Proposition 19 loss gives CO chance to be first state to legalize marijuana, says Mason Tvert

Update: Reached a short time ago, SAFER's Mason Tvert is philosophical about the defeat of marijuana legalization measure Proposition 19 in California. He sees a number of flaws in the approach of organizers there that may have contributed to it falling short -- errors he feels his organization is uniquely qualified to address. But at the same time, he suspects that some of the same disagreements between marijuana advocates in Cali may surface in the lead-up to a 2012 legalization effort in Colorado.

As Tvert notes, "it would have been nice to watch a victory" for Proposition 19 because of the message it would have sent, not to mention the opportunity "to see how it would have played out in terms of the way the federal government would have responded to it." But he also thinks "a lot of Colorado voters will be excited by the notion that we could be the first state in the country to cross that threshold and make marijuana legal for all adults."

In his opinion, the biggest flaw in the Prop. 19 campaign "was its focus on generating tax revenue as opposed to improving public safety. The polls showed that one of the largest groups opposed to it were parents, and I don't think they did a good enough job of conveying the message that passing the law would actually have made young people and all Californians safer.

"The focus on tax revenue and the impact it would have on drug cartels aren't messages that express many people's concerns about the relative harm for Californians. That's why we've focused on easing attitudes on marijuana, and we'll continue to do so. For example, we saw Los Angeles ban virtually all dispensaries at the same time Denver grandfathered in a couple hundred of them. And I think that's very telling for how the two cities see marijuana. For the past five years, Denver has been hearing how relatively safe marijuana is compared to alcohol."

At the same time, Tvert stresses that the Prop. 19 forces did many things right: "They managed to mobilize a whole lot of people and to work with many organizations across the board. They earned support from a variety of different groups that will be a part of this movement going forward -- groups like the NAACO and the Black Police Officers Association. So overall, I think the campaign was a very large net gain. It was only lacking in a compelling message."

Another potential factor in the loss: Marijuana advocates like Dennis Peron, who authored a previous pot measure known as Proposition 215, actually opposed Prop. 19 due in part to questions about taxation -- and the same conflict seems likely to arise in Colorado., which launches its campaign in Boulder tonight, is anti-tax, with activist Laura Kriho criticizing a previous Tvert legalization proposal that capped taxes at $50 per ounce.

Tvert stresses that this language "was part of an initiative we didn't move forward with." Nonetheless, opponents "have clung onto it -- and they want to run a measure with no possible taxes involved. Which means it's going to lose, and quite frankly, I think it's selfish and irresponsible. We have the ability to establish a new market that can be a responsible, productive part of the community, with the ability to support schools and infrastructure in the State of Colorado with very minimal cost to people when it comes to purchasing marijuana. But they're radically against having any tax associated with marijuana. They're the Tea Party of the marijuana movement."

At this point, Tvert and his supporters haven't pinned down the specifics of a 2012 ballot measure. But he says, "We're not going to cater to the fringe and those people who want to live in a dream world. We're going to move forward with the best law possible -- the one that's supported by the most people. And I think any law we introduce will be very different from Proposition 19, because Colorado is very different. We already have a state regulated system for medical marijuana on the books, and I think it'll be easier to open that up to a state regulated marijuana system for all adults."

Original item, 7:10 a.m.: Yesterday, we told you about the planned launch of, a drive to legalize marijuana for adult use in Colorado -- and noted that organizers planned to move forward even if Proposition 19, a similar measure in California, failed at the ballot box -- which it did. But advocates Mason Tvert and Brian Vicente, while downcast about the Prop. 19 results, see the opportunity to now cast Colorado in the history-making role.

Shortly after the die was cast last night, Tvert, of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation, aka SAFER, and Vicente, who heads Sensible Colorado, jointly released statements expressing confidence that the Prop. 19 vote won't doom legalization efforts in Colorado. To the contrary, they suggest that the "no" vote in Cali will energize their push over the next two years.

Here's their release:

Prop. 19 Loss in California Means Colorado Could Be First State to Legalize Marijuana

State's largest marijuana reform organizations -- SAFER and Sensible Colorado -- planning 2012 statewide initiative to make marijuana legal and regulate it like alcohol

Colorado groups not deterred by California results -- point to polls that show Coloradans are ready for legalization

DENVER -- The state's two largest marijuana policy reform organizations are not deterred by the results of Proposition 19 in California and will move forward with a similar 2012 statewide ballot initiative in Colorado. Prop. 19 was trailing 56-44 at the time of this release.

Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and Sensible Colorado are working to place a measure on the 2012 ballot that would remove penalties for adult marijuana use and establish a system of regulation for marijuana similar to that of alcohol.

According to a 9 News/Denver Post poll released last week, 46 percent of likely 2010 voters would support such a measure, while just 43 percent would oppose it. The poll echoes previous and recent internal polls showing support for regulating marijuana around 50 percent among 2010 likely voters.The 2012 electorate should be even more favorably inclined toward supporting such a measure.

"California started the race toward legalization but Colorado is going to finish it," said Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER, which coordinated the successful citywide marijuana initiatives in Denver in 2005 and 2007, and the statewide marijuana initiative in 2006. "Coloradans are ready to move forward and bring about a safer, more sensible approach to marijuana.

"For too long our government and the Arrest and Prosecution Industry have been playing a game to keep marijuana illegal for adults," Tvert said. "That game will soon be over -- we're playing to win in 2012."

SAFER and its close ally, Sensible Colorado, have been working on plans for a 2012 initiative while closely following the fight over Prop. 19 in California this year.

"Over the past five years we have built a large coalition of organizations, elected officials, and citizens across the state," said Sensible Colorado Executive Director Brian Vicente. "Now that the 2010 election is over we are moving full-steam ahead with a plan to organize, mobilize, and energize our coalition and potential voters throughout Colorado.

"The campaign for legalization in Colorado begins today and will not end until we become the first -- or one of the first -- in the nation to establish a legal marijuana market for all adults."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana legalization: Mason Tvert blasts John Hickenlooper and politicos who dodge issue."

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