Pot backers could get question on 2012 ballot

A group pushing for a citizens initiative to legalize small quantities of marijuana will submit more than 155,000 signatures next week to put the amendment on next year’s ballot.

Mason Tvert, a proponent of the measure and head of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said Wednesday he and hundreds of volunteers are nearing the end of the petition-signature stage to get the measure on the November ballot.

Tvert said the group plans to turn in petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office next Wednesday.

“There’s been an ongoing discussion about marijuana in Colorado for the past seven years, and more Coloradans than ever believe that we should regulate marijuana similar to alcohol,” he said. “Because so many people have been hearing about marijuana and about the fact that it’s far safer than alcohol, they are becoming increasingly comfortable with acknowledging that an adult should be allowed to use it without fear of punishment.”

Better than that, Tvert said, it’s also an economic driver.

Not only does the proposed constitutional amendment allow for the legal possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and six plants, it calls on the Legislature to establish a regulatory scheme for retail outlets similar to liquor stores, and to set sales and excise taxes.

Additionally, the measure would legalize hemp in the state, allowing farmers an easy crop to grow, he said. Hemp is a fiber-like herb often used to make rope, clothing and paper products.

Tvert said the economic impact to the state from the ballot question could be in the millions of dollars in tax revenues for state and local governments, and into the billions of dollars when considering jobs and other economic development around the industry.

Tvert said the group isn’t concerned that the decisions of several communities around the state to ban medical marijuana dispensaries is a sign Coloradans don’t want marijuana retail outlets.

“Obviously, there’s going to be localities that want to set their own standards. That’s the case with alcohol,” he said. “Our initiative does allow localities to decide for themselves, either through a vote of the people or through their elected bodies, whether to allow these types of marijuana-related businesses.”

The effort requires a minimum of 86,000 signatures of valid registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

The attempt to legalize marijuana is one of several ideas working through the ballot-title process in hopes of being placed before the state’s voters next year.

Others include a third attempt at a so-called personhood amendment, though one that is more aimed at banning abortions. Attempts in 2008 and 2010 were rejected by more than 70 percent of voters each time.

Another measure that had been proposed, but since withdrawn, was to alter a previous voter-approved constitutional amendment declaring a marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Aurora resident Mark Olmstead wanted to amend that law to say that marriage would apply to people whether they are the same or different sexes.

“Everything was set and approved for signature gathering, but I withdrew the initiative a while ago because of a lack of support from groups,” Olmstead said. “The grass-roots support was amazing, but it was difficult to get organizations behind me, especially if it came time to fund a successful campaign.”

Instead, Olmstead hopes the Legislature in its upcoming session will approve a bill calling for civil unions for same-sex couples. State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said he intends to reintroduce a civil-union bill that is nearly identical to one he backed during the 2011 session.

To date, nothing has been certified for next year’s ballot, said Richard Coolidge, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.



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