Marijuana legalization debate preview: Meet the advocates who'll be hashing it out

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It's fitting that Wednesday night's debate between Colorado cannabis activists has been dubbed "Round One."

The event is being advertised as a "lively and friendly" debate -- but if it's as impassioned and fiery as the comments on our marijuana blogs have been, it might be closer to a royal rumble.

While most of the groups agree that legalization is the ultimate goal, there's heavy disagreement on how to get there. Last month, attorneys Brian Vicente and Mason Tvert submitted ballot language. That prompted outcry from other groups, including the Cannabis Therapy Institute, about being left out of discussions. Blog posts about the perceived exclusion (like the ones accessible here and here) garnered hundreds of passionate takes from people on both side.

Editor's note/update: Tvert strongly disagrees with the assertion that CTI and other groups were left out of discussions about the initiatives with which he's involved. Get his take on the controversy in the May 24 post "Marijuana legalization: Mason Tvert touts initiative process openness, seeks more input." He also stresses that the initiatives were the work of advocates representing a broad coalition of interested parties, not just him and Vicente.

To hash things out and (hopefully) reach some common ground, Legalize2012.com has organized the Great Legalization Debate of 2012 Wednesday night at Casselmans, 2620 Walnut Street. Speakers representing five of the leading proposals will discuss why their approach is the best for Colorado. And while everyone interviewed told Mile Highs and Lows they were open to discussion, they were also sure their plan took the right approach.

Westword editor Patricia Calhoun will referee/moderate the event, which is free and open to the public. She usually prefers a cold beer to a bong -- but by the end of the evening, she may be eager for both.

Great Legalization Debates of 2012 -- Round One 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 22 Casselman's Bar and Venue 2620 Walnut St. in Denver

