While most cannabis supporters in Colorado agree that legalization is the ultimate goal, there's heavy disagreement on how to get there. Last month, attorney Brian Vicente and Mason Tvert fired up first, submitting ballot language to the state. That prompted an outcry from other groups, including the Cannabis Therapy Institute, about being left out of discussions. To hash things out, the CTI organized the Great Legalization Debate of 2012 on June 22 at Casselman's, where representatives of the five (so far) proposals were slated to discuss their ideas. Here's a quick look at where they stand:
Proposal: Free Colorado Cannabis Act
Proponent: Corey Donahue
Donahue has worked with several human-rights organizations. He insists that current marijuana laws are a violation of people's human rights, and says that other proposals — specifically the legalization initiative filed by Mason Tvert and Brian Vicente in May — aren't real legalization, but rather "softening the blow of criminalization," and might actually create more crimes by including language about taxation and regulation. "I am working to make sure my amendment is as freedom-expanding as possible," he says. "I don't want to put restrictions on people."
Proposal highlights: Complete legalization of cannabis without restrictions on possession amounts for adults 18 years and older; no registry — cannabis purchases treated similarly to alcohol; sales tax; creation of 4/20 as an official state holiday; the release of anyone incarcerated for marijuana offenses in the state; rewording Colorado law to change "marijuana" and "marihuana" to cannabis.
Proposal: Colorado Safer Communities & Health Initiative
Proponent: Reverend Brandon Baker
Baker, a third-generation cannabis farmer, says his views on marijuana laws were shaped at a young age, when he watched his father's home raided by police. The fact that he can grow marijuana legally as a caregiver while his father is still considered a criminal is absurd, he says. Baker's relatively simple proposal was honed through months of discussions with peers in person and on Facebook; basically, he explains, it's the same tax and regulation system that applies to home brewers. In fact, the language would be nearly identical, with any reference to brewing replaced by language regarding cannabis cultivation. Penalties for illegal wholesale, retail or manufacturing would mirror alcohol violations, and all language making cannabis illegal would be eliminated.
Proposal highlights: Eight plant and eight-ounce limit for personal amounts, more for retail; legal for adults 18 years and older; all language making marijuana illegal in Colorado removed from revised statutes and Colorado Controlled Substances act; potential clemency/pardons for all non-violent cannabis convictions; industrial hemp legalized, subject only to existing agricultural zoning laws; tax revenue to be spent on industry oversight, public schools, Medicaid and "community betterment programs."
Proposal: Use and Regulation of Marijuana
Proponent: Mason Tvert
Tvert and marijuana lawyer Brian Vicente got the jump on other proposals by filing their proposed ballot measure in May. Tvert is best known as the head of the SAFER campaign, which has challenged everyone to think about marijuana as a safer substitute to alcohol. SAFER's 2006 attempt to legalize marijuana in the state failed; the 2007 campaign to decriminalize the plant in Denver gained voter approval. This go-round, his proposal is backed by a coalition of several groups. "I got into this issue because I cannot stand to see people's lives disrupted and even ruined solely for using a substance that is far safer than alcohol," Tvert says. "I've had my life disrupted and know many, many other people who have undergone scrutiny or punishment for marijuana."
Proposal highlights: Legal for 21 and up; remove penalties for up to one ounce of marijuana and allow adults to grow up to six plants (three mature) and keep all marijuana produced even if over one ounce; DOR regulated; no database — just show your ID, like liquor; industrial hemp legalized; state must allow for licensed retail stores as well as cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities; state can enact up to 15 percent tax on wholesale sales.
Proposal name: The Cannabis and Hemp Relegalization Act
Proponent: Laura Kriho
Kriho has been one of Colorado's most outspoken marijuana activists since her first campaign to legalize industrial and recreational cannabis use in the state in 1992; that initiative failed to gain the needed signatures to get on the ballot. From 1995 to 1997, as an aide to former state senator Lloyd Casey, she spearheaded another campaign to legalize industrial hemp. In 2010 Kriho helped form the Cannabis Therapy Institute to "address the issues with medical marijuana laws." She notes that her proposed ballot measure does not set limits, but leaves regulation up to the intent of the user. "Any time you create a number [limit], you create a position for law enforcement to weigh against that limit," she says. "We want to get away from tracking and counting and weighing. If you leave it to intent...it is a lot fairer to the user than if you put some arbitrary number on the limit."
Proposal highlights: Abolition of all current marijuana-related crimes; potential clemency/pardon of past marijuana-related convictions, dependent on an "independent cannabis commission" of seven to nine members appointed by the governor and made up of cannabis experts; possession amounts based on intent (retail, wholesale, personal use); legalization of industrial hemp.
Proposal name: The Danish Plan
Proponent: Paul Danish
Danish, a former Boulder city councilman and current columnist for the Boulder Weekly, has been outspoken in his opposition to the War on Drugs. His approach to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado isn't exactly legalization; instead, it leans more toward heavy decriminalization without forcing politically squeamish voters to decide on whether or not to legalize marijuana outright.
Proposal highlights: Not a legalization bill; would constitutionally prevent the punishment for use and possession in the state; would allow cultivation of up to six plants; would allow the legislature to "adopt laws providing for the regulated sale of marijuana and for its production for sale and for its taxation."
Proposal: No Name Yet
Proponent: Rico Colibri
Colibri serves as the vice president of the Association of Cannabis Trades. He has been a patient and caregiver in Colorado for nearly ten years, and like Donahue sees the legalization of marijuana as a human-rights issue. He points out that drug laws are often disproportionately applied to minorities and the poor and that legalizing marijuana would end the criminalization of those groups in large numbers. "We need to pull the power away from the cartels that are turning inner-city neighborhoods into Beirut," he explains. Proposal highlights: Model based on tobacco regulation, locks in business licensing fees no higher than current tobacco fees; sets legal age at 21; allows for eight flowering plants and up to a quarter-pound for each individual and a half-pound for a household every month; earmarks taxes for drug rehab, education and health care.
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Proposal: The "Inalienable Right" model.
Proponent: Kathleen Chippi
In the early '90s, Chippi was the first person to produce and package hemp foods, selling them in grocery stores under the brand Heavenly Hemp Foods. Chippi says her life as a cannabis activist stems from her religious belief in cannabis as the Tree of Life; she's formed her own church, Closer to the Heart Ministries, based on those ideas. She worries that the cannabis community in Colorado lacks cohesion, and hopes the debate is the start of a more open dialogue. Her plan is to rework Article 2, Section 3 of the Colorado Constitution to include the use and right to grow cannabis as a fundamental human right.
Proposal highlights: Does not limit age or plant count.