Colorado pot smokers urged to take political action |

Colorado pot smokers urged to take political action

Colleen Slevin and Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
An unidentified man lights up his pipe during a marijuana users rally at Civic Center Park across from the Capitol in Denver, Colo., on Tuesday, April 20, 2010. Thousands of marijuana users gathered Tuesday for the High Holiday, when pot users traditionally celebrate the drug, to urge Colorado to consider legalizing the drug for recreational use. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

DENVER – Marijuana activists urged throngs of pot smokers to mark Tuesday’s High Holiday 4/20 rallies with a round of political lobbying as Colorado lawmakers debated tougher rules for pot shops.

But just across the street at the state Capitol, strains of jam music in the air provided the only sign there were 20,000 marijuana smokers outside demanding change.

“You have to get involved in the politics of legalization,” urged Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, a Washington-based marijuana advocacy group.

Marijuana groups were hoping pot smokers would swell the Capitol’s halls as the state House gave initial approval to regulations on marijuana dispensaries, which have mushroomed in recent months. However, there wasn’t much lobbying going on as House members backed tightening the proposed rules, which include a requirement that dispensary owners undergo background checks.

Outside, most of the political messages coming from speakers on a stage were lost on the crowd. Instead, people toked up, played Frisbee, joined drum circles and shopped for glass pipes.

Protest-goers said they supported legalizing marijuana even for recreation use. But many seemed uninterested in calling a lawmaker to talk about it.

“It should be legal for recreational use. It should be sold like cigarettes – weighed, taxed and kept away from minors,” said Brandi Dunn, a 41-year-old Denver resident attending her third 4/20 rally. Asked whether she’d ever gotten involved with political activity to promote that idea, Dunn grinned. “Um, no,” she said. “I don’t see the point.”

Inside the Capitol, lawmakers joked about considering pot rules on a date marked by many marijuana smokers as a day to celebrate the drug.

“If you start getting the munchies, it’s lunch time. It has nothing to do with the bill,” quipped bill sponsor Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs.

Under the bill, the state would license marijuana dispensaries, growers and people who make snacks with cannabis. Dispensary owners would have to undergo criminal background checks that would bar anyone with a drug felony; the House removed a provision to ban anyone with a misdemeanor drug conviction.

The House also made allowed city councils to put a ban in place on dispensaries in addition to asking voters to decide. Even in cities with bans, people would be able to grow and supply up to five people with medical marijuana, a reduction from the 16 previously allowed under the bill.

The House also voted to bar people from smoking or eating food containing cannabis in dispensaries because of concerns they would drive home impaired.

Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, a medical marijuana patients’ group, said that will hurt people who live in federal housing and aren’t allowed to have medical marijuana there, as well as parents who might not want to have the products in their home.

Vicente, who watched the debate, said his group will push to roll back some of the changes in the Senate while it also prepares to move ahead with a measure asking voters to approve less restrictive regulations in case they’re not successful.

The rules approved Tuesday still must pass another vote in the House before they’ll be sent to the Senate.

In Boulder, about 5,000 pot smokers assembled on the campus of the University of Colorado to mark the day with an unauthorized smoke break. And in Durango, evening concerts were planned to raise money for an effort to put to ballots a question of decriminalizing some marijuana possession.

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