Marijuana initiatives: Why three alternatives to Amendment 64 didn't make ballot

Last February, when Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, was approved for the November ballot, backers of several other pot-related measures, including Initiative 70, Legalize2012's proposal and the Relief for the Possession of Cannabis Act, were trying to duplicate this feat. But at the Monday deadline set by the Colorado Secretary of State's office, none of their proponents submitted any signatures -- meaning voters won't get the chance to consider their proposals. How close did they come to consideration? And what obstacles proved insurmountable? Initiative 70, whose most prominent advocates were Rico Colibri, president of the Cannabis Alliance for Regulation & Education (CARE) and longtime marijuana activist Kathleen Chippi, definitely wasn't a clone of Amendment 64. Here's how our William Breathes described it in an April post:

The measure would make consumption, possession and limited personal cultivation a constitutional right in Colorado -- legal for anyone 21 and up -- and would allow commercial cannabis sales, regulated similarly to existing tobacco sales. In addition, the proposal would remove any of the current laws and penalties associated with cannabis use, distribution and cultivation. And it would also pave the way for industrial hemp in Colorado by demanding agricultural regulations from the Department of Agriculture.

This week, we contacted Colibri to ask how many signatures were collected and why the proposal fell short of its goal. In response, Chippi sent a statement written in both of their names. It reads:

I-70 campaign is extremely enthusiastic with the significant amount of signatures we gathered in the limited amount of time we had available. We concur with the opinion of certain senators and MMED officials that unfortunately no language will pass this year as a result of many social and political factors. We are confident with the appropriate time and funds we will pass our language in the near future. We are actively seeking community input and assistance in perfecting our language and our fundraising efforts.

Legalize2012 was actually the first group to start the process of putting together an initiative for the upcoming election, launching a website in November 2010, around the time the marijuana legalization measure known as Proposition 19 was rejected by voters in California. A series of meetings took place over the next year plus, with a final draft completed early this year. Here's how proponent Laura Kriho described it to us in this excerpt from a January report:

"We remove all of the criminal statutes related to marijuana," she says. "It sets up an independent commission composed of cannabis experts, who'll implement the rest of the law and write commercial regulations -- and our qualification for commercial regulation is that it not be onerous and burdensome...."

In addition, the Re-legalization Act "establishes cannabis as a fundamental right in Colorado" -- an issue that came to the fore due to a court case involving Jason Beinor, a medical marijuana patient who lost his street-sweeping job after testing positive for pot. "That's why Amendment 20 is falling down in the courts, and we clear that up."

In the end, though, the campaign was short-circuited.

"We never even printed petitions," Kriho says, explaining that we had "no money.

"You get all the politics you can afford," she goes on, "and we couldn't afford to do it. We had done initiatives in '92 and '94, and we also didn't have enough money to get them on the ballot -- and it's very demoralizing to lead people all the way through a campaign to have that happen. I vowed not to do that again unless we had enough money to finish it, and we didn't."

The story is similar but not identical when it comes to the Relief for the Possession of Cannabis Act, officially known as Initiative 40.

Page down to read more about Initiative 40, as well as responses from advocates about whether or not they'll support Amendment 64. Initiative 40 was by far the most succinct of the various ballot proposals about marijuana that have been floated over the past year or so. As William Breathes noted in this January post, the text of the measure consisted of a single sentence:

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado state constitution directing the judiciary branch of all governing bodies in the state of Colorado to prohibit their courts from imposing any fine or sentence for the possession of cannabis?
The idea, said Michelle LaMay, the dean and CEO of Cannabis University Inc., is that without fines and prison sentences to back up the laws, there would be no motive for police to enforce them.

The simplicity of the measure was appealing to people, LaMay says -- but that wasn't enough. "We had the support," she allows, "but we didn't have the money."

Indeed, LaMay financed the campaign herself with the exception of some modest donations and one larger gift of $10,000 that came in at practically the eleventh hour. She had volunteers circulating petitions throughout the state, including on the Western Slope, which she feels was largely ignored by other pro-pot groups. She declines to say the precise number of signatures they collected, but estimates it at about 25 percent of the 86,105 required to meet the Secretary of State's threshold by mid-July.

At that point, however, she says she gained access to a list of registered voters in Colorado and discovered to her frustration that a good 40 percent of the signatures would likely be ruled invalid.

"We were very strict" about checking for registration, she says. "But so many people don't know whether they're registered to vote, or where they think they are, due to redistricting issues and overly aggressive county clerks, who are deactivating people who didn't vote in 2010."

As a result, LaMay withdrew the petitions, choosing not to waste the time of folks at the Secretary of State's office when it was clear her mission would not be successful.

Nevertheless, LaMay stresses that "I'm hopeful -- I'm not angry. I never ran into any negative walls, and I'm literally on a roll now. The biggest check didn't come in until the last four weeks -- and I'm thinking about the same law for 2014."

Such a do-over might strike voters at redundant should Amendment 64 win approval. But Kriho hopes it doesn't pass. In her view, "Amendment 64 is absolutely the wrong model. When they wrote 64, their idea was that we already have a workable medical-marijuana model, so we should follow that. But more than half of the dispensaries that existed before 1284" -- the 2010 law that regulated the MMJ industry -- "are out of business, and that doesn't sound like a workable model to me. You can't take your freedom one gram at a time. If you try to do that, you're going to create a new position for a whole lot of law enforcement to measure that gram.... And Amendment 64 gives too much money to law enforcement."

She adds that Amendment 64 reached the ballot mainly due to a petition effort financed by donations in the $2 million range, the majority of it from out of state. For that reason, she portrays the Regulate measure as representative of "outsiders' agenda" instead of a homegrown proposal.

(Update: The Amendment 64 disputes Kriho's statements above. According to the campaign, about $200,000 was spent on the petition drive -- not $2 million. In addition, over 1,000 Coloradans volunteered to collect signatures and more than 150 Colorado businesses helped out. Finally, the proposal is backed by the two largest marijuana reform organizations in the state -- SAFER and Sensible Colorado, which combined have membership in excess of 20,000 Colorado supporters.)

Colibri, too, has hardly been transformed into a cheerleader for Amendment 64. In response to the description of the act in the forthcoming Blue Book for the 2012 election (it's essentially a voter's guide), CARE has assembled a line-by-line dissection of the latest draft, with plenty of objections to the language. Read the current Blue Book draft and the CARE response below.

Amendment 64 Blue Book Entry Third Draft

CARE Response to Amendment 64 Blue Book Entry, Third Draft

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Ten dispensaries targeted in third wave of U.S. Attorney closure letters."

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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