Mason Tvert on Fort Lewis College approving a marijuana initiative -- and what it means for legalization

After an attempt to decriminalize statewide the adult possession of an ounce or less of marijuana failed at the polls in 2006, Mason Tvert, executive director of the drug policy reform organization Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and his colleagues hit upon a new strategy: Focus energy on local campaigns such as city and campus pro-marijuana initiatives.

So far, the plan has worked like a charm. Nederland recently decriminalized marijuana, following in the footsteps of Breckenridge earlier this year and Denver before that. And now, SAFER has announced another victory: In a campus-wide election this past Tuesday and Wednesday, students at Fort Lewis College in Durango overwhelmingly passed a referendum calling on university marijuana penalties to be no greater than those for alcohol. The school is the third Colorado university to have passed such a measure, with University of Colorado-Boulder and Colorado State University leading the charge.

"It's another university where students have taken action and think it's time for change," says Tvert. "We saw this at CU and CSU, and now we're seeing it down in Durango. It's really part of a statewide movement."

Tvert concedes that such referendums are nonbinding -- and that so far, they haven't shifted administrative policies as CU-Boulder or CSU. Still, he believes that "more and more, we are seeing schools move forward and follow them."

For example, Tvert notes, the administrations at University of Central Florida, the University of Arkansas and Purdue University have all been considering marijuana policy changes since their student bodies passed similar initiatives.

Even if Fort Lewis College doesn't follow suit, the successful campus initiative there -- where organizers wielded flier campaigns, online organizing and other tools to get the word out -- means that Tvert and his colleagues likely have a whole new cadre of foot soldiers in their growing grassroots campaign to decriminalize marijuana statewide.

"It's really organic in nature," says Tvert. "We are not looming over their shoulder telling them how to keep track of everyone, but we are inspiring and motivating these people to get involved and to pay attention. Having these types of students and organizations will continually make things easier when it comes to local and statewide ballot initiatives."

So what's the next step regarding those local and statewide initiatives? For one thing, Tvert says we could be seeing a decriminalization initiative in Durango this fall, possibly building on the momentum at FLC. In a bolder development, Mason has also filed language for a statewide ballot initiative this November that would legalize and regulate adult use of marijuana in Colorado. He's been adamant that the move is tentative at best, and that no one is ready to announce a statewide legalization campaign. Still, he doesn't discount the possibility.

"We are still in limbo with that," he says. "We are still moving forward with that to see if we are able to fund the campaign this year and whether it makes sense."

If so, he'll likely have more than a few eager campaign volunteers at Fort Lewis College.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner