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December 11, 2012

Conversation With Mason Tvert, Co-Director of the Amendment 64 Campaign, on the Future of Marijuana Legalization

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Yesterday, when Colorado Governor Jon Hickenlooper added Amendment 64 to the state’s constitution it became legal for adults to possess, use and even grow a limited quantity of marijuana for their personal. This historic moment was in part made possible thanks to the work of Mason Tvert, who was an official proponent of the initiative and the co-director of the campaign in support of it.

I recently had a conservation with Mr. Tvert about Amendment 64 and what he thinks it will mean for the future of marijuana legalization. This should be the first in a series of conversation over the next year with people directly or indirectly involved in all the aspects marijuana legalization now that it is officially legal Colorado and Washington State. This is an exciting time for marijuana policy reform with many political, regulator, and judicial issues soon to be address.

JON WALKER: – The polling going into Election Day showed Amendment 64 just barely passing, but it ended up getting more votes than President Obama. Did the size of Amendment 64’s victory in Colorado surprise you? Why or why not?

– I was relatively confident that a majority of Coloradans were ready to adopt a more sensible approach to marijuana, but I was surprised by how strong that majority ended up being. The turnout associated with a presidential election likely contributed to the boost in support, which has been the case every time a marijuana initiative has been on the ballot during a presidential election year. The impact might have been even more pronounced given Colorado’s status as a swing-state, in which GOTV efforts were likely more intense and better funded. Overall, though, I have little doubt that the strength of our support was the result of the groundwork we laid here in Colorado over the past eight years. Public education efforts, local and state ballot measures, and the successful establishment of a rapidly developing system of medical marijuana regulation has produced an electorate with far more knowledge of marijuana than most. And when people know more about marijuana, they are almost always more likely to support ending its prohibition.

WALKER: – What is your biggest worry for Amendment 64 moving forward, and what current signs make you most hopeful?

TVERT: – Our biggest concern is that some of our elected officials might fail to represent the voters who elected them. We are glad that our governor, attorney general, and legislature have begun to move forward with implementation by initiating the formation of a task force that will study the issue and provide recommendations to the legislature as it takes on the establishment of the regulatory system during the upcoming session. It is has also been great to see prosecutors and police across Colorado announcing they will no longer be filing new cases or making arrests for adult possession, and in some places they are dropping pending cases.

At the federal level, legislation is moving forward that would take marijuana out of the federal government’s hands, and more supporters are beginning to emerge. For example, Rep. Diana DeGette (D) and Rep. Mike Coffman (R) of Colorado, who have never been out front on the issue, have taken the lead in introducing such a bill and are being joined by other members in a reinvigorated push in Congress. A nationwide survey conducted by Public Policy Polling found that a strong plurality of Americans believe the federal government should allow Colorado and Washington to move forward with implementation, compared to just 33 percent who support interfering. It also showed that 50 percent of Americans believe marijuana will be legal at the federal level within 10 years. With two states regulating marijuana for adult use, 18 medical marijuana states (plus D.C.), legislatures nationwide taking up the issue, and public support growing, the writing is on the wall.

WALKER: – It seems the federal government could adopt one of three basic responses: It could sue Colorado to try to stop the amendment, it could wait until the commercial sector starts developing and then raid businesses, or it could take a mostly hands-off approach. Do you currently have any indication about what response seems likely?

TVERT: – The Department of Justice has continued to say it is reviewing the initiative, and it has yet to indicate what its approach will be.

WALKER: – As one of the first ballot measures passed to legalize marijuana, Amendment 64 will likely be seen as a model for other states moving forward. What aspects of your new law do you think are likely be adopted more widely?

TVERT: – Passage of Amendment 64 demonstrated that voters are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of allowing adults to privately use and grow limited amounts of marijuana. They recognize that law enforcement could be doing more productive things than arresting and prosecuting individuals for such activities. As other states begin to take on this issue, they will also look to the economic benefits of a Amendment 64 and the amount of revenue and savings produced by such a measure. Since industrial hemp is such a no-brainer, I think it will be included in these types of laws whenever possible.

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