Mason Tvert and SAFER celebrates five years of marijuana advocacy

The Grand Hyatt Denver will be hopping this Saturday, as folks gather to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, the local drug-policy reform organization better known as SAFER. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, Denver City Councilman Chris Nevitt, and columnist and morning show host David Sirota are scheduled to be on hand, along with marijuana activists who'll celebrate all the successes they've achieved in Colorado.

The movement has come a long way since the organization's humble beginnings in 2005, says SAFER Executive Director Mason Tvert. That's when the venerable Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project sent Tvert, a recent college graduate from Virginia, out West to launch a campaign with a simple yet innovative message: Marijuana is safer than alcohol. Colorado seemed like the perfect place to do so, he recalls, especially since college campuses here were still reeling from a series of alcohol-related controversies.

Tvert started with just $30,000 in funds, a single co-worker and an office in a rental home. But SAFER hit the ground running -- capturing the attention of media outlets with its penchant for irreverent yet pointed shenanigans. It labeled Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper a "drug dealer" for the fortune he'd made off Wynkoop Brewing Company; then later challenged Hick and U.S. Senate candidate (and beer empire scion) Pete Coors to a "drug duel" in which each would drink as much of their product as they could while Tvert smoked marijuana -- to see who would be the last man standing.

Neither politician accepted the challenge, so SAFER moved on to other targets. It threw an attention-grabbing keg party on the front lawn of the Governor's Mansion after a boozy bash thrown by one of Governor Bill Ritter's sons was shrugged off as kids being kids. It put up a billboard downtown calling for NFL player Ricky Williams to come play for Denver after he'd been suspended for repeated marijuana offenses. It called for marijuana smoking lounges in U.S. airports after several liquor-fueled air-rage incidents. And in 2009, Tvert's book, Marijuana Is Safer, reached number fourteen on Amazon's bestseller list and was named one of Publisher Weekly's Indie Top 20 books.

SAFER's efforts have paid off. In 2006, it pushed through a Denver initiative that decriminalized an ounce or less of marijuana, a then-unprecedented measure that has since been approved in both Breckenridge and Nederland. The organization has also helped pass marijuana-reform initiatives at college campuses around the country, and is currently eying the Holy Grail for marijuana activists: a measure that would legalize marijuana statewide, which SAFER will push for either this November's ballot or 2012.

If the measure passes, will SAFER become redundant? Tvert doesn't think so. "We don't just want to change the law," he says. "We want to change the way people think."

SAFER's anniversary party, which starts at 5 p.m. May 8, is open to the public; guests are requested to make a minimum $10 donation.

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