Marijuana regulation: Meet Leonard Frieling, former judge calling for end to pot prohibition

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Yesterday, former judge Leonard Frieling co-starred in a media event at the City and County Building designed to attract attention to the petition-gathering process for the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012. But while the location was great for TV, it wasn't terrific for collecting valid signatures. Frieling says many of the people he approached were tourists -- and one was none other than Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

"I admit I didn't recognize him," Frieling concedes, laughing. "And so, I asked our honorable Secretary of State if he was a registered Colorado voter. He cracked up, and when he told me who he was, I cracked up, too."

No, Gessler didn't sign the petition; Frieling's not sure officials like him are allowed to do so. But he says he'd be shocked if the act failed to collect enough valid signatures from others to make the November 2012 ballot.

As for whether it'll pass, he's less certain. Still, he feels it's a measure whose time has come -- which is why he joined former Denver cop Tony Ryan for a day of petition passing.

Both Frieling and Ryan are members of LEAP: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a national organization that's strongly backing the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. So, too, does Frieling, a former municipal court judge for the City of Lafayette who actually quit his job in 2007 over marijuana policy.

According to him, "The chief judge had gone to the city council and asked that they change the Lafayette city ordinance to provide for a maximum fine of $1,000 and a year in jail for an offense that, on a state level, was a maximum $100 fine -- and Lafayette's ordinance was a maximum $100 fine, too. And I used that opportunity to make a statement.

"I wrote a letter to the Daily Camera, saying I resigned because I refused to enforce that law -- that I wasn't going to stick my head in the sand. And the AP picked it up, and within 24 hours, it went viral. I think in excess of 3,000 e-mails came in to the City of Lafayette, and the ACLU and other organizations jumped in, too."

Before long, he notes, "the city council said, 'We don't have time for this now -- so instead of having a public hearing on it, we're going to take it off the table, and if we ever consider it again, we'll start over from the beginning.' So we were totally successful. It was the most fun I've ever had resigning anything."

Today, Frieling works as a criminal defense attorney in Boulder, and he frequently takes on marijuana-related cases. He's also active in the marijuana-reform movement, speaking to community groups and local municipalities on the subject. As such, he understands conflicting opinions about the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which assorted advocates criticize because, among other things, it focuses on regulation as opposed to legalization. Yet on balance, he feels the approach deserves support.

"Some of the people who support it may not like every word of it," he allows. "Some of the people who don't support it may dislike some of the wording, too. But what we have to avoid is becoming our own worst enemy. It's a trap easily fallen into -- and our political parties seem very good at modeling that. So one of my roles, which I think is really important -- and sometimes I'm able to be helpful in this area, only because I'm old and know people -- is trying to prevent that from happening.

"I think there's idealism, and then there's what we can really accomplish. And having made sausage myself, I can tell you that making sausage is a hell of a lot cleaner than making laws. If it wasn't, anyone who ate my sausages would be dead.

"Is it perfect?" he asks. "Nah, it's not perfect. But is it a big step in the right direction? Yes."

Hence, his eagerness to collect petitions in front of TV cameras. And while he thinks the glare of the lights may have scared away some folks who might otherwise have added their signatures, he's hopeful the coverage will tip more people to the act and its goals.

In the end, he believes, the measure's odds of success will rest on "a get-out-the-vote campaign. I think the majority of people out there either think it should be legalized, or they couldn't care less but think the cops should be doing more important things. And, as the Sixties generation gets older and sees more of the medical applications with their friends and themselves, they'll be for it, too. It's just a matter of them voting for it.

"Do I think it's a slam dunk? No. But I think there's a reasonably good chance that marijuana will end up being treated similarly to alcohol."

With or without Scott Gessler's help.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Corey Donahue jailed for disrupting Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act meeting (VIDEO)."

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