Marijuana: Amendment 64 backers lose Blue Book fight, rip government deception

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Update: The backers of Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, have lost their court fight to restore arguments in favor of the initiative that were stripped from the Blue Book voters guide during a hearing last week. Proponent Brian Vicente admits to frustration over this ruling and rips the process that he thinks led to the problem in the first place.

To recap: At a legislative council hearing to finalize the Blue Book language, a number of legislators thought they were voting to take out a couple of words from separate sentences only to discover that a big chunk of the argument in favor of Amendment 64's approval had wound up on the cutting-room floor. Moreover, efforts to restore the excised section were unsuccessful for technical reasons.

Amendment 64 supporters responded by filing a lawsuit in an effort to prevent printing of the Blue Book before a judge could decide if the snipped passages should be restored. Today, however, attorneys representing the State of Colorado argued that the judge didn't have the power to intervene due to the separation of powers -- i.e., the judiciary can't block the actions of the legislature. This theory won the day in a 2006 suit over the Blue Book description of a marijuana measure proposed that year (get details below), and it did so again this afternoon.

Vicente's reaction?

"We feel this is a loss for the voters of Colorado," he says. "Unfortunately, the voters are now going to receive incomplete information in the Blue Book. They're not going to be able to see a full discussion of both sides of this issue.

"Unfortunately, we've seen decades of propaganda and government actions trying to prevent people from educating themselves about marijuana prohibition. But this is a new low in the government's attempt to hold up this failed policy."

Is Vicente directly accusing Amendment 64 opponents on the legislative council of engaging in dirty tricks and sleazy strategies to undermine the initiative's odds of winning at the November ballot box? Not quite, but he comes close.

"I guess I'd say this is just the latest example of how the government skews information about marijuana and confuses the public in order to keep the wasteful policy of marijuana prohibition alive," he responds. "We believe the legislative council is simply deceiving the public by not allowing them to have a fair and impartial Blue Book that presents both sides of the argument."

What kind of impact might the Blue Book decision have on the outcome of the election?

"We feel the public doesn't like being deceived," he says. "Many voters may end up voting for Amendment 64 as a protest vote against this dishonest government action. We believe it's going to be a close vote, and unlike the other side, we believe voters should have information on both sides of this issue. So we think this could lead to a backlash, because voters are tired of the lies and hypocrisy that have been going on since the 1930s."

Meanwhile, Laura Chapin, spokeswoman for Smart Colorado, the No on 64 organization, praises the ruling.

"Amendment 64 isn't even in front of the voters yet, and it's already sparking lawsuits," she points out. "This is exactly why people should vote no on 64. What the court said was, there is a process in place when it comes to the Blue Book. The proponents failed to follow it. And the fact that they didn't like the outcome doesn't mean they get to spend taxpayer time and money trying to overturn it."

What about the argument that voters are the losers in this process, because they won't receive all the information they need to properly weigh the merits of the measure?

"They should have addressed that during the Blue Book process," she replies. "They knew what it was, they knew when it was happening, they knew what would happen. That was the venue for addressing it, and that's what the judge said today. The fact that they didn't do their due diligence during the Blue Book process doesn't entitle them to spend taxpayer time and money trying to overturn it."

Continue to read about a similar Blue Book fight over a 2006 marijuana measure, which ended with the same result. Original post, 8:15 a.m. September 12: This afternoon, Amendment 64 backers are slated to argue in court that changes made in the Blue Book voters guide to the marijuana measure should be reversed. The experience sparks déjà vu for proponent Mason Tvert. After all, a similar Blue Book dust-up took place in 2006 over a different marijuana-legalization measure.

As we've reported, the state's legislative council held a hearing last week that excised the following three sentences from the pro-Amendment 64 section of the Blue Book, a ballot guide provided to state voters:

The use of marijuana by adults may be less harmful than the use of alcohol or tobacco, both of which are already legal for adults to use and are regulated by the state. Furthermore, marijuana may be beneficial for individuals with certain debilitating conditions. The consequences of burdening adults with a criminal record for possession of small amounts of marijuana are too severe, and there are better uses for state resources than prosecuting such low-level crimes.

According to proponents, many of the legislators on the council thought they were approving the removal of two words from previous sentences, not the elimination of this text block -- an edit that creates an imbalance between the arguments for the measure (206 words) versus those against it (366 words).

Tvert hopes today's hearing, in which a judge will be asked to reinstate this language and order a hearing so legislators can address the issue, will turn out differently than one six years ago. Back then, the initiative Tvert supported, dubbed Amendment 44, "added five words to the Colorado statute pertaining to marijuana possession," he allows. "Colorado law said it's illegal for anyone to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. And all we did was add 'under the age of 21,' thereby omitting adults 21 and older, and allowing them to possess an ounce of marijuana legally."

Seems simple enough -- but, Tvert says, the legislative council that approves Blue Book text "included a false statement that the initiative we were running would make it legal to transfer marijuana without remuneration to people who were fifteen to eighteen years old, when, in fact, it would have remained entirely illegal."

The claim is not entirely without foundation. "Another statute said transferring marijuana without remuneration is defined as possession," Tvert notes. "Therefore, our initiative, by making possession legal for adults 21 and over, also in theory made transferring without remuneration legal."

However, Tvert goes on, such a transfer "would have remained a crime, because it would have been contributing to the delinquency of a minor. And that crime had a more severe penalty than marijuana possession."

Continue reading about the Blue Book fights of 2006 and 2012. This distinction was omitted from the Blue Book analysis, Tvert says. "Their argument was, 'If you look only at the marijuana statute, that's what it does' -- which is obviously absurd."

As such, Tvert and the campaign for the initiative filed a lawsuit and went to court, at which time "the attorney for the state legislature argued that the court had no ability to consider the facts of the case because of a separation-of-powers issue" -- the identical assertion being made this time around.

Another echo of the previous scrap? The Denver Post, which has not yet taken a position on Amendment 64 but has criticized some elements of it, has published an opinion piece ripping the legislative council over the Blue Book edit. And back in 2006, Tvert recalls, "the Rocky Mountain News, which actually opposed our issue, wrote a blistering editorial that took the legislative council to task. It said something along the lines of, 'This poisons the Blue Book process forever.'"

Actually, the editorial suggested that the move would "cloud the reputation of the Blue Book for years to come." Read it here.

Nonetheless, the judge agreed with opponents in 2006, and the disputed language remained in the Blue Book. And while its inclusion probably wasn't decisive -- Amendment 44 lost by a 60-40 margin -- it still sticks in Tvert's craw. He hopes the judge in today's case will rule differently.

"The attorney on behalf of the state argued in court on Monday that no one should be able to hear the facts of the case, because legislators should be able to do what they want without interference from the judicial branch," he says. "But when our legislators fail to do things appropriately, it's up to our judiciary to check them.

"Various levels of our government have been fighting to keep marijuana illegal for going on eighty years, so it doesn't come as a huge surprise that we would see this kind of underhanded effort," he adds. "But it's certainly disappointing."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Amendment 64 camp prefers deal to suing over Blue Book language."

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