Marijuana: Amendment 64 Blue Book changes, legislator criticism don't worry proponent

Yesterday, members of the Legislative Council Committee asked for changes in the Blue Book description of Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, suggesting along the way that the initiative is likely to spur lawsuits. Opponents pounced on these assertions and others, but a 64 backer thinks the impact is being overstated.

As reported by the Associated Press, some of those on the council objected to sections of the Blue Book -- the state-funded guide intended to inform voters about issues on the November ballot -- that pertain to an excise tax legislators are directed to enact if the measure passes.

The AP offers this quote from Senator John Morse, a Colorado Springs-area Democrat: "Now all of a sudden we got a new constitutional amendment that may say, 'Hey, we can dictate how legislators vote all the time.' It would be offensive to our system of government in my view, but it may turn out to be the law of the land."

These weren't the only objections to the Blue Book language. Assorted council members also worried about possible suits the passage of Amendment 64 could generate, as well as revenue projections and descriptions that struck some as objectionable.

Hence, the following paragraph was inserted into a background section pertaining to taxes. It reads:

This measure requires that the state legislature enact an excise tax. The current Colorado Constitution forbids a member of the state legislature to be bound to vote for or against any bill or measure pending or proposed to the state legislature. Because of this inherent conflict, the excise tax outlined in this measure might not be imposed. Additionally, this issue may result in significant litigation.

In addition, two minor tweaks were made to sentences in the Blue Book passages presenting arguments in favor of Amendment 64.

The first sentence in question originally read, "Current state policies that criminalize marijuana fail to prevent its use and availability and have contributed to the growth of an underground market." The new version -- "Current state policies that criminalize marijuana fail to prevent its use and availability and have contributed to an underground market" -- excises "the growth of."

The second revision is similar. A sentence that previously stated, "By creating a framework for marijuana to be legal, taxed and regulated under state law, Amendment 64 provides a new, more logical direction for the state" now reads, "By creating a framework for marijuana to be legal, taxed and regulated under state law, Amendment 64 provides a new direction for the state," with the words "more logical" left on the cutting-room floor.

These alterations don't affect the amendment itself or the way it'll appear on the ballot -- just the Blue Book. So does it mean much in the grand scheme of things? Shockingly enough, those on opposite sides of the issue have very different views.

Continue reading to get dueling takes about the Amendment 64 Blue Book changes. Following the meeting, Smart Colorado, the No on 64 campaign, put out a release entitled "Recreational Marijuana Legalization Effort Encounters More Obstacles As Lawmakers Raise Questions in 'Blue Book' Hearing." The text asserts that the committee "voted to remove misleading language and strengthen warnings about the negative impact of marijuana," as well as raising "serious questions about the purported tax revenues from the sale of marijuana in the state."

Also included was this statement from campaign director Roger Sherman: "Republicans and Democrats joined together to ensure voters receive a fair and unbiased analysis of Amendment 64. We are confident when voter consider the serious consequences of Amendment 64, they will not support it."

Amendment 64 proponent Brian Vicente says he's equally confident "that when voters read the amendment, and when they read the Blue Book and take part in the public discussion happening around this issue, they'll understand that marijuana prohibition is a failed policy and this is a sensible step in the right direction that will produce large amounts of tax revenue for the state and lead to a better use of law-enforcement resources."

Vicente, who attended the hearing, doesn't think "the legislators had any concrete fear that this amendment wouldn't pass constitutional muster. They were uncomfortable with certain provisions of it, but there really weren't any allegations that it was unconstitutional or would not be a legal piece of legislation if it was passed."

And even if that happens, he goes on, the amendment has a "severability clause, which says that if a piece of the amendment was found not to be constitutional, the rest of it would be able to stand."

Regarding the tax mention, Vicente finds the objections to be rather puzzling. "The amendment requires the legislature to pass an up-to-15-percent excise that would then go in front of the voters -- and it's simply unfathomable to me and any intelligent citizen that we would legalize marijuana sales but not pass an excise tax. So that really seems like a false argument to me.

"There's a reason we have citizen-led ballot initiatives," he maintains. "It's because legislators are not leading on this issue. This is marijuana reform, and really, any common-sense drug-policy reform almost always percolates up from citizens. Colorado legislators have not historically been leaders on this, which is why we're allowing voters to speak out and establish a more sensible marijuana policy -- because the legislature has failed to do so."

Regarding the removal of the word "growth," Vicente says "there wasn't a clear consensus" about whether current policies are causing an expansion of the underground market. And taking out "logical" from another passage strikes him as an example of legislators "attempting to put their personal views in there and influence voters -- and we think that's inappropriate."

Not that he sees the results as highly problematic.

"At the end of the day," he says, "the summary ballot title and the language are carefully crafted and take Colorado in a smart new direction. Our opponents are grasping at anything they can to try to scare voters into supporting the failed policy of marijuana prohibition: We've seen this for decades, where they're going to hang on their hat on anything that might seem to show the war on drugs is working. But I think voters can read through this and realize that marijuana prohibition has been a spectacular failure and it's time for us to tax and regulate marijuana."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Amendment 64 rep sees new TV ad as positive alternative to negative campaigning."

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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.
Contact: Michael Roberts