Once More, Dude Gets His Day on the Ballot

Mason Tvert doesn’t look like a stoner named Dude. On Monday night, as Denver City Council Chamber hosted more dreadlocks, male ponytails and, of course, guys wearing sunglasses than it usually does, Tvert looked for all the world like a narc among his faithful.

The troops might be wearing wrist bands with marijuana leaves embroidered on them or denim jackets with pictures of the “Zuni Zombies” on the back. The general, a chunky, round-faced fellow, opted for the corporate look.

Tvert’s pinstripe suit, burgundy tie and short, dark hair belied the stereotypes of what has thus-far been a remarkably successful drive to decriminalize small amounts of pot in Denver.

The City Council members who Tvert had forced into a corner over his latest voter initiative – a November ballot measure to make adult possession of small amounts of pot the police department’s lowest law enforcement priority – were furious.

Councilwoman Carol Boigon talked of “street theater.” Council President Michael Hancock accused Tvert of being a publicity hound.

He sure is. His offer last week to pull the latest pot initiative from the ballot if the mayor and council would declare dope less dangerous than alcohol and suspend marijuana arrests during the 2008 Democratic National Convention was manipulative dramatics  designed to draw nothing more than headlines from the press and outrage from the council.

Monday night, Tvert predicted that both will make it easier to get folks to vote to de-emphasize arrests for pot possession.

“We’re getting attention early,” Tvert said after the council meeting adjourned. “The last time, no one paid attention until October.”

“The last time” to which Tvert referred was when he convinced Denver voters to approve the decriminalization in the city of less than an ounce of dope for personal use by people 21 and over.

Last year, Tvert failed in an attempt to extend that same decriminalization statewide.

So he’s back in Dude-friendly Denver looking for voters to tell the cops to all but stop enforcing a state law. That law was what city leaders hoped would get them off the hook for the decriminalization vote.

“I think we’ll win this when it comes to a vote in November,” Tvert said “If people (in Denver) wanted small amounts of marijuana to be legal, they’ll want (enforcing the state law) to be the lowest priority.”

In truth, simple pot possession is already among the lowest priorities, the head of Denver’s vice and drug control unit told the council.

“We’re not looking for people holding small amounts of marijuana,” Denver Police Capt. Capt. Chris Kroncke said. “We’re looking for people selling drugs.”

Small amounts of pot possessed for personal use is no more than a “check box on a city ticket,” assistant city attorney David Broadwell added. It is, Broadwell continued, “a Class 2 Petty offense” that brings up to a $100 fine, plus court costs, but “no possibility of jail.”

Nevertheless, Broadwell questioned the ability of the city to dictate non-enforcement of a state law, even if the November lowest-priority initiative passes.

Tvert said he’ll take his chances in court.

“Denver is a home-rule city,” Tvert said, which means its decisions can sometimes supersede state rules.

That will be another day’s fight. For now, Tvert and his Dudes and Dudettes will hit the campaign trail once more to fight for their right to party.

“We will demand a debate (over whether pot is more problematic than alcohol),” Tvert said.

Those who oppose the initiative, if they are smart, will argue that marijuana is addictive, debilitating and a gateway drug to harder substances. They’ll point out, as University of Colorado Health Sciences Center professor Tom Brewster did to the council, that de-emphasizing problems with pot makes it more attractive to kids.

But with a majority of Denver voters having twice cast ballots to decriminalize small amounts of dope – once in the successful city initiative, once in the failed statewide initiative – opponents have their work cut out.

“We’re working hard to make this a safe city for all people,” Boigon complained Monday, looking at directly at Tvert. “You’re trying to make a joke out of the electoral process.”

That could be. But on this night, the last laugh went to Dude.

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Jim Spencer

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