Signatures turned in to put marijuana legalization on the ballot in Colorado

This morning, proponents of a statewide initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana submitted nearly 160,000 signatures in support of placing the measure on the 2012 ballot. Only 86,105 valid signatures of registered Colorado voters are needed to qualify.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 would make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess limited amounts of marijuana, establish a system in which it is regulated, and allow for the cultivation of industrial hemp. Along with generating state and local sales tax revenue, the measure calls on the state legislature to enact an excise tax on sales, of which the first $40 million annually would be directed to Colorado’s public school construction fund. Altogether, supporters estimate that limited legalization of marijuana would generate more than $100 million a year in taxes for Colorado.

“We will win this campaign because the voters understand that marijuana prohibition is a policy long overdue for repeal,” said Brian Vicente, one of two proponents who initiated the measure. “Polls consistently show more Coloradans support making marijuana legal than oppose it, and we are confident they will pass this measure and make history this November.”

Attorney Brian Vicente speaks to the press Wednesday, surrounded by supporters and boxes of signatures. (Kersgaard)

Vicente said he thinks legalizing and regulating marijuana will make it more difficult for teenagers to get pot than it is now. He also said he thinks the feds will take a hands-off approach and let Colorado manage its own marijuana business.

“This is an issue often perceived as being supported only by young men, but women like me throughout the state agree that it is time to end marijuana prohibition and regulate it like alcohol,” said Wanda James, a Colorado political activist and business owner. “We are mothers, daughters, taxpayers, business owners, college students… and we are excited to help this campaign make history in November.

“One of the things that women look at is that this is not just a legalization problem… but a social issue,” James said. “Women are concerned about how many people are being locked up for felonies. Our sons and daughters caught with a joint on a college campus can lose access to funding, can lose access to their futures and that is just not something that is acceptable,” she said.

“It is time for this to change. It is time for us to get real about what is happening in our society and it is time for women to lead this fight just as women led the fight against prohibition back in 1939,” James said.

The Secretary of State has 30 days to determine whether the petition contains a sufficient number of signatures.

The initiative is being spearheaded by Vicente and Mason Tvert of Sensible CO and SAFER CO respectively.

“This is a job well done and a crucial first step to ensure Coloradans have a chance to make history,” said Art Way, Colorado Manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports the measure. “There’s simply no denying the intense groundswell for change,” he said in a prepared statement.

“This initiative is another indication that Colorado is moving away from non-sustainable drug policies that don’t benefit society at large,” said Way. “The selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition and the often undue collateral consequences associated with prohibition should impel all who believe in individual liberty to support this initiative.”

“We are going to hit the ground running this month,” said Tvert, “and we are going to spread the word that this is a responsible initiative and it has the promise of making Colorado a much safer place for individuals and for our society as a whole. In particular we are going to spend the next ten months helping voters understand that marijuana is not as harmful as they have been led to believe for 70 some odd years.

“We need young people talking to their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and co-workers.

“Our opponents are certainly going to talk about the fact that alcohol is certainly a problem in our society and (they’ll ask) why should we add another vice so to speak? We are planning to make it clear that we are not adding a vice but are providing adults with a much safer alternative to alcohol. Every objective study has found that it is far less harmful than alcohol both to users and to society and it is time that we stop punishing adults who are simply using a far safer substance than alcohol, whether they are using it to relax after work or while socializing with friends and family or alleviating pain and suffering. There is absolutely no reason we need to criminalize adults 21 and older simply for preferring a substance less harmful than alcohol.”

Stephanie Morphet, a student at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, said she has seen first-hand the problems caused by alcohol and thinks marijuana is safer for all involved.

“Like so many other young women my age I see the problems associated with alcohol and I’ve also had the opportunity to be around marijuana and marijuana doesn’t cause that kind of social and personal problems. The simple truth is marijuana is safer and less harmful than alcohol both to the user and to those around them,” she said at the press conference.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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