Marijuana legalization in Nederland: Q&A with "Michigan" Mike Torpie, the man behind the initiative

Yesterday, we told you about Nederland's passage of a marijuana decriminalization initiative -- making it the third city in Colorado (after Denver and Breckenridge) to take this step.

The effort was grassroots by every meaning of the term. Although leading marijuana advocate Mason Tvert celebrated Nederland's actions in the blog above, the measure reached the ballot (and achieved victory) thanks to the efforts of "Michigan" Mike Torpie, the man behind the annual Nederland concert event known as NedFest, scheduled August 27-29 this year.

In an e-mail Q&A, Torpie describes his decision to put forward the initiative, his laid-back-to-the-point-of-nonexistent campaign, and his hope that Nederland's decriminalization vote will lead to others throughout the state. Check it out below:

Westword: Could you tell us about yourself: where you're from originally, how long you've lived in Nederland, your participation in local politics, and your work with NedFest and other events?

"Michigan" Mike Torpie: From Michigan... Detroit until 10, Plymouth until college, Kalamazoo for Western Michigan University '91.

Moved to Boulder November 92... Nederland March '95.

Trustee on Board of Trustees April 2004 thru April 2008, elected (not appointed). Always been active in town government due to NedFest.

Founder of NedFest, organizer, promoter, etc.

WW: When did you decide to collect signatures to put the marijuana initiative on the ballot?

MMT: Immediately after breck did something similar this past November. I didn't know you could just do that... legalize marijuana.

WW: How many signatures were required -- and did you have any trouble obtaining enough?

MMT: It was pretty easy to get the signatures. I didn't have to hustle or anything. I just kept the petitions with me wherever I went.

It was 68 or 69, I think. 5% of registered voters. (Note: Later, Torpie shared a note from the Nederland town clerk, who wrote that he needed 65 valid signatures, and he wound up with 69.)

WW: Why did you think such an initiative was needed?

MMT: Here is something I wrote -- a letter to the editor of the local Mountain Ear newspaper...

Vote YES to Decriminalize Marijuana in Nederland

Marijuana prohibition creates organized crime and drug cartels while denying responsible adults the option of using a safer means to relax. Prohibition unnecessarily imprisons thousands of people every year for non-violent crimes, which in turn destroys families. Unlike alcohol and other substances, marijuana is not related to violence, risky behavior, sexual assaults or death.

Passing this initiative won't change State or Federal laws, which will still apply, but rather simply remove our Town's criminal penalties for adults using marijuana. Although Nederland Police will still be able to cite anyone under the State law, this will provide the Chief of Police and his officers more legal authority to use their discretion to not arrest responsible adult marijuana users. This initiative won't prohibit them from issuing citations, but rather encourage them not to.

This measure is largely symbolic... a statement that Nederland is a progressive community of realists who recognize the hypocrisy of marijuana prohibition... and will put on the record that the voters of our Town believe marijuana use by adults should not be a crime.

This issue is about your civil liberties and the right to choose for yourself as an adult much more than it is about marijuana as a plant or a substance. Who is it for anyone to tell you what you can or can't put in your body... especially if it you are not hurting anyone else? To continue to suppress people's rights and liberties, let alone create an atmosphere of fear just because someone wants to smoke some pot and relax, is ridiculous. This is about your rights as a United States citizen and as a human being on this Planet Earth.

Passing this initiative is the first step to restricting, regulating and taxing legal recreational marijuana for adults. Like Colorado Amendment 20, it was voted in and now law makers are adding restrictions and regulations to it. We can do that here in Nederland too. We can fine-tune and amend things later, exactly as is being done with Medical Marijuana on the State level.

Passing this initiative will help stimulate our local economy through tourism with visitors coming to our Town who might stop at a restaurant or at one of our local shops. It can also result in a boost to our Town's finances with sales taxes generated from marijuana sold. If people act irresponsible, as some tourists may at first, they run the risk getting fined and/or arrested. These busts and citations will further generate money for our Town. As with people walking around with an open container of beer in public outside one of our Town's festivals... you bust a few people, write a few tickets, make a few examples of the random person who is being stupid... and everyone sees that it's not okay and they stop being stupid and doing stupid stuff. Negative consequences that may occur will likely be minor and only early on in the beginning when this is new. Our Police Department is large enough and certainly capable enough to handle any potential problem that may arise, and things will settle down in time... especially as more and more towns, cities and eventually entire States jump on board. Soon Nederland will be no different than anywhere else on its marijuana policies.

Passing this initiative will provide momentum to other Towns and to the State to enact more sensible marijuana policies. It is part of a movement to join with other communities and make the statement that we think the war on weed is wrong; to encourage other towns and other communities to rise up and follow our example; to get to the point where so many towns and cities will have joined that it becomes a statewide effort... with other States across our great country soon to follow.

Denver and Breckenridge have already passed similar initiatives, decriminalizing marijuana for adults. The State of California in November will vote to remove all State penalties for marijuana possession by adults, leaving criminal penalties for juvenile possession. Nevada and Washington will have similar initiatives on their November ballots. This is no different than the current initiative we're looking at right here and now in Nederland... but they are doing this on a STATE level. In fact, the State of Colorado is considering making it only a misdemeanor if someone is growing 6 plants or less and/or is in possession of up to 12 ounces of marijuana for recreational purposes. If these cities and entire States can be so progressive... the Town of Nederland absolutely can as well.

Although many wish this initiative could do more, it simply can't. However, just like all social movements of the past... all change starts local. Vote "YES" on marijuana decriminalization and add our Town to the growing list of communities who have established sensible marijuana policies.

** Vote April 6th... one way or the other!!! Use your voice, but be educated first!!!

WW: Did you mount any kind of formal campaign in support of the initiative? If so, how would you describe it?

MMT: No, not really. I figured getting the signatures and getting it on the ballot was enough. I did write a few things for the newspaper, did some TV interviews (which one friend happened to see me talking about legalization when he was in the airport in Kingston, Jamaica, of all places!). I figured, most people already have their stance on the issue -- one way or the other. The arguments have been debated to death. What more could I say that hadn't already been said a million times? I'm not a marijuana activist, by any means. But I do stand strong on civil rights and civil liberties.

WW: Were you at all surprised by the outcome of the vote?

MMT: I was concerned a few weeks ago that this might not pass, perhaps by a long shot even. But this past week or so, I was feeling pretty confident because there was essentially zero vocal opposition... no letters to the editor, no picket signs or anything like that. So at that point, I started feeling pretty good.

WW: Would you describe the measure as symbolic? If so, does it strike you as an important statement to make?

MMT: This was entirely symbolic. I guess i cover this in my letter to editor (above).

WW: Do you think the vote reflects the City of Nederland? If so, how?

MMT: Yeah, pretty much so. And i also think it reflects people's opinions on a far greater scale than just Nederland. I bet if you put this initiative on a statewide ballot, you'd see about the same results. I think we were 54% in favor, and I bet the State of Colorado would roll that way too.

WW: Would you support a statewide ballot initiative calling for the legalization of marijuana?

MMT: Absolutely. My initiative was, in large, part of the movement to make that happen. The more people that hear about this will want to do the same thing, and eventually it will snowball so much that it does happen on a state level, and eventually nationwide.