Yesterday, the backers of Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, held a press event at which retired Denver Police Lieutenant Tony Ryan appeared alongside other law-enforcement representatives who support the measure. Afterward, the head of the main anti-64 group dubbed him a "pro-pot rent-a-cop" -- a designation that confuses Ryan even as it offends the Regulate campaign as a whole.
A 36-year veteran of the Denver Police Department, Ryan was joined at the Denver City and County Building get-together by fellow members of the national organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), among others. A statement from him released afterward offers a good sense of his sentiments. It reads: "Law enforcement officers know better than anyone that keeping marijuana illegal and unregulated means the gangs and cartels that control the illegal trade win, and the rest of us lose. Our current marijuana laws distract police officers from doing the job we signed up for -- protecting the public by stopping and solving serious crimes. They also put us at risk by forcing us to deal with an underground marijuana market made up of gangsters, cartels and other criminals."
Afterward, Roger Sherman, campaign director for Smart Colorado, the No on 64 organization, released comments of his own. They begin: "Today's endorsement by two out-of-state law enforcement organizations and a pro-pot rent-a-cop pales in comparison to the dozens of county sheriffs, chiefs of police, district attorneys and school resource officers that are publically opposed to Amendment 64." See the entire release below.
Today, Amendment 64's Mason Tvert fired back, characterizing Sherman's statement as a "smear" on a decorated cop. Tvert writes: "During his service, Lt. Ryan was one of the first Denver Police Department Medal of Honor recipients, as well as a recipient of the DPD Purple Heart after being shot while on duty. He also received a Merit Award for being an immediate responder to the Columbine High School shooting, the Footprinter's Award for his outstanding performance as a Denver police officer, and DPD's Community Service Award." This release is below in its entirety as well.
What's the man caught in the middle of this political sniping think about the "rent-a-cop" designation? Ryan dismisses the idea that Sherman is likening him to the sort of private security officers who work at malls and other businesses. Instead, he assumes he's being accused of sharing his views in exchange for cash -- which he says he's not.
"He's implying that I get paid for doing this, and I don't," Ryan stresses. "I get nothing for doing this. I just believe we need a change in policy, and since marijuana is the drug than seems to be the most enforced, changing how we deal with that would make a huge difference."
Ryan saw plenty of action during his DPD career -- "getting shot, getting stabbed, getting bitten, a couple of broken bones," he reveals as casually as if he's talking about what he had for breakfast this morning. "The fact that I got some awards is nice," he adds, "but to me, it's about being at the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time and reacting appropriately -- getting the job done when something happens."
From his perspective, though, spending resources on marijuana enforcement makes handling the big crimes more difficult. It's a conclusion he reached decades ago, he says.
Continue to read more of our interview with retired Denver Police Lieutenant Tony Ryan. "Back in the late '60s -- early in my career, when I was a young patrol officer -- the hippies were around, and just having the smell of marijuana in your pocket, an itty-bitty leaf, was a harsh felony," he recalls. "So people would make these busts when we were busier than heck, and they'd have to process the stuff, seal it in a bag and put the guy in jail. They'd be off the street for an hour and a half, and in the meantime, we'd have to cover their part of the city as well as ours while they were messing around with a minor marijuana arrest."
Little has changed in this respect, he believes. "There are online forums where cops talk to each other, and there was one from an officer who said, 'We stopped somebody for something, and we spotted some marijuana. So I'm writing this up while more important calls are coming in -- and I'm sitting there thinking, 'Why am I doing this when I should be responding to these other calls?'"
These views aren't universal among law enforcers, he concedes -- but he feels they're growing in popularity.
"Many heads of agencies speak out in favor of this kind of enforcement activity, and who knows what their reasons are," he says. Meanwhile, "there are at least as many active-duty officers who agree with us, but they don't want to talk about it because of concerns about job security. That kind of puts a damper on people. But I bet it's almost 50 percent of active-duty officers who think we need to be doing other, more important things than arresting someone for marijuana."
As for the odds of Amendment 64 passing, the key, in his view, is getting the message out.
"I was just up in Woodland Park talking to a Rotary Club, and a law enforcement person there said he totally disagreed with me," he notes. "But just about everybody else who was there said, 'I agree with you. We think it's time to change this policy.'"
The amount of rent paid to him for this address? Zero.
