Marijuana: Amendment 64 supported, attacked by religious leaders in ongoing endorsement war

As we've been reporting, the proponents and opponents of Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, have been engaging in PR-generating endorsement wars. Now, in the wake of separate groups of doctors either championing or decrying the measure, religious leaders representing each campaign are sharing their feelings, pro and con -- including the Reverend Leon Emerson, seen here. Are these battles slowing the momentum of the initiative? No, insists one of the main figures behind Amendment 64, despite a recent poll showing support dipping below 50 percent.

At 10:30 a.m. Smart Colorado, the No on 64 campaign, staged an event at Agape Christian Church in Five Points. The main speaker was Emerson, the leader of New Faith Christian Church and CEO of the Colorado Council for Urban Youth Development, with support from Reverend Ray Chavez of New Hope Ministries, and Butch Montoya, a former Denver Manager of Safety and ex-9News executive who now serves as the director of H.S. Power & Light Ministries and the Latino Faith Initiative.

Their message, according to No on 64 spokeswoman Laura Chapin? The Greater Metropolitan Denver Ministerial Alliance, an organization representing between sixty and seventy churches, is coming out against Amendment 64.

"This is a big deal," Chapin says, since "the Denver Ministerial Alliance is one of the biggest and most impactful faith organizations in the city and the state."

In a quote provided to Westword, Emerson said, "The pastors are united in saying no to Amendment 64. As pastors, this is wrong for our community and wrong for our children. It sends the wrong message."

Not to be outdone, the Amendment 64 is ballyhooing religious endorsements of its own from more than two dozen members of the clergy (see the complete list below), including Rabbi Steven Foster of Temple Emmanuel. In a statement, Foster says, "I am supporting Amendment 64 because, as clergy, we have the responsibility to talk about what policies serve our community best. You do not have to use marijuana -- or even approve of marijuana -- to see that our current laws are not working."

Foster's positive words aren't the only ones Amendment 64 backers have collected of late. Also in the act's corner is singer Melissa Etheridge and former Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo, both of whom have recorded advertisements touting the measure. But their comments have been countered by Governor John Hickenlooper, who said he doesn't want Colorado known as a pot haven, and, more recently, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, joined by a slew of high-profile law enforcers, and Denver mayor Michael Hancock.

Indeed, the powers that be seem to be lining up against Amendment 64 -- although the campaign's Brian Vicente doesn't see it that way. "We had the state's largest labor union" -- the United Food and Commercial Workers -- "endorse last week. So we've been rolling out endorsements as well. And at the end of the day, we think voters will decide to move forward with Amendment 64 rather than perpetuating the failed policy of marijuana prohibition."

Continue to read more about the Amendment 64 endorsement wars.  

This contention arrives in the wake of a new Denver Post poll showing Amendment 64 leading by a 48 percent to 43 percent margin -- a narrowing of support from a previous survey, which offered a 51 percent to 40 percent estimate. In a statement from earlier this week, Chapin said, "Amendment 64 is opposed by and losing support from almost every demographic group, including women, Latinos, conservatives, older voters, voters with a four-year college degree and voters with incomes above $80,000."

Vicente's response?

"There's been about two years' worth of polling on our amendment, and we've always had support from 47 to 53 percent. So really, the Post poll is pretty consistent with what we've seen. The important thing is, it puts us within the margin of error, and within striking distance. We're just two points from walking away with this. And it's worth noting that there's consistently been 10 to 12 percent undecided. So as long as we can hold that 48 percent and pick up just a couple percent of the undecided, we'll win."

But doesn't the poll suggest that momentum is moving against the measure?

"Actually, I think it may be swelling in our direction," he replies. "We have more Coloradans than not supporting Amendment 64 and a fair amount of undecideds. And we're working tirelessly every day to reach those undecideds via TV, phone banking, radio ads and, most importantly, person-to-person contact. We've got thousands of volunteers across the state calling their parents, their grandparents and their friends saying, 'This makes sense. We need to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition.'"

Of course, parents and grandparents tend to vote in higher numbers than do their young-adult children. That makes it especially important for the Amendment 64 campaign to get supporters to the polls -- and Vicente thinks others on the ballot will provide an assist.

