This week, Grand Junction and Castle Rock banned retail sales of medical marijuana, joining Loveland and many other Colorado municipalities that have enacted similar prohibitions.
Do these votes suggest that a proposed 2012 ballot measure to legalize pot for adult recreational use is doomed to failure? Hardly, says SAFER's Mason Tvert, who's expected to be at the center of the campaign.
"It doesn't make me fear that at all," Tvert says. He chalks up the failures of Grand Junction and Castle Rock voters to support medical marijuana businesses to the votes taking place in April, when turnout is traditionally lower than for November elections in even-numbered years, with the majority of those taking part skewing older and more conservative.
As such, he believes that "those communities represent a minority of Coloradans when it comes to their opinions about marijuana." Most of the survey he's seen of late show support for marijuana legalization in the 50 percent range, "and the rate is increasing dramatically with each poll, as it has for the past five years. And that's been fueled by people seeing the medical marijuana industry emerge and the lack of problems it presents."
Moreover, the passage of a 2012 ballot measure doesn't necessarily mean pot shops will pop up on every corner. "The initiative hasn't been finalized yet," he says. "But overall, the idea is about removing penalties at the state level. So it would be no different than is the case with medical marijuana currently. Even though Castle Rock has banned retail sales, there's no penalty for a patient there to possess up to a certain amount of marijuana and use it privately. And the same would be the case if a 2012 legalization initiative passes. Adults will not face criminal penalties for possession, but it will ultimately be up to the locality to decide if they want to allow retail sales or not.
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"Colorado is a home-rule state," he continues. "So you're going to have communities that choose to have local regulations or zoning laws that prohibit retail sale, just like we have communities that can prohibit alcohol sales." In other words, "having a law that allows adults to use marijuana without fear of penalty doesn't necessitate having retail stores in a certain community."
Of course, those that do would receive the tax benefits currently being enjoyed by Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and numerous mountain communities that allow medical marijuana retail sales -- and Tvert thinks cities that ban MMJ dispensaries and the like will be hurt as a result of their decision. "They're going to miss out on revenue that's helping to keep various programs afloat, and they'll have empty pieces of real estate that are going to become blighted because there's no business to fill them -- and they otherwise would have been filled by medical marijuana centers. And there'll be citizens who might have found jobs in the industry who'll no longer have that opportunity..."
With that in mind, Tvert is enthusiastically moving ahead with plans for a Legalize It 2012 campaign -- although no kickoff date has been set. "We've been working for months on the language with dozens of attorneys both in Colorado and around the country who specialize in this type of thing," he says. "We hope to have the best initiative possible, and we're going to do whatever it takes to do that before moving forward. But we're going to move forward."
More from our Marijuana archive: "Mason Tvert touts marijuana-is-better-than-alcohol rallies at eighty-plus colleges nationwide."