Marijuana Advocate Rejects Reports of Backlash Against Legalization

In recent weeks, anti-marijuana advocates have been pushing polls they say show a majority of people in Colorado and beyond are cooling on cannabis legalization. But Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project and a primary proponent for Amendment 64, which legalized limited pot sales in Colorado, doesn't see a new groundswell of opposition.

See also: Top 8 Ways Marijuana Will Supposedly Destroy Your Life -- and a New Try at Real Pot Education

As we've reported, the results of a recent Colorado-centric poll performed under the auspices of Suffolk University were synopsized like so:
Colorado voters may be having second thoughts about the legalization of marijuana. A slight majority of voters (50.2 percent) say they do not agree with the decision to legalize recreational marijuana in that state -- a decision made by voters in 2012 -- while 46 percent continue to support the decision. Nearly 49 percent do not approve of how the state is managing legalized pot, compared to 42 percent who approve.
The findings were ballyhooed by Bob Doyle, chairman of Colorado SAM, an affiliate of Project SAM, a national group that opposes the greater availability of marijuana. In a statement, Doyle said, "We have always believed that when voters were given the facts about marijuana, the marijuana industry, and the failings of commercialization, they would oppose legalization. It is unfortunate Colorado has been the lab rat of the marijuana industry, but we're confident legalization will only be temporary as opposition to legalization grows and our education of people across the state increases."

Tvert isn't buying it. He points out that Suffolk pollsters focused their questions on "likely midterm voters, which is a much less representative sample of the state. It tends to be an older and more conservative population." And neither is he especially persuaded by the objectivity of a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, a poll that found support for legalization nationally had slipped from 51 percent last year to 44 percent.

Such a dip here doesn't make sense to Tvert given evidence like a recent Brookings Institute report showing that Colorado's pot roll-out is succeeding.

"I think state officials and independent think tanks alike have concluded that implementation is going quite well," he maintains -- particularly given that "this is a 180 degree transformation in activity following eighty-plus years of prohibition. The notion that implementation would be entirely seamless, with no new questions, is unrealistic. But overall, things have gone incredibly well."

In his view, "we've seen no significant problems stemming from the new laws, and they've already accomplished many of the goals they were intended to accomplish. First and foremost, they've dramatically reduced the number of adults punished for using marijuana -- and virtually eliminated it in regard to simple possession. They've also generated millions of dollars in new tax revenue. We're seeing millions of dollars of marijuana sales taking place in licensed, tax-paying businesses instead of the underground market. And there's no evidence of teen marijuana use going up. In fact, the trend seems to be going down. I don't know what better results could have been expected."

Cannabis critics perceive things quite differently. Take the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, whose latest report suggests that pot-impaired driving fatalities have gone up 100 percent in the past five years.

For his part, Tvert is very dubious of these claims. The RMHIDTA "is run by an individual" -- Tom Gorman -- "who contributed money and proactively worked on the campaign against Amendment 64. That's virtually unheard of in terms of government officials, and it's actually shameful that they're trying to pass themselves off as an objective law-enforcement agency. The reports they come out with are laughable to anyone who knows anything about academic research. They cite themselves as sources, they go out of their way to fudge the facts and they utterly ignore anything that resembles a benefit of the new laws or anything that conflicts with their political agenda."

He's less dismissive of Smart Colorado. "I don't know that they've had an impact on the views of the electorate," he allows, "but they're participating in the process along with other members of the community, which is one of the benefits cited by the Brookings Institute." Moreover, he agrees that improvements in marijuana-edibles packaging -- a big issue with Smart Colorado -- "is something we should continue to work on."

In the meantime, though, he sees implications that marijuana legalization has birthed a new wave of prohibitionists as entirely unfounded, no matter what the Suffolk and Public Religion Research Institute polls say.

"Nothing has really changed for Coloradans other than the fact that they can now go to legal stores to buy marijuana if they choose," he says.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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