Marijuana activists ask John Suthers to take ethics pledge after Dan Hartman criticism

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At noon today, Mason Tvert and other Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act backers will stage an event at Attorney General John Suthers's office. Why? Suthers feels a letter by (outgoing?) Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division head Dan Hartman published in places mulling MMJ retail-sales bans was unethical, even though Suthers himself has spoken out on the subject. Which is why proponents want Suthers to sign an ethics pledge.

As we've reported, multiple medical marijuana industry sources say Hartman's last day at MMED was Friday -- a claim that prompted the Department of Revenue, which oversees the division, to tease changes likely to be announced this week. Among the possible reasons cited for his departure was a Hartman letter published in newspapers like Steamboat Today that took a pro-MMJ stance in towns that will vote on prohibiting dispensaries. An excerpt reads: "If your community bans commercial medical marijuana businesses... you will only remove the regulated medical marijuana distribution model from your community."

According to the Associated Press, Suthers reviewed the letter at the request of Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey, whose jurisdiction includes Palisade, one of the burgs that will decide on an MMJ ban. Suthers determined that the letter wasn't illegal, but it was unethical.

This claim leaves Tvert agog. Suthers "determined that a state employee's actions were unethical when he has engaged in these actions several times with regard to the same subject. He was the number one opponent of the 2006 marijuana initiative. He wrote op-eds on behalf of the opposition campaign, he appeared at press conferences, he was quoted several times in the news saying he was going to be part of a large coalition to defeat this measure, he appeared in debates opposing it. And all of these things are far more severe than writing a letter explaining his belief about what a measure might do, which is all Dan Hartman did. And Hartman simply addressed questions and provided educated answers on the subject, whereas the Attorney General provided only exaggerations and propaganda to suit his purpose of defeating the measure."

Tvert feels that "if the head of MMED had spoken out in favor of the ban, I believe the Attorney General would have had no problem with it." Nonetheless, "if John Suthers believes it's unethical for a state official to engage in campaigning or speaking out against a ballot initiative, we expect him to abide by that determination and refrain from encouraging voters to oppose the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative next year."

To that end, Tvert and company will present Suthers with a statement that reads: "I, John Suthers, will behave ethically during the 2012 election season, and will refrain from encouraging voters to oppose the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol."

How likely is it that Suthers will sign such a pledge? Tvert defers on that question, although he says "I would like to think that the top legal official in our entire state would have no problem swearing to remain ethical based on his own public standard."

The chances of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol making the November 2012 ballot continue to grow. Right now, Tvert estimates that 95,000 signatures have been collected -- over the 86,000 required, and only about 50,000 away from the 145,000 target set in the hope of guaranteeing enough valid signatures to be blessed by the Secretary of State's office.

Should the measure be placed before voters, Suthers will likely be tempted to weigh in. But would that be ethical?

Page down to read the Regulate press release about today's event at the AG's office, 1525 Sherman Street. It includes examples of Suthers sharing his views on marijuana, including an op-ed published in the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News. Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 release:

Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol to Detail Attorney General Suthers's Hypocrisy in MMED Scandal

Suthers, Alongside Other Law Enforcement Employees, Vigorously Advocated Against Marijuana Initiative in 2006, but on Friday called MMED Director Dan Hartmann "unethical" for letter discussing potential impact of 2011 medical marijuana dispensary ban

Campaign now expects AG Suthers to be "ethical" and remain silent on the subject of regulating marijuana in 2012

On Monday (Oct. 31) at noon, proponents will hold news conference and deliver Suthers a pledge to remain "ethical"

DENVER -- The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will be holding a news conference on Monday to detail the hypocrisy of Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who vigorously advocated against a marijuana reform initiative in 2006, but on Friday called Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division (MMED) Director Dan Hartmann "unethical" for discussing the potential impact of a proposed initiative to ban medical marijuana dispensaries. (See story about the MMED scandal at http://denver.cbslocal.com/2011/10/29/colorado-pot-regulator-under-fire-for-letter/)

Following the news conference, proponents of the 2012 initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol will go inside the attorney general's office and deliver him the following pledge to sign:

I, John Suthers, will behave ethically during the 2012 election season, and will refrain from encouraging voters to oppose the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

"Attorney General Suthers criticizing Dan Hartmann for expressing an opinion on a marijuana-related initiative is truly a case of the kettle calling the pot regulator black," said 2012 initiative proponent Mason Tvert. "Not only did Mr. Suthers write op-eds encouraging voters to oppose Amendment 44 in 2006, he also joined uniformed police officers in press conferences against the initiative. And these were not educational efforts; they were efforts to spread exaggerations and distort reality in order to scare people away from supporting reform. Attorney General Suthers lives in a bizarre world where it is ethical for him to propagandize during one initiative campaign, but unethical for someone else to tell the truth during another."

In 2006, Attorney General Suthers participated in a variety of activities in opposition to a ballot initiative that would have removed penalties for adult marijuana possession. Along with speaking out in interviews on TV and the radio, Suthers authored op-eds in the Rocky Mountain News and Pueblo Chieftain, appeared at press conferences held specifically to denounce the initiative, and served as the opposition spokesperson in multiple public debates. See below for the op-ed written by Suthers, as well as excerpts from news stories detailing his involvement in the effort to defeat the 2006 initiative.