Continue to see the complete release from Smart Colorado's Roger Sherman, followed by the response from Amendment 64's Mason Tvert. Smart Colorado release:
FRONTLINE ACTIVE DUTY COLORADO LAW ENFORCEMENT OPPOSES AMENDMENT 64
Denver -- The campaign opposing Amendment 64 has issued the following statement from campaign director Roger Sherman:
"Today's endorsement by two out-of-state law enforcement organizations and a pro-pot rent-a-cop pales in comparison to the dozens of county sheriffs, chiefs of police, district attorneys and school resource officers that are publically opposed to Amendment 64. These men and women are on the front line and understand the serious consequences legalization presents to our communities. [See: http://votenoon64.com/endorsements.html for full list of endorsements.]
"Federal law will continue to ban the production, manufacture, transportation and distribution of marijuana in Colorado regardless of the voters' decision on Amendment 64. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that federal law supersedes state law in this area.
"After years of decline, marijuana-use rates among teenagers are rising rapidly. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) tells us that, by the time they graduate from high school, 42 percent of teens will have tried marijuana. Those numbers are staggering, and should serve as a wake-up call to all of us."
Amendment 64 would amend the Colorado Constitution and make it legal to grow, transport and sell marijuana for recreational use; make it legal for anyone twenty-one years or older to possess and consume up to one ounce of marijuana (about 60 joints and permit opening marijuana retail stores, growing facilities, manufacturing facilities and testing facilities in communities across the state.
Amendment 64 release:
Amendment 64 Campaign Demands Apology from No on 64 Leader for Smearing Highly Decorated 36-Year Veteran of Denver Police Department as a "Rent-A-Cop"
Lt. Tony Ryan (Ret.), one of first DPD Medal of Honor recipients, also received DPD Purple Heart for being shot while on duty and Merit Award for his immediate response to Columbine school shooting
DENVER -- The Amendment 64 campaign is calling on Roger Sherman, the head of the No on 64 campaign, to issue a public apology for demeaning the work of a dedicated and highly decorated public servant. In a statement issued yesterday, Sherman inappropriately and disrespectfully referred to Lt. Tony Ryan (Ret.), a 36-year veteran of the Denver Police Department, as a "rent-a-cop." During his service, Lt. Ryan was one of the first Denver Police Department Medal of Honor recipients, as well as a recipient of the DPD Purple Heart after being shot while on duty. He also received a Merit Award for being an immediate responder to the Columbine High School shooting, the Footprinter's Award for his outstanding performance as a Denver police officer, and DPD's Community Service Award.
Statement from Mason Tvert, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol:
"While this smear is not surprising, given the No on 64 campaign's attempts to mislead the media and the public on every aspect of our initiative and our efforts, we cannot sit by quietly as an honorable and courageous member of law enforcement is treated with such disdain.
"Lt. Ryan should be credited, not discredited, for the fearlessness he has shown in speaking out against the policy of marijuana prohibition. As the No on 64 campaign has unwittingly demonstrated, the larger law enforcement apparatus is not open to a rational discussion about the merits of dedicating massive resources to enforcing marijuana laws. From their perspective, marijuana prohibition is an employment improvement program. As long as they keep arresting people, federal funds keep flowing to their departments. And by spending their limited time going after non-threatening marijuana users, they do not have to spend as much time preventing and investigating more dangerous crimes.
"The pressure to remain silent was evident last year, when Dan Hartman was removed as the head of Colorado's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division after penning a column describing the benefits of a regulated medical marijuana market over an unregulated, underground market in the context of a local ballot initiative. Attorney General John Suthers, the state's chief law enforcement official, referred to this expression of an opinion as 'unethical.' Yet, we have heard nothing from Mr. Suthers over the past few months as sheriffs, drug task force members have proactively voiced their opposition to Amendment 64, despite the fact that their departments financially benefit from maintaining marijuana prohibition.
"Current and former members of law enforcement who have the courage to stand up to a powerful bureaucracy should be praised for advancing the public dialogue, not fired, intimidated or insulted. We hope that Roger Sherman will help move us toward a more tolerant and respectful society by publicly apologizing to Lt. Ryan today."
More from our Marijuana archive: "Amendment 64 camp on law-enforcement support, teachers union opposition."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.