Weed Watch

Equalization Politics

Federal narcos continued their full-court press last week to annihilate Colorado's citizen-supported Amendment 44, which seeks to legalize adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, as part of an effort to "equalize" penalties associated with the use of booze and pot. On Sept. 13, equalization initiative supporters headed to state district court in Denver to try to stop the printing of the state's Blue Book, a voter-education pamphlet sent out to Colorado's 2 million voters that is meant to explain – in neutral language – the various initiatives slated to appear on the November ballot. At issue for equalization supporters is the language used to describe Amendment 44, which, in essence, says the measure would make it legal for adults to give pot to teenagers. That analysis, say amendment backers with the grassroots group Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, or SAFER, is not only bullshit but is in fact clearly biased, politically motivated, fed-backed bullshit. The logic of equalization foes, which appears to have wound up in the state voter guide, goes something like this: Possession means something that isn't paid for, and Amendment 44 would decriminalize possession; if possession isn't a crime, then offering pot to a teen for free wouldn't be a crime.

Aside from being convoluted, the explanation by the state's nonpartisan Legislative Council, which authored the voter guide, is just plain wrong, says SAFER Director Mason Tvert. While "possession" of small amounts of marijuana by adults might not be considered a crime, "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" is and would remain a felony offense even if Amendment 44 passes. And, according to a lawsuit filed by equalization supporters last week, the Legislative Council was fully aware that its analysis of the amendment and the law behind it was wrong but chose to include it anyway – likely because of pressure applied by federal narcos with the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area office. (HIDTA's are federally funded task forces, formed to combat inter- and intrastate trafficking along major commerce corridors.) According to the lawsuit, "federal government agents" from the RMHIDTA "exerted political pressure" on the Legislative Council to include the false statement. Indeed, the lawsuit includes communications from at least two members of the RMHIDTA office – Director Tom Gorman and staffer Lori Strain – who "suggested" the questionable language be included in the guide. "[P]lease know that the wording used is very much appreciated," Strain wrote in a note of thanks to the council. "PLEASE, PLEASE leave it in."

Although state law charges the council with defining initiatives in an unbiased manner, state District Judge John McMullen on Sept. 13 tossed the case before considering its merits, ruling that the court was without jurisdiction to intervene in what was essentially an undertaking of the legislative branch, before said undertaking had been voted on. In other words, SAFER would only have standing to complain about the language after the November election. McMullen's decision surprised SAFER attorney Robert Corry, who said he's brought up similar Blue Book language challenges in the past – and while he has lost similar cases, at least the court has agreed to hear them, he said. "I was surprised," he told us. "But when you're dealing with marijuana legalization, all bets are off." Corry said SAFER decided not to appeal the ruling, which cleared the way for the state to print and send the voter guides, beginning Sept. 14. "Most people don't even read it," he said, but the language will offer opponents an argument – erroneous, yes, but apparently state-backed. Corry said it is clear the council included the language under pressure: "If you've got a DEA agent calling you – these are the same people that dress in black and knock your door down in the middle of the night … the same guys that, literally, kill people – so when they're [applying pressure] it's extremely intimidating," he said. "We tried to stop it," he said, "and we hope that the voters will see through it."

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