"We expect Attorney General Suthers to abide by his own ethical standards and remain silent during next year's ballot initiative campaign to regulate marijuana like alcohol," said 2012 initiative proponent Brian Vicente. "We do not expect to hear any comments from him or see him at any press conferences, and we certainly should not see any op-eds from him. In fact, I assume I can say right now that the people of Colorado will be making a wise choice to regulate marijuana like alcohol during next year's election and if reporters call Mr. Suthers for a response, he will have to decline."

WHAT: News conference and delivery of ethics pledge to Attorney General Suthers

WHEN: Monday, October 31, 12 p.m.

WHERE: In front of the Office of the Attorney General, 1525 Sherman St., Denver

WHO: Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Mason Tvert, 2012 marijuana initiative proponent Brian Vicente, 2012 marijuana initiative proponent

Examples of Attorney General Suthers' past ethical indiscretions

Denver Post -- December 28, 2005 "On this statewide ballot initiative, law enforcement will weigh in significantly to say what a bad policy legalization is," Suthers said in a statement last month. "If you want to have a debate for legalization of marijuana, then let's have a full-out debate, which I think this initiative will engender," he said.

Colorado Springs Gazette -- December 29, 2005 Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said they would oppose the measure if it gets on the November 2006 ballot.

Denver Post -- February 9, 2006 "Their message is going to be that somehow smoking pot is less of a danger than alcohol abuse so we ought to support it as an alternative - smoking pot in lieu of alcohol," Suthers said. "That's not the message we should send to our children."

"If the initiative gets to the ballot we will put together a broad-based coalition to oppose it..."

Grand Junction Daily Sentinel -- October 13, 2006 Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, joined by local elected and federal law enforcement officials, tore into the measure, Amendment 44 on Thursday.

KMGH ABC 7 -- October 27, 2006 Gov. Bill Owens and the state's top law enforcement officers planned a press event on the west steps of the Capitol to urge voters to turn down Amendment 44, which would legalize adult possession of one ounce of marijuana.... "People should consider whether they want to see Colorado become a haven for drug use in America and what that might mean for the level of crime and quality of life in our communities," argued Suthers.

Rocky Mountain News -- October 21, 2006

"Relative safety of drug an incorrect and irresponsible argument" By John Suthers

The proponents of Amendment 44 base their assertion that possession of marijuana should be legalized on the premise that it is a safe alternative to alcohol. That message is both incorrect and irresponsible and I hope the voters of Colorado will reject it. Our American society is plagued by moral relativism, and the campaign in support of Amendment 44 is a classic example of it. They suggest that society should condone the harm brought on by marijuana intoxication because, in their view, it is surpassed by the harm brought about by alcohol intoxication. That is an irresponsible message, particularly for our children.

When small amounts of marijuana were legalized for adults in Alaska between 1978 and 1990, the National Household Survey of Drug Use in America showed that by the late '80s 52 percent of Alaskan teenagers used marijuana. That was almost three times the rate of marijuana use by teenagers in the rest of the nation. That was part of the reason that marijuana was recriminalized in Alaska in 1990. In the Netherlands, the "coffee shop" legalization of marijuana resulted in use of marijuana by Dutch teenagers nearly tripling in just eight years.

Marijuana is not the benign drug that proponents of Amendment 44 portray it to be. In 1981, the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in marijuana was 1.83 percent, which rose to 5.62 percent in 2003. (THC is the hallucinatory chemical that is the principal and most active ingredient in marijuana.) The THC content of high-grade marijuana rose from 6.58 percent in 1981 to 14.1 percent in 2003.

Corresponding to the increased potency of the THC content in marijuana was a sixfold increase in emergency room admissions because of marijuana use during the decade of the '90s, even though the number of marijuana users remained relatively the same. Between 1992 and 2002, there was a 162 percent increase in treatment admissions for marijuana use as the primary substance of abuse. Today, 62 percent of teens in drug treatment are there for marijuana use.

The proponents of Amendment 44 contend that the law is not a deterrent to illicit drug use. In fact, the National Household Survey indicates that many of our citizens, including our children, are deterred from drug use because it is against the law. Sixty percent of teenagers who do not use drugs indicate that the primary reason they do not do so is because it is illegal. The adverse impact on their health is the second most frequently cited reason.

The proponents of Amendment 44 have also recklessly created a significant legal issue. Under current law the transfer of less than an ounce of marijuana from someone over the age of 18 to someone over the age of 15 is deemed possession of marijuana and not distribution. So in legalizing possession of less than an ounce of marijuana for people over 21, the proponents are unwittingly advocating legalization of the transfer of less than an ounce of marijuana from someone over 21 to anyone over 15. Their retort is that such activity could still be prosecuted under the felony offense of "contributing to the delinquency of a minor." But I assure you that a creative defense attorney will make the argument that the voters, if they pass Amendment 44, specifically directed that such activity be legalized.

Despite the claims of critics to the contrary, the battle against drug abuse in the United States can claim significant success. In 1979, the National Household Survey indicated that 14.1 percent of Americans had used an illicit drug in the last 30 days. This year that number will likely be between 6 percent and 7 percent. A 50 percent reduction in illicit drug use in America is not something that you read about on editorial pages very often. We have also reduced teenage use of marijuana by 20 percent in the last four years.

This is simply not the time to raise a white flag and give up the battle against drug abuse in Colorado. We need to send a very clear message to our children, and that message is that the only safe alternative to intoxication is sobriety.

John Suthers is Colorado's attorney general.

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act: Mason Tvert upbeat despite infighting claim."

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