Marijuana Amendment 64 backers sue over Blue Book text they say is slanted against them

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Update:A Denver District Court judge will hear a lawsuit filed by Amendment 64 backers over Blue Book language. The hearing takes place at 1:30 p.m. today in Courtroom 215 of the Denver City-County Building. Continue for more suit details.

Original post, 9:44 a.m. September 10: On Thursday, Amendment 64's Brian Vicente told us he was frustrated by changes made in the voters' Blue Book section about the marijuana initiative but regarded them as fairly minor.

In succeeding days, however, that tune has been rewritten. This morning, the campaign is filing a lawsuit on view below to delay the Blue Book's printing, allegedly because the guide is now heavily weighted toward opponents. How so?

"Basically, this takes the arguments for the amendment down to 206 words," Vicente says, "and the arguments against are 366 words" -- meaning the "against" argument is approximately 75 percent longer than the "for" passage.

"We really don't think this is in any way fair and impartial," he continues. "The state has a constitutional duty to provide voters with a fair and impartial Blue Book" -- and compounding the problem, Vicente believes, is the supposition that "the language was removed by accident."

At first, Vicente thought only two words were removed from a couple of sentences, and a new paragraph was inserted; the later suggested that "significant litigation" could result from passage of the measure, and legislators couldn't be directed to pass an excise tax on marijuana sales. But later, he learned that three sentences in the "for" argument were also removed. They read:

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.

And here's the suit's description of how they were excised:

At the September 5, 2012 public meeting, after a discussion about modifying the first paragraph of the Amendment 64 Arguments For section, Senator Mark Scheffel proposed simplifying the discussion by addressing parts of the paragraph separately. His exact words were, "I'm just trying to divide this so we can tackle this paragraph into two parts." There was then discussion about the first two sentences in the paragraph. A motion was then made by Senator Scheffel, which he began by saying, "So let me clarify Mr. Speaker, I would move that we limit our discussion ending with "state" on page 29, and that it read..." He then proposed striking the words "more logical" and the word "growth" from the first two sentences in the paragraph. The motion passed unanimously....

Unbeknownst to a significant number of the Members of the Legislative Council, Scheffel's motion was interpreted to entirely remove the last three sentences of Argument 1 in addition to modifying the first two sentence of that Argument.

Vicente admits campaign reps like him didn't realize what had happened -- and he insists they weren't alone. "There was a lot of confusion going on in that room, and a significant number of legislators ended up voting for something they didn't understand the true intent of."

Among those who tried to undo the damage was Representative Mark Ferrandino, who asked that the three sentences be restored. But to overrule the unanimous vote on the motion, Ferrandino's request needed twelve votes, and the tally was only eight to five.

From Vicente's perspective, though, the motion wouldn't have passed in the first place, let alone by unanimous vote, if Ferrandino and company had realized they were voting to take out the last three sentences rather than changing two words in previous ones.

Continue reading to see the lawsuit and learn more about the controversy. Hence the lawsuit, which is intended "to do two things," Vincente says. "One, it requests a temporary restraining order to delay the state from printing the Blue Book. And secondly, it asks for a preliminary injunction to either re-insert the sentences that were mistakenly removed or have a re-hearing to have a vote on that issue."

At such a session, Vicente would be open to adjusting the language in question, as long as the "for" and "against" sections are roughly the same size. "We would certainly welcome that sort of solution," he stresses. "We're taking this to court so we can find a path forward that will allow voters to see both sides of the arguments here."

Speed is of the essence: It's Vicente's understanding that the final Blue Book text was supposed to be sent to the printer this morning. "That's why we're asking for expedited relief, and we're hoping the judge will hear the case soon" -- perhaps in the next day or two.

In the meantime, he says, "we don't want voters to receive incomplete information about this amendment. We think they deserve to hear that marijuana is safer than alcohol, that courts should focus on more serious crimes and use law-enforcement resources more wisely instead of pursuing adults for possessing small amounts of marijuana. And we think the voters should be aware prosecutions for small amounts of marijuana make things difficult for people later in life.

"These are factual arguments for Amendment 64, and there's no reason voters shouldn't be presented with them before deciding how to vote."

A press conference on this issue will be held on the steps of the Denver District Courthouse, 1437 Bannock Street, at 11 a.m. this morning. Until then, here's the lawsuit:

Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol v. State of Colorado

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Amendment 64 Blue Book changes, legislator criticism don't worry proponent."

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