Colorado marijuana groups look to legalize pot in 2012

Ivan Moreno
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
A marijuana plant flourishes under grow lights at a warehouse in Denver on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010. More than 40 Colorado jurisdictions considering local rules on medical marijuana this election. Thanks to a new state law allowing local governments more leeway in regulating pot, voters across the state will consider proposed bans on dispensaries or commercial pot-growing operations. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

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

The pot groups announced their intentions even as voters in more than two dozen Colorado municipalities decided Tuesday 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 pot possession the “lowest law enforcement priority.”

“Colorado is ready,” said Mason Tvert, the head of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation, which was 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, the other group launching a campaign Wednesday called, 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 collection 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 did 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 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’ve shut down more than 100 business operating in unincorporated areas. That ballot proposal to ban medical marijuana businesses was failing by about 300 votes, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

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.


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