Second Colorado marijuana legalization initiative moving forward

When it comes to marijuana, Colorado has been at the forefront for years and that will only intensify in the 10 months between now and election day.

Last week, petitions were turned into the Secretary of State’s office to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot. This week, a second group announced that it is close to finalizing language for a second ballot initiative. The second group, Legalize2012, is soliciting public comment on its language until Monday. Sometime next week, they intend to submit their language to the Secretary and State and also to Legislative Legal Services.

Once language is finalized and the title set, probably sometime in February, they will begin circulating petitions and collecting signatures.

The two initiatives and the people pushing them have much in common, but also differ on large and important points. The first group, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, is well-funded and well-organized and takes an incremental approach to marijuana legalization. The second group, Legalize2012, is not well-funded but takes an all or nothing approach to the question of marijuana legalization.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol would make possession of up to an ounce legal for adults. Possession of more than an ounce would remain illegal. Sales of marijuana would be tightly regulated by the state in much the same way alcohol is regulated now. One big difference between current alcohol laws and this proposed marijuana law is that adults in Colorado can possess as much alcohol as they want without committing a crime.

Legalize2012 would also limit possession to adults, but would not put a limit on how much marijuana an adult can have. This group views marijuana in much the same way most people view cucumbers–as a harmless plant the possession or use of which is none of the state’s concern.

Without armies of well-organized volunteers, collecting signatures can be very expensive. According to Ballotpedia, in 2010 the average cost per signature nationwide was $3.29. In Maine, the average cost of a signature that year was only 14 cents, while in Montana it was more than $6. With about 80,000 signatures needed in Colorado, a group needs to collect at least 100,000 to ensure that it gets 80,000 valid signatures. The Regulate group turned in nearly 160,000 signatures, virtually ensuring it will make the ballot.

Legalize2012 proponent Laura Kriho freely admits the group does not have the money to use paid staff to collect signatures. “We hope more money starts coming in,” she told the Colorado Independent. She says they do have grassroots supporters all over the state and that she is confident they can get the signatures.

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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