Though he doesn't like to admit it, 31-year-old Mason Tvert has changed the way cannabis is viewed in Colorado — and the way Colorado is viewed by the rest of the country. Tvert, a native of Arizona and graduate of the University of Richmond, has been stirring the pot in Colorado since 2005, when he came here to start Safe Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) at the University of Colorado. By that fall, he'd pushed a successful ballot measure through Denver that decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults. In 2006, he went statewide with an initiative to legalize possession of up to an ounce by adults. Although that measure failed, 58.9 percent to 41 percent, the experience helped him calculate how to structure last year's campaign for Amendment 64, which legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use and cultivation, and also charged Colorado with coming up with a way to regulate this state's now-legal cannabis industry.
Now, while the legislature is busy hammering out details for how to start licensing retail marijuana stores as early as July 1, Coloradans are getting ready to celebrate the first 4/20 since marijuana was legalized in Colorado. So we decided to catch up with Tvert to get his thoughts on pot politics, how he thinks the implementation of Amendment 64 is going, and what's next for cannabis in Colorado.
A lot of people see you as the guy behind this. Eight years ago, could you have seen all this happening?
First of all, I want to avoid any of the "I'm the guy behind it." There was so much more to it. I want to avoid any of that douchery.
I mean, it's kind of weird. Since we started SAFER, the mission has never been to change policy. It is to change the way people think about marijuana. When we began, our goal was to change the way people in Colorado viewed marijuana. Specifically, to make people understand that marijuana is safer than alcohol. We ran the city initiatives, we ran the state initiative, and we did those with our primary goal being education.
So it wasn't, at the time, it wasn't like, "Well, is this going to actually win?" It was more like, "Are we going to actually educate people," you know? I never really viewed the victory in the end as "We're going to pass this initiative." It was more, "We're going to have enough people think this."
We've been seeing support grow nationwide. Back in 2005, nationwide, it was in the 40 [percent approval range]. The state had adopted medical marijuana laws...so it wasn't like out of the blue. But I think that it might have come around quicker than people might have expected.
How much of a role did medical marijuana play in that shift in attitude?
There are three general things that made this happen. Number one is the shift in attitude based on public-education efforts and the discussion that was forced here in Colorado. I am a true believer that the more people talk about this issue and hear about it, the more they are going to be supportive of ending marijuana prohibition. There are people who would say, "Well, duh." But you don't see this type of media coverage and discussion taking place in Texas, and people don't really hear about it. It's not a topic of conversation for most people. It is among people who care about marijuana.
When there are things happening on the city and state ballot and there are publicity stunts like billboards going up, it's something people talk to each other about. As they talk to each other, they come across people who support this, because, you know, half the people do support it. Now they are in the position that their brother-in-law supports it, or my boss supports it, and now people are actually thinking about it more. The public-education work that was done was a big part of this.
The other side is medical marijuana and the evolution of that system.... The development of a regulated system for medical marijuana cultivation and sales is the other huge factor in this. People saw that it is possible. They saw that it doesn't cause problems. They saw that local municipalities are able to ban businesses if they want; they saw that tax revenue could be generated. While I don't think that passing medical marijuana laws or the idea of medical marijuana is a stepping stone to legalization, I do think that being able to see that regulated system helped people recognize what a regulated system for non-medical sales would look like.