"In presidential years, there's almost always a really large young-voter turnout," he says, "and we think that's really going to work to our advantage this year. Both Obama and Romney have been working hard to to turn out young voters in Colorado, and the vast majority of young voters support Amendment 64. And in terms of older voters, we actually do quite well with those over sixty, and we're happy to have the support of that important generation as well."

Regarding the backing of the assorted clergy members, Vicente says they're in Amendment 64's corner because "they believe this is a moral issue. We have policies that have failed to work and have, in fact, negatively impacted community members. And we need to change those laws."

Continue to see the Amendment 64 clergy release.   Amendment 64 release:

More Than Two Dozen Colorado Clergy and Faith Leaders Endorse Amendment 64

Diverse group of religious leaders support regulating marijuana like alcohol because Colorado's current policy of marijuana prohibition has been unjust, ineffective, and wasteful

Statements below from Reverend Bill Kirton and Rabbi Steven Foster

DENVER -- A diverse group of more than two dozen clergy and faith leaders from across Colorado have endorsed Amendment 64, citing their belief that the current system of marijuana prohibition is causing far more harm than good.

Statement from Rev. Bill Kirton:

"How we punish people and what we punish them for are central moral questions. If a punishment policy fails to meet its objectives and causes harms to humans, I believe we have a moral obligation to support change. Our laws punishing marijuana use have caused more harm than good to our society and that is why I am supporting replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of strict regulation with sensible safeguards.

"As we seek to teach compassion and love, it seems inconsistent to support, in cases of private personal adult marijuana possession, the use of police, guns, and courts. The faith community, parents, peers, and educators are the appropriate institutions in society to address this kind of personal behavior."

Statement from Rabbi Steven Foster:

"I am supporting Amendment 64 because, as clergy, we have the responsibility to talk about what policies serve our community best. You do not have to use marijuana - or even approve of marijuana -- to see that our current laws are not working."

Statement from Daniel Garcia, outreach coordinator for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol:

"As a member of the Latino and faith communities in Colorado, I feel obligated to speak out in support of Amendment 64. Regulating marijuana like alcohol will strike a blow to the cartels and the violence that is currently afflicting our families and friends in Latin America. Law enforcement officials have estimate that illegal marijuana sales account for 65 to 70 percent of cartel profits, which subsidize their other criminal activities, including human trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion. Our law enforcement resources should be used to address serious crimes, not to foster them.

"Amendment 64 takes the production and sale of marijuana out of the hands of cartels and criminals in the underground market and puts them in the hands of legitimate businesses in a tightly regulated system. Under Amendment 64, Colorado can stop propping up cartels and criminals and start propping up our state's economy with new businesses and more jobs."

Colorado religious leaders who have endorsed Amendment 64:

Rabbi Benjamin Arnold, Congregation Beth Evergreen, Evergreen Chaplain Gregg Anderson, Aspen Chapel United Methodist Church, Aspen Rev. Rusty Butler, Arvada United Methodist Church, Arvada Pastor Paul Carlson, Our Savior's Lutheran Church, Denver Rev. Dawn Duvall, Together Colorado/PICO, Denver Rev. Lydia Ferrante-Rosemary, Boulder Vally Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Lafayette Rabbi Emeritus Steven Foster, Temple Emmanuel, Denver Pastor Bob Franz, Boulder South Broadway Church, Boulder Rev. Marie Gasau, Basalt Community United Methodist Church, Basalt Rev. Earl Hanna, University Park United Methodist Church, Denver Pastor Chris Johnson, Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies Rev. Robert Kippley, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, Cañon City Rev. Bill Kirton, United Methodist, Denver Chaplain Anthony Martin, Colorado Department of Corrections, Denver Dr. Ved Nanda, Board Member, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Denver Rev. Ricardo Orellena, Hospice of St. John, Lakewood Rev. Larry Paulson, St. Paul's UMC, Denver Bishop Phillip Porter, Church of God in Christ, Denver Pastor Vern Rempelm, 1st Mennonite Church of Denver Rev. David Ridge, Minister, Living Water Unity Spiritual Community, Arvada Marcia Stackhouse, Our Merciful Savior, Denver Pastor Jeni Umble, Boulder Mennonite Church, Boulder Pastor Edwin Vrell, Sacramentarian Christian Assembly, Longmont Rev. Seon Young Lee, Asbury Korean United Methodist Church, Centennial Pastor Donald Zundel, Christ Lutheran, Highlands Ranch

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Doctors face off over Amendment 64."

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