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Debate in Denver heats up

By Hempology | August 29, 2007

Rocky Mountain News, CO
28 Aug 2007
Stuart Steers


Initiative Takes Some Heat Before Getting Approval

Denver voters will have the final say on whether the city should change its marijuana laws, but that didn’t stop several City Council members from accusing pot activists of turning city elections into a farce.

“You’re trying to make a joke out of the electoral process in Denver,” said Councilwoman Carol Boigan.  “I think this is aimed at street theater and capturing media attention.”

The council voted unanimously Monday to refer to voters a ballot initiative that would direct Denver police to make the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana “the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.” Backers of the proposed ordinance turned in several thousand signatures to earn a spot on the November ballot. 

Council members made it clear they believe the proposal will have little effect even if it passes, since state law bans marijuana possession.  Even those who favor changing the nation’s drug laws have found fault with the measure.

“The war on drugs is as misguided as the war on Iraq,” said Councilman Chris Nevitt, who compared the country’s drug laws to the failure of Prohibition.  “This issue needs to be taken to the state and federal level.  Denver voters have already spoken.”

In 2005, Denver voters made the possession of small amounts of marijuana legal in Denver.  Denver police, however, have continued to cite people who possess less than an ounce of the drug, saying they have to enforce state law.

Denver resident Sara Tafoya told the council she was pulled over earlier this year because she was driving without her headlights on.  The police searched her and found an eighth of an ounce of pot.

Tafoya said she spent the night in jail and her car was impounded for more than a week.  Tafoya said she asked for a trial on the charges, but decided to accept a plea bargain because she feared losing the aid that allows her to attend college if she’d been found guilty.

Others told the council that marijuana was more dangerous than many people believe.

“Marijuana is addictive.  It has effects on brain development,” said Shannon Mulcahy, a drug and alcohol counselor who works with adolescents.  “It affects memory and concentration.”

Proponents of the ballot measure said they don’t dispute that marijuana can harm some people, but said liquor is far more dangerous, and yet the council approved a contract with Coors Brewing Co.  to sell beer at the Colorado Convention Center.

“Alcohol leads to countless crimes in this city,” said Mason Tvert, director of Safer Colorado, sponsor of the ballot initiative.  “What message do you send when you hold hands with Coors?”

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