Reformers Challenge Marijuana War

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Reformers Challenge Marijuana War

by Ari Armstrong, February 8, 2006

Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado and Mason Tvert of SAFER Colorado (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) criticized marijuana prohibition during a February 8 talk at the University of Colorado (CU) law school. (Tvert is shown at left in the photo next to Vicente.)

Listen to the mp3 audio file of the presentation by Vicente and Tvert.

Tvert was a about 20 minutes late for the noon event -- because he was busy heckling Drug Czar John Walters, who flew to Denver to meet with Governor Bill Owens and Attorney General John Suthers and promote the federal war on drugs. According to Vicente, Walters's trip was unusual -- and it signaled a concerted effort by federal and state drug warriors to undermine the marijuana-policy reform movement in Colorado.

Last November, Denver voters approved "Question 100," removing the city's prohibition of possessing small amounts of marijuana by adults over 21. Now, Tvert and his supporters are working to put a state-wide initiative on the ballot to remove legal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of the drug by adults 21 years and older.

Vicente recounted his experiences defending Denver resident Eric Footer, who was arrested for marijuana possession based on state law right after Denver voters changed the city ordinance. Vicente noted that the charges were eventually dropped for his client -- an outcome that was not enjoyed by others of a different income level and skin color.

Vicente and Tvert also outlined the important issues as they saw them.

Vicente argued that softening marijuana prohibition is a matter of social justice, given that minorities constitute a small percent of all drug users yet make up the large majority of drug users in prison. Also, "tax dollars could simply be used better." He said he supports the "controlled regulation of marijuana," including taxation of it that would help fund drug treatment programs.

Tvert said, "Our primary goal is to educate people." He said the central argument he's advancing is that using marijuana is less dangerous than using the legal drug alcohol. (Tvert's arguments have been criticized, but at CU he stuck to the argument about the relative dangers of the drugs and steered clear of any claim about whether changing the law would result in people switching from alcohol to marijuana.)

Tvert also raised the issue of federalism: "Right now the federal government is controlling the state and the city." Because of state's rights and economic issues (free-market icons such as Milton Friedman support rolling back prohibition), Tvert predicted that, eventually, Republicans will play the major role in reforming the drug laws, at least in this state.

Ultimately, Tvert argued, while people care more about other issues, they don't want to be thrown in jail for using marijuana.

In this "live and let live" state where many people don't want to throw people in jail (or even fine them) for peaceable behavior, the issue that Tvert is effectively championing will continue to gain momentum, even if passing a state-wide initiative this year is an uphill battle.

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