Marijuana activist Miguel Lopez took a signed petition for the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol act of 2012 out of a voter's hands on July 17 and allegedly prevented volunteers from retrieving it. When the petition didn't resurface last week, Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol proponent Mason Tvert filed a formal complaint with the Secretary of State's Office against Lopez, who has actively campaigned against the initiative.
Tvert said he's fine with having a very vocal opposition to his bill, but stealing a petition crosses the line.
"Miguel loves to talk about how his speech is being hindered, yet he's trying to prevent people from carrying a petition," said Tvert. "That's the most pure form of speech. You aren't just preventing someone from expressing free speech. You are completely disenfranchising them."
But Lopez says members of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol coalition have brought this on themselves. He maintains that volunteers had "physically interrupted" his July 17 "PROTEST the FED(s) and Unite the Despaired MARIJUANA/HEMP RALLY" at least two times, and that he'd had enough. "Why do they keep sending petitioners to our rallies when we oppose them?" he asks. "That's like sending the KKK to a Chicano rally."
According to the complaint, Lopez grabbed a petition out of the hands of a Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol volunteer and threw it in a trashcan outside of a rally at Skyline Park in downtown Denver. Lopez confirms this happened, although he declined to elaborate. Lopez told the Colorado Springs Independent that he was actually trying to save the petition by taking it from one of his supporters who was going to destroy it, not sign it.
Tvert tells a different story. The complaint says Lopez allegedly blocked the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol volunteer from getting the petition by standing in front of the trashcan.
Local activist "Wayward" Bill Chengelis provides more detail. He says the petitioners were intimidated by a growing crowd of Lopez's supporters and left the public park without getting the petition back. "They were smart to get out of there," he said. "I told them: 'Don't bring that within the rally area. I don't care what you do outside, but you are only asking for trouble if you bring that in here.'"
After the volunteers left, Chengelis confirmed that Crazy for Justice's Corey Donahue, who was recently arrested for allegedly trespassing at a Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol volunteer meeting, removed the petition and passed it around to a few activists -- and it has not been seen since. Chengelis says the last person he saw with the petition was local activist Robert Lopez.
Chengelis added that he doesn't totally support the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol proposal, but seeing voter's rights trampled motivated him to speak out. "Those are signatures that probably won't be counted now," he said. "And as a voter, I'd like to think that when I sign a petition, it is going to count."
Rich Coolidge, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office, says state personnel are still reviewing the complaint. He adds that the taking of a petition is a "unique set of circumstances" with which he can't recall his office ever having dealt. The investigation is expected to be completed in the next few days.
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