The Austin Chronicle

Weed Watch

More Hypocrisy

By Jordan Smith, November 18, 2005, News

Drug law reformers scored a victory in Denver week before last, when 54% of city voters cast their ballots in favor of legalizing possession of up to one ounce of pot by adults over 21. (The so-called Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative also makes possession of pot by those under 18 punishable by fine only.) The successful city initiative was conceived and pushed by the grassroots group Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation, which campaigned not on a platform that would "encourage" marijuana smoking, but rather that highlighted the hypocrisy of marijuana prohibition. The thrust of the SAFER campaign was pointing out that alcohol is, in general, a "far more harmful" drug than marijuana. Alcohol, implicated in more than 85,000 deaths each year (compared to zero marijuana deaths), is a factor in two-thirds of all domestic violence cases and 40% of all rape and sexual assault cases and is annually cited as a factor in more than 3 million violent crimes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The SAFER initiative earned the ire of Denver officials who trotted out the typical drug war hysteria while opposing the measure – including Mayor John Hickenlooper's stated opposition based on the notion that marijuana is a "gateway drug." While Hickenlooper didn't actively campaign against the initiative, his opposition provided ironic fodder for initiative supporters who point out that Hickenlooper owns the city's well-known Wynkoop Brewing Co. pub. "It simply shows that the mayor does not mind that his drug of choice that he sells to this city can lead to death and violence and that the drug he opposes [marijuana] leads to – as [the mayor's staff has] put it … the munchies," said SAFER's Mason Tvert. (Fore more on the Denver initiative, go to

In other marijuana news, a Gallup poll released Nov. 1 reveals that 36% of Americans, a record number, now support marijuana legalization. (Gallup first asked about legalization in 1969, at which time 84% of respondents registered opposition.) Unsurprisingly, younger Americans – ages 18-29 – expressed the strongest support, with 47% supporting legalization. The latest poll numbers, coupled with the SAFER victory in Denver, "demonstrate that a growing number of Americans see the benefit of legalizing cannabis, regardless of whether it is being used as a medicine or for pleasure," said National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws legal counsel Keith Stroup. "As we learned with alcohol prohibition 75 years ago, it is far better to tax and regulate the marijuana market than to rely on the enforcement of criminal prohibition."

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