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False Promise On Pot


420 Staff
Give Mason Tvert credit for being focused and responsive, if nothing else.

The Denver marijuana activist takes seriously the objections to Initiated Question 100, the ballot measure that would make simple pot possession the "lowest law enforcement priority" of Denver police. And he has answers to those objections, too, several of them somewhat persuasive.

Why push another marijuana initiative only two years after Denver voters approved a measure that legalized adult possession of marijuana - at least in city statute books? Because, he says, even with that ordinance in effect, marijuana arrests within the city reached an all-time high last year. Tvert is also right that residents of a home-rule city like Denver generally do have the ability to enact laws that vary from Colorado statutes ( although trumping state law is another matter, as we shall see ).

But just as we opposed the 2005 legalization measure, we cannot support the current initiative - even if it's little more than a symbolic affirmation of voters' earlier decision.

Our reasons are similar as well. The 2005 measure could not overturn state or federal laws against marijuana possession, which is why pot arrests continue. And this year's measure won't overturn them, either.

Meanwhile, we have no idea how Denver police and prosecutors would interpret a mandate to make marijuana possession a lower priority than traffic offenses or jaywalking. Would the measure tie the hands of Denver police, or cause conflicts with wider state and federal drug investigations? If so, that's not a positive development.

As we've said before, the proper venues to address drug laws are at the state Capitol and in Washington, D.C. Marijuana possession will become legal only when federal and state laws say so, even if local voters oppose its illegal status.

We can see at least one unintended consequence if the initiative passes - and it's perhaps inadvertently pointed out in literature provided by the group Tvert heads, Citizens for a Safer Denver.

On the one hand, the group says that marijuana is relatively harmless and that the drug is actually less of a social problem than alcohol. And as far as the criminal justice system is concerned, a citation for marijuana possession seems minimal, resulting in perhaps no worse than a $100 fine.

And yet, the literature also accurately points out, a marijuana arrest can have "far more damaging" consequences as well. Those may include "loss of employment, inability to gain employment, loss of student financial aid, suspension of professional license, loss of public housing, loss of unemployment benefits, loss of rights to possess a firearm, loss of rights to adopt children or serve as a foster parent."

By backing this initiative, supporters are sending a potentially perverse message to pot users: Marijuana possession is no big deal. This initiative will keep the cops off your back.

Except that it may not. And if it doesn't, those cited for possession will have to face those dire consequences and personal sanctions mentioned by Tvert's group. Question I-100 offers a false promise that pot users will face only minor penalties if it passes. But they are likely to discover otherwise so long as the law of the land bans marijuana use. That's another reason to reject this measure.

Source: Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
Copyright: 2007 Denver Publishing Co.
Contact: letters@rockymountainnews.com
Website: Rocky Mountain News - Denver and Colorado's reliable source for breaking news, sports and entertainment
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