The Fiasco in Denver: Putting the Cart Before the Horse

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel September 3, 2015

    The embarrassing episode this week in Denver, when the sponsors of a city-wide initiative to legalize marijuana smoking in some bars and lounges withdrew their initiative, even after qualifying for the ballot, reminds us of the need to thoroughly vet these types of projects – especially those with the potential to set-back the legalization movement if they fail – before moving forward. This was an impulsive act that should never have seen the light of day – at least not in 2015.

    While I am not privy to the actual discussions that led to the launch of this ill-fated campaign in Denver, one can imagine a couple of friends sitting around one night, smoking some good weed, and convincing themselves that now is the time to expand on the legalization plan in effect statewide in Colorado, by allowing for smoking in bars in Denver. It is a natural next-step for Colorado and the other legalization states.

    Most smokers favor the option of bars or lounges where marijuana smokers can gather to socialize outside the home, so the intent of the initiative was admirable. We should not be limited only to smoking in our homes. There is no valid reason for such a limitation, and it really reflects the remaining stigma many non-smoking Americans still associate with the use of marijuana – that it may be tolerated in the home, but is somehow an offense to society to permit smoking in a public venue.

    But these public policy changes are always challenging, and generally before going public with their proposal, proponents fully consider both the electoral timing of the effort and the level of public support for the proposal. Did no one realize that 2015 is an off-year election, when all voter turnout is low, and especially the youth vote, where support for legalization is the strongest? Did no one undertake advance polling to determine whether a majority of the public would support such a proposal? Or was this initiative a reflection of the arrogance that sometimes comes with a big victory, such as A-64, that leave those sponsors believing they can do no wrong?

    The Spin


    The official announcement from the Campaign for Limited Cannabis Social Use, a spin-off of the two groups, Sensible Colorado and SAFER, that were behind the successful Amendment 64 campaign approved by the Colorado voters in 2012, was one of the more creative attempts to try to turn an embarrassing defeat into a victory, but hardly convincing.

    Claiming their decision to withdraw was based on a desire to work cooperatively with elected city officials to accomplish their goals “without a contentious ballot initiative fight,” the sponsors said they are now willing “to give the collaborative process a shot.”

    “We are optimistic about these discussions, but also know that we can return to the ballot in November 2016 – when the electorate will be far more favorable to our case,” the group said.

    In other words, they realized what other observers had seen from the start – this was the wrong time to be mounting this voter initiative. Truly amazing that this conclusion was only reached after squandering tens of thousands of dollars and enormous political credibility.

    Their conclusion: “Today is not the end of a campaign; it is a transition from a ballot initiative process to a lobbying effort.”

    Perhaps a lobbying effort in 2015 would have made sense all along, as some have been doing, and only if that effort were unsuccessful, and advance polling indicated a voter initiative would enjoy the support of a majority of the public in 2016, should the discussion have shifted to an initiative. The sponsors clearly had the cart before the horse, and we are now paying the price.

    I appreciate the need to minimize the damage from withdrawing the initiative, and to attempt to salvage their political credibility, but somehow I doubt those who contributed either money or time to qualify the proposed initiative for the ballot will consider this a victory. And if one were forced by the reality of the situation to pull the plug, even at this late date, it would have been refreshing to at least see the sponsors acknowledge the obvious – that this decision was based on low polling results indicating their proposal could not win at the polls in November.

    Let’s hope this was a lesson well-learned, and we can now move forward in a more reasoned manner.


    This column was originally posed on Marijuana.com.




    16 responses to “The Fiasco in Denver: Putting the Cart Before the Horse”

    1. Bob Constantine says:

      Casting aside all the rhetoric, wouldn’t it just be easier if people actually owned and controlled their OWN property and bodies? If you own a fucking bar, and YOU want to allow smoking there, it should be YOUR choice, just like if you own your body, it should be YOUR choice to smoke or not.

      When freedom is run through the politics mill if anything comes out at all, it’s watered down to “permission based” and you end up paying government thugs for a granted privilege. Those same kinds of thugs haven’t even stopped throwing people in cages for just possessing weed in most place yet.

      Now they want some protection money to “allow” property owners to control their own property via licensure etc. ? Too ironic.

    2. mexweed says:

      Didn’t mention a possible most important flaw of that initiative, that it concerned “$moking” when just maybe a large amount of 2015 voters were ready (or at least curious) to try permitting VAPING in the said bars and lounges.

      At this point maybe time to desert the $inking $moking $hip anyway, and have our Lord Photographers render us as $milingly vape-literate to lure 2016 voters in a reasoned manner.

      $moking (Joints) lets half the content escape loose, ubercarbolizes another quarter, wasting cannabinoid value. Let’s abandon no$talgia and promote zero-sidestream-smoke, universally tolerated 25-mg Single Vapetoke Convention, and a Handmake-It-Yourself flexdrawtube one-hitter industry.

    3. tensity1 says:

      Have to disagree, Keith.

      I do agree that it had a slim chance of succeeding in 2015 (same with ResponsibleOhio), but I would hardly characterize it as a fiasco.

      As with you, I’d prefer having alcohol and marijuana in separate establishments. The only polling on this issue that I’ve heard of had it at 56% approval. The fact that they easily got this on the ballot shows electoral strength and what I believe is a bargaining advantage. They very well could have been positioning themselves for 2016 (or forcing some sensibility from Denver lawmakers before 2016). Then again, I’m not a professional MJ activist.

      All I know is that for a state that voted in A64, a constitutional amendment to regulate marijuana LIKE alcohol, Denver politicians could stand to be less anal-retentive authoritartians and have some common sense.

    4. Raven says:

      This does not bode well for Ohio. As you said Keith, This is
      an off-year election. The youth vote is always tougher to get to turn out with no presidential election comming up. Timing and planning for the long term are the most important elements of any ballot initiative. Plus it gives time for the voter demographics to shake out. Patience (like what Show Me Cannabis is doing in Missouri) is doing.

    5. Galileo Galilei says:

      Back in the day, my hippie friends and I were back-to-nature, organic believers. When organic and back-to-nature went mainstream, suddenly you couldn’t trust anything labeled ‘natural’ or ‘organic’.

      I can remember when advertising on the Internet was viewed with disdain. Those days are gone!

    6. DanDman says:

      Wish we had our stuff together here in Flo-re -duh….. voters aren’t that sophisticated here, but we have a new petition started, “Regulate Florida”, its going the route of regulating cannabis like alcohol, well see. if the tokers get registered to vote, then get off their butts… Well see…

    7. Mark I. says:

      Cannabis was used for phytoremediation by farmers to lessen the flow of nitrate enriched fluids from their stockyards. If they are allowed to continue this practice without the authorities swooping in to steal their lands, the waterways would once again loose their algae blooming encarceration.

    8. Just An Observer says:

      By bringing the measure onboard with enough signatures, the organizers gained a club to use on the Denver elected officials. Either the city finds a way to meet the measure’s desire or else there will be a 2016 campaign with fallout for any elected official who stood in the way.

      As for Bob Constantine, all I can say is “Freedom Forever!” and applaud your POV!

    9. Cat Cassie says:

      Several illegal grows were raided in Denver. They said they were ran by Cubans and were shipping the weed to Miami. I think they said there was over 2000 plants. Not Good at all.

    10. Matthew says:

      I think it’s wise strategy! I like it! Sorry, Sir K! Let’s just see if it works; we can slam dunk an Initiative victory in ’16, ifwe must ahow, now…