority.”

“Colorado is ready,” said Mason Tvert, the head of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation, the organization behind the Denver ordinance a few years ago.

Tvert’s SAFER and Sensible Colorado said Wednesday they would work together to let voters decide whether to make marijuana legal for adults 21 years and older and regulate the drug like alcohol.

Laura Kriho, outreach coordinator for the Cannabis Therapy Institute, and the other groups launching a campaign called Le, said they wanted to make their announcement Wednesday to time it with whatever result came out of California. Residents there rejected the legalization effort by a vote of 54 to 46 percent.

Kriho said her group wants to start its campaign now even though it won’t be until early 2012 that they begin collecting signatures to put the question to voters later that year.

“We’re fighting about 70 years of government propaganda and reefer madness,” she said.

Colorado is considered one of the easiest – and most inexpensive states – for groups to put ballot questions to voters. Groups need only 76,047 signatures from the state’s 3.2 million registered voters to propose a ballot question, and all the signatures can come from one geographic area.

“Getting it on the ballot is not the trick,” said Sam Kamin, an associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, said he hopes the three groups working on the two legalization efforts can become one campaign.

Vicente’s group on Wednesday was tracking how the medical-marijuana industry fared in municipalities where voters were asked to tax the drug or ban the sale of medical marijuana. He said as many as 29 municipalities chose to ban medical-marijuana centers, including Aurora, Colorado’s third-largest city.

Vicente said Aurora does not currently have any dispensaries.

“That’s a major blow for (medical-marijuana) patients in those communities,” Vicente said. “It also means that Aurora is not going to benefit from tax or job creation in their community.”

Medical-marijuana advocates say most of the businesses and medical-marijuana patients in the state are along the Front Range in the Denver metro area and Boulder.

Other places that banned dispensaries include Broomfield and Douglas counties. Five counties, including rural Alamosa and Costilla, voted to allow medical-marijuana centers, along with two small cities, Fraser and Minturn.

Vicente and others in the medical-marijuana industry were claiming a victory in El Paso County, where they said a proposed ban would have shut down more than 100 businesses operating in unincorporated areas.

In 2000, Colorado voters approved marijuana for medical uses. This year, the state Legislature gave communities the option of banning medical-marijuana centers outright or putting the question to voters.