Page down for speaker profiles and summaries of their proposals. Proposal: Free Colorado Cannabis Act Proponent: Corey Donahue Donahue has a background in international law and international relations and has worked with several human-rights organizations, including Amnesty International. He insists that current marijuana laws are a violation of people's human rights, and says that other proposals -- specifically the initiative filed by Mason Tvert and Brian Vicente in May -- are more about "softening the blow of criminalization" than true legalization and might actually create more crimes by including language about taxation and regulation. For Donahue, removing regulation is the only acceptable move. "I am working to make sure my amendment is as freedom-expanding as possible," he says. "I don't want to put restrictions on people." Proposal highlights: Complete legalization of cannabis without restrictions on possession amounts for adults eighteen years and older; no registry -- cannabis purchases treated similarly to alcohol; sales tax; creation of 4/20 as an official state holiday; the release of anyone incarcerated for marijuana offenses in the state; rewording Colorado law to change "marijuana" and "marihuana" to cannabis. Proposal: Colorado Safer Communities & Health Initiative Proponent: Reverent Brandon Baker, a third-generation cannabis farmer, says his views on marijuana laws were shaped at a young age, when he watched his father's home raided by police. The fact that he can grow marijuana legally as a caregiver while his father is still considered a criminal is absurd, he says. Baker now serves as a minister in the Greenfaith Ministry. His relatively simple proposal was honed through months of discussions with peers in person and on Facebook. Basically, he explains, it's the same tax and regulation system that applies to home brewers. In fact, the language would be nearly identical, with any reference to brewing replaced by language referring to cannabis cultivation. Penalties for illegal wholesale, retail or manufacturing would mirror alcohol violations, and all language making cannabis illegal would be eliminated. "If it isn't removed from the law books, it isn't legalization," he notes. "Call it what it is: decriminalization. I'd still support decriminalization, but you have to be honest about what it is." Proposal highlights: Eight plant and eight-ounce limit for personal amounts, more for retail; legal for adults eighteen years and older; all language making marijuana illegal in Colorado removed from revised statutes and Colorado Controlled Substances act; potential clemency/pardons for all non-violent cannabis convictions; industrial hemp legalized, subject only to existing agricultural zoning laws; tax revenue to be spent on industry oversight, public schools, Medicaid and "community betterment programs." Proposal: Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act Proponent: Mason Tvert Tvert and marijuana lawyer Brian Vicente got the jump on other proposals by filing their proposed ballot measure in May. Tvert is best known as the head of the SAFER campaign, which has challenged everyone to think about marijuana as a safer substitute to alcohol. SAFER's 2006 attempt to legalize marijuana in the state failed; the 2007 campaign to decriminalize the plant in Denver gained voter approval. This go-round, his proposal is backed by a coalition of several groups. "I got into this issue because I cannot stand to see people's lives disrupted and even ruined solely for using a substance that is far safer than alcohol," Tvert says. "I've had my life disrupted, and know many, many other people who have undergone scrutiny or punishment for marijuana." Proposal highlights: Legal for 21 and up; remove penalties for up to one ounce of marijuana and allow adults to grow up to six plants (three mature) and keep all marijuana produced even if over one ounce; DOR regulated; no database -- just show your ID, like liquor; industrial hemp legalized; state must allow for licensed retail stores as well as cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities; state can enact up to 15 percent tax on wholesale sales. Proposal name: The Cannabis and Hemp Relegalization Act Proponent: Laura Kriho Kriho has been one of Colorado's most outspoken marijuana activists since her first campaign to legalize industrial and recreational cannabis use in the state in 1992; that initiative failed to gain the needed signatures to get on the ballot. From 1995 to 1997, as an aide to former state senator Lloyd Casey, she spearheaded another campaign to legalize industrial hemp. Kriho helped to form the Cannabis Therapy Institute to "address the issues with medical marijuana laws." She notes that her proposed ballot measure does not set limits, but leaves regulation up to the intent of the user. "Any time you create a number [limit], you create a position for law enforcement to weigh against that limit," she says. "We want to get away from tracking and counting and weighing. If you leave it to intent... it is a lot fairer to the user than if you put some arbitrary number on the limit." Proposal highlights: Abolition of all current marijuana-related crimes; potential clemency/pardon of past marijuana-related convictions, dependent on an "independent cannabis commission" of seven to nine members appointed by the governor and made up of cannabis experts; possession amounts based on intent (retail, wholesale, personal use); legalization of industrial hemp Proposal name: The Danish Plan Proponent: Paul Danish Danish, a former Boulder city councilman and current columnist for the Boulder Weekly, has been outspoken in his opposition to the war on drugs. His approach to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado isn't exactly legalization; instead, it leans more toward heavy decriminalization without forcing politically squeamish voters to decide on whether or not to legalize marijuana outright. As he wrote in the Weekly: "... my approach may seem inconsistent, ambivalent and contradictory. But it has one overarching virtue: It probably reflects the feelings of a majority of the voters on marijuana legalization, which are inconsistent, ambivalent and contradictory. In a perfect world, I would prefer an outright legalization initiative. But over the years I've learned two political lessons that apply here: 1. Elections are decided by the most ambivalent voters, not by the most passionate. 2. The guy who said politics is the art of the possible knew what he was talking about." Proposal highlights: Not outright legalization; would constitutionally prevent the punishment for use and possession in the state; would allow cultivation of up to six plants; would allow the legislature to "adopt laws providing for the regulated sale of marijuana and for its production for sale and for its taxation." Proposal: Responsible Adult use and equalization of Cannabis laws Proponent: Rico Colibri Colibri serves as the vice president of the Association of Cannabis Trades. He has been a patient and caregiver in Colorado for nearly ten years, and like Donahue, he sees the legalization of marijuana as a human-rights issue. He points out that drug laws are often disproportionately applied to minorities and the poor, and believes legalizing marijuana would end the criminalization of those groups in large numbers. "We need to pull the power away from the cartels that are turning inner-city neighborhoods into Beirut," he explains. Colibri says his plan closely follows the regulations for tobacco, though the age limit for cannabis consumption would be 21 and not eighteen; it would also pave the way for legalizing cannabis coffee shops, much like legal cigar bars. Proposal highlights: Model based on tobacco regulation, locks in business licensing fees no higher than current tobacco fees; sets legal age at 21; allows for eight flowering plants and up to a quarter pound for each individual and a half pound for a household every month; earmarks taxes for drug rehab, education and health care. Proposal: The "Inalienable Right" model. Proponent: Kathleen Chippi Chippi has been a cannabis activist for nearly twenty years. In the early '90s, she was the first person to produce and package hemp foods, selling them in grocery stores around the country under the brand Heavenly Hemp Foods. Chippi says her life as a cannabis activist stems from her religious belief in cannabis as the Tree of Life; she's formed her own church, Closer to the Heart Ministries, based on those ideas. She worries that the cannabis community in Colorado lacks cohesion, and hopes the debate is the start of a more open dialogue: "We are all allowed our different opinions, but we all need to talk with each other." Her plan is to rework Article 2, Section 3 of the Colorado Constitution to include the use and right to grow cannabis as a fundamental human right. Proposal highlights: Does not limit age or plant count.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana enforcement division on cooperating with other police agencies."

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