To pot prohibition supporters, Operation Sweet Leaf, a raid on 25 reputed cannabis grows, paints the picture of growing criminality that begs for a police crackdown. But Mason Tvert, one of the main proponents of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which recently submitted about 160,000 signatures aimed at landing it on the November ballot, sees it as a tremendous waste that will boost the measure's odds of passage, not hinder them.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition executive director Neill Franklin is among those observers who believe get-tough police moves like seizure letters sent to 23 dispensaries near schools by U.S. Attorney John Walsh are prompted in part by legalization efforts, with the goal being to associate weed with illicit narcotics that endanger our nation's children. But not Tvert. "I disagree entirely," he says. "This is activity that's been going on in this country for years now, regardless of whether or not there's a ballot initiative."
Tvert acknowledges that Walsh's letters "are unique. But when it comes to police spending time and resources investigating, arresting and prosecuting individuals for producing marijuana for profit, that's not unique, and it will continue until we take a new approach."
Whereas law enforcement agencies such as the 17th Judicial District DA's office and the North Metro Drug Task Force are portraying Operation Sweet Leaf as a tremendous success, Tvert believes that "this vast operation carried out by our state's law enforcement authorities demonstrates the futile nature of marijuana prohibition.
"This is not a blanket statement regarding all law enforcement, as you know from your interview with Neill Franklin and the views of countless law enforcement officials, both serving and retired, who agree with him," Tvert continues. However, "our opponents pretend to be opposed to cultivation for profit, but enforce policies guaranteed to produce just that outcome.
"In terms of their interest, many law enforcement officials, such as those with the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, want to insure marijuana can only be produced underground, so that they can continue receiving and spending taxpayer money to go after it despite the fact that it is far less harmful than alcohol" -- the mantra of Tvert's organization, Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER).
Does that mean the publicity generated by the Operation Sweet Leaf bust will actually benefit the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act? Is it practically an advertisement in favor of such an initiative?
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"Absolutely," Tvert replies. "We don't see police coordinating throughout the state to shut down a massive home alcohol-producing operation. And if we were to regulate marijuana like alcohol, we would no longer need to waste countless resources worrying about people growing marijuana for profit out of their homes."
The bottom line for Tvert: "Until we develop a more rational and responsible approach to marijuana in this state, our law enforcement officers will continue wasting time and resources. And this campaign is advocating for that new approach."
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana v. recreational use: NORML controversy, Colorado connection."