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Marijuana: Amendment 64's opponents want new ad pulled, backers respond

This week, the folks behind Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, have been ballyhooing a new ad featuring the endorsement of singer Melissa Etheridge. But act opponents are focused more on another commercial -- a spot highlighting revenues for school construction. They say the spot is false and should be removed from airwaves. See both below.

There's nothing especially controversial about Etheridge's pitch, designed for radio but mated with video images in the clip below. In it, the vocalist frames the conversation around her use of marijuana for medical purposes during her previous fight with cancer.

Melissa Etheridge.
Melissa Etheridge.

She says in part:

"You know, before I needed to use marijuana, I just accepted the laws that treat marijuana users as criminals. But it's funny how a serious illness can give you a new outlook on life.

"I now see that it's wrong to arrest adults for using marijuana. And it's even more wrong to allow gangs and cartels to profit from selling marijuana. Instead, we should allow adults to possess limited amounts of marijuana, and we should regulate marijuana sales in order to generate tax revenues for public school construction and other community needs.

"To me, regulating marijuana is simply the right thing to do. Please vote YES on Amendment 64."

No famous people in the commercial. Instead, it features a graphic showing green dollar signs flowing from Colorado to Mexico, to represent the supposition that cash spent on recreational marijuana in the state winds up in the hands of south-of-the-border drug cartels. Under Amendment 64, however, the clip suggests that annual revenue generated by legal sales could top $100 million by 2017 even as it generates $40 million annually for public school construction.

That's where things get problematic for Smart Colorado, the No on 64 campaign, which has issued a press release headlined "Amendment 64 Proponents Receive 'F' For Honesty; New Television Ad Should Be Pulled." The person doing the grading in this salvo (read it below in its entirety) is Roger Sherman, the spokesman for Smart Colorado, so this negative mark isn't all that surprising. However, his argument picks at a sore spot for Amendment 64 backers -- a last-minute change in the Blue Book voters guide regarding the proposal.

As we've reported, state Senator John Morse, among others, objected to the provision of the measure that earmarked an excise tax for school construction. So he pushed through the following passage:

This measure requires that the state legislature enact an excise tax. The current Colorado Constitution forbids a member of the state legislature to be bound to vote for or against any bill or measure pending or proposed to the state legislature. Because of this inherent conflict, the excise tax outlined in this measure might not be imposed. Additionally, this issue may result in significant litigation.

Sherman strikes this same chord in a statement about the ad. "The ad states 'If we pass Amendment 64, Colorado businesses would profit and tax revenues would pay for public services and the reconstruction of our schools' and that's just wrong," he maintains. "There is no excise tax for schools. There may never be an excise tax or any tax revenues for schools. Even if the legislature did decide to place the measure on the ballot, voters would have to approve the new tax, and there is no guarantee that would happen, either."

With that in mind, Sherman concludes that "the ad deceives voters and it needs to be pulled."

What does Mason Tvert, one of the main proponents of Amendment 64, think of this demand? Not much, judging by a response he provided to Westword.

Continue to read Mason Tvert's response and see the ads.

The first part of his statement pertains to a defense of the claim that revenue from Amendment 64 will go toward school construction.

"The ad provides an accurate description of Amendment 64 based on the language of the initiative, government data and the findings of highly reputable research organizations," he writes. "The question of whether the General Assembly can be required to enact an excise tax was thoroughly reviewed by Legislative Council Staff, the experts our legislature relies upon for accurate and impartial analysis of all legislation, and at no point did they mention even the remote possibility that it would be a problem. In fact, the campaign submitted other versions of the initiative in which the legislature was not required to enact an excise tax, so that Legislative Council staff could inform us if it was problematic -- which is their job -- but they never did."

Tvert points to a May review-and-comment memo from the legislative council that makes no mention of issues pertaining to this section. See it below.

Regarding Smart Colorado's argument, Tvert maintains that "this is a classic case of the kettle calling the pot black. The campaign in opposition to Amendment 64 has spent the past several months developing and circulating intentionally misleading misinformation about the initiative and about marijuana. In fact, their press release regarding this advertisement quotes a Denver Public School Board member without disclosing that she is an employee of the high-powered lobbying firm running their campaign. And we've seen their spokesperson repeatedly making claims about how it'd be impossible to generate tax revenue from a regulated system of marijuana sales, despite the fact that she previously worked on behalf of an industry that is doing just that.

"The political consultants running the No campaign are clutching at straws and projecting their own dishonesty on our campaign, which has gone above and beyond to be straight with the people of Colorado," he concludes.

Look below to see the advertisement in question, the video version of the Melissa Etheridge endorsement, the Smart Colorado release and the memo from the legislative council staff.

Smart Colorado release:

AMENDMENT 64 PROPONENTS RECEIVE "F" FOR HONESTY:

NEW TELEVISION AD SHOULD BE PULLED

DENVER -- The proponents of Amendment 64, a measure to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, have sunk to a new low in a television commercial that began airing this week that attempts to dupe the public into believing the measure will be a windfall for Colorado's schools. The ad should be pulled because it deliberately misleads voters about Amendment 64.

"The ad states 'If we pass Amendment 64, Colorado businesses would profit and tax revenues would pay for public services and the reconstruction of our schools' and that's just wrong," says Roger Sherman, campaign director for Smart Colorado, the coalition working to defeat Amendment 64. "There is no excise tax for schools. There may never be an excise tax or any tax revenues for schools. Even if the legislature did decide to place the measure on the ballot, voters would have to approve the new tax, and there is no guarantee that would happen either."

The State's Legislative Council Committee objected to sections of the Blue Book -- the state-funded guide intended to inform voters about issues on the November ballot -- that pertained to the excise tax legislators are directed to enact if the measure passes. As they pointed out, it's unconstitutional to bind a legislator to vote for or against any issue pending before the General Assembly. Legislators added language warning voters that the excise tax may never be imposed.

At a Blue Book hearing on September 5, Senator John Morse, a Colorado Springs-area Democrat said "now all of a sudden we got a new constitutional amendment that may say, 'Hey, we can dictate how legislators vote all the time.' It would be offensive to our system of government in my view, but it may turn out to be the law of the land."

Another Legislative Council Committee member, Representative Lois Court, said in a recent letter published by the Denver Post, "it is disingenuous for the proponents to suggest that Amendment 64 would help schools since that help would have two major hurdles to jump over before that revenue would become available."

In addition to concerns expressed by legislators, the Colorado Education Association (CEA) and several school boards, including Adams 12, Douglas and Aurora, oppose Amendment 64. "It is clear that educators oppose designating revenues generated through the sale of marijuana for any purpose related to public education, including capital construction," Sherman said.

At a press conference announcing the CEA's opposition to Amendment 64, Denver school board member Happy Haynes said "I don't want to be part of a state that uses drug money to fund education. I want to be part of a state that recognizes how important education is to the vitality of our communities, to the health of our communities, and our families and our children. And we step up as citizens to fund education the way in should be funded, and not through the use of drug money."

"My 5th Grade teacher would have given the ad an 'F' for honesty," Sherman concluded, "and Mrs. Anderson knew best. The ad deceives voters and it needs to be pulled."

Amendment 64 Review and Comment Memo

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Amendment 64 Blue Book changes, legislator criticism don't worry proponent."