Pot Goes To Denver Ballot, Despite City Council Opinion

Marijuana proponents came to give the Denver City Council a piece of their mind, but first they had to survive a long and arduous council meeting before speaking on a local legalization initiative.

At issue was a proposed ordinance to make pot possession the “lowest law enforcement priority” for adults in the Mile High City. In a public hearing that took place Monday evening (Aug. 27), marijuana advocates cheered and public officials jeered legislation meant to cut down on cannabis arrests. Council representatives were also compelled to put the proposal up for a vote next November. After sitting through hours of less than exciting city business–parking plans, business contracts, and commemorations–supporters and opponents of Denver’s latest pot measure were allotted time to address council members and expand on their opinions and experiences.

University of Colorado Colorado Springs professor Dr. Robert Melamede was one of the first speakers to support the ordinance, and lamented Iraqi war veterans who “come back and spend the rest of their lives on pain medication” rather than being given the option of medical pot.

“The federal policy is that narcotics are better for you than marijuana,” Melamede said.

Those against the proposal also made a showing at the meeting, and the majority of them identified as professionals in the substance abuse industry.

Shannon Mulcahy, an adolescent counselor at Arapahoe House, a non-profit provider of rehabilitation services, claimed that marijuana today “is ten times stronger than what was available in the 1970s.”

But it was when Mulcahy told city council that a percentage of youths who use marijuana were more inclined to participate in violence that laughter erupted in city hall from ordinance supporters, forcing council president Michael Hancock to give a stern warning to cacklers.

Tom Brewster, a licensed social worker with a substance abuse program partially funded by the University of Colorado at Denver Health Sciences Center, expressed his concern over the ordinance increasing addiction and victimizing children.

After that, Miguel Lopez spoke as a representative of the Chicano and GLBT community, emphasizing his concern over marijuana arrests targeting minorities in the city. Lopez also read supportive letters from city council members in Seattle, WA, where a similar measure has been implemented.

Denver representatives then had a few choice words to say about the initiative, before they were legally obligated to either pass the proposal into law or send it to the ballot.

Freshman council member Chris Nevitt (Dist. 7) said it was difficult for him to comprehend the legal discrepancies between alcohol and marijuana. Nevitt also noted is support to pass the measure onto voters, and said he thought the “war on drugs” was “as futile an enterprise as the war in Iraq.”

Councilwoman Carol Boigon (At-Large) was not as supportive, calling the initiative “an effort aimed at street theater” and “an effort to gain media attention.”

“If you’re serious go to the state,” said Boigon, while looking straight at Mason Tvert, director of the pro-legalization group Citizens for Safer Denver. Boigon then accused Tvert of “making a joke of the electoral process.”

Judy Montero (Dist. 9) was also fuming over Citizens for Safer Denver’s offer last week to withdraw the ordinance if council members and the mayor agreed to put a stop to adult marijuana possession citations during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

But despite passionate words on both sides, the city council voted unanimously to put the issue on the ballot, even though the true impact of the ordinance will not be known unless voters pass it. If the police continue to arrest adults for marijuana possession, they will supposedly be in violation of the city charter. But then again, Asst. City Attorney David Broadwell maintains that the law would have “no binding legal effect.”

Either way, Tvert said his group was ready for a legal battle if the situation arises.

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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