Voters in Colorado, Nevada Ponder Proposals on Pot


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Oct 22, 2005
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Colorado -- A ballot measure in Nevada to legalize marijuana looks like a big fatty compared to a similar - though much skinnier - ballot measure in Colorado. "We're offering the whole pie," said Neal Levine, campaign director for Question 7 in Nevada.
But opponents of both measures say each is equally harmful, contending they are part of a larger movement - one to legalize drugs nationally. And if either passes, opponents of pot legalization fear it will embolden more legalization movements around the country.

That's why Robert McGuire, Colorado's campaign director for Save Our Society from Drugs, believes his side must succeed Nov. 7 in Colorado.

"Everybody likes to look at the states as laboratories," McGuire said. "One state has a lower tax rate, so it has a leg up on competition for attracting business. Same is true with the legalization of marijuana. If they succeed here, Colorado becomes a drug destination and other movements in other states see it as they have a chance now."

Polling shows measures in both states failing. In a Rocky Mountain News/CBS 4 poll earlier this month, Amendment 44 is losing 53 percent to 42 percent. In Nevada, the Las Vegas Review-Journal had a poll showing Question 7 failing 56 percent to 34 percent.

However, an internal poll of the Nevada ballot measure showed it passing 49 percent to 43 percent.

That poll, conducted by an independent research firm based in Los Angeles, was taken in August.

Regulated System of Sales

Levine said the polling company, Goodwin Simon Victoria Research, asked voters the actual language on the ballot - no small task given what Question 7 actually covers - and voters seemed more amenable to it.

Question 7 not only provides for adults 21 and over to possess less than an ounce of marijuana, it also sets up a regulated system where pot can be sold. Retailers seeking to sell marijuana would have to apply through the state to get a license to sell it. The drug could not be sold at clubs, gas stations or other general merchandise stores.

The ballot measure also provides for tougher penalties for those who kill someone while under the influence of marijuana - doubling the maximum penalty from 20 years to 40 years. It also doubles the fine for those caught selling pot to minors - a maximum of four years in prison to eight years.

Colorado's Amendment 44 is much simpler in its language.

It would allow adults over 21 to possess less than an ounce of pot but it is murky on what happens if 18- to 20-year-olds are given marijuana by adults. Amendment 44 Campaign Director Mason Tvert said legislators would have to fix that if the measure passes.

Tvert said they were hamstrung by the required single-subject wording of the proposed amendment.

"We felt this was the cleanest, simplest way to change the law," Tvert said. "It's not as clear cut as we'd like it to be, but it's damn close and if we need the legislature to reintroduce a $100 fine, then so be it."

As for Nevada's ballot item, Tvert said he's talked with the backers and is pulling for them to gain passage, but no support has been exchanged between the two groups.

Eric Sondermann, a Denver-based political consultant, said that just because two statewide ballot measures are seeking to legalize marijuana for recreational use simultaneously doesn't mean the drug is emerging from the shadows and gearing up as a prime-time political issue.

Supporters a Strange Brew

However, he said the fact that it's even being debated and talked about so openly shows it is an emerging issue. And what it has going for it is a strange brew of constituents that seem to support it - from "lefty suspects" to a "smattering of conservative and libertarian" types.

"I don't know if the (pro-marijuana forces) really have staying power," he said.

"I don't know they'll take a run at the state ballot every two years. I think it depends on the margin of defeat. It's one thing to lose by 2 points and another to lose by 20 points."

And it's expensive to qualify ballot measures.

Tvert's campaign is far smaller than Nevada's, which is being pushed by the Marijuana Policy Project, the same organization that helped Tvert with I-100, the Denver ordinance passed by voters last year to allow pot possession. Tvert isn't getting support from them this time.

Levine said the campaign to pass Question 7 has raised about $400,000 and has "dozens of staffers" working to get it passed. Tvert has another staffer and a series of volunteers working to get Amendment 44 passed.

Recent records through the Colorado Secretary of State's Office show SAFER - Tvert's group pushing the ballot measure - doesn't have any funds on hand. Tvert himself said they are mostly working with a volunteer force.

"Basically I work 7 a.m. to 3 a.m.," Tvert said.

Different Approaches To Pot Law

• Nevada's Question 7 provides for adults 21 and older to possess less than an ounce of marijuana and sets up a regulated system in which pot can be sold.

• Colorado's Amendment 44 would allow adults over 21 to possess less than an ounce of pot, but it is murky on what happens if 18- to 20-year-olds are given marijuana by adults.

Note: Drug legalization seen as emerging issue nationwide.

Source: Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
Author: David Montero, Rocky Mountain News
Published: September 30, 2006
Copyright: 2006 Denver Publishing Co.