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November 2, 2005 - Denver Post (CO)

Denver Pot Issue Passes By Thin Margin

By Christopher N. Osher, Denver Post Staff Writer

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Denver residents Tuesday voted to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, but the state attorney general said the vote was irrelevant because state law will still be enforced.

The measure passed 54 percent to 46 percent.

"It just goes to show the voters of Denver are fed up with a law that prohibits adults from making a rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol," said Mason Tvert, executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, or SAFER.

The measure will change the city's ordinance to make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in the city.

Denver follows the city of Oakland, which last year voted to make marijuana possession its lowest enforcement priority and required the city to develop a plan for licensing and taxing the sale, use and cultivation of marijuana for private use. Voters in Telluride Tuesday defeated a similar measure.

Denver is "the second major city in less than a year to pass a vote which says that marijuana should be treated essentially like alcohol, taxed and regulated," said Bruce Mirken, the director of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, one of the largest groups opposing jail time for the use of pot. "This has been characterized as a fringe issue, and clearly it's not."

Even though voters approved Initiative 100, Denver police still will bring charges under state law, which carries a fine of up to $100 and a mandatory $100 drug-offender surcharge for possession of small amounts of marijuana, said Attorney General John Suthers.

"I have found these efforts to be unconstructive," Suthers said.

"I understand the debate about legalization and whether our drug laws are constructive. But I wish we would have a full-out debate instead of these peripheral issues that accomplish just about nothing," he said.

Tvert said marijuana supporters will push for a statewide initiative that would allow for the licensing and regulation of the selling of marijuana.

"This is not just symbolic," he said. "This is a fact. This city voted to change a city ordinance. We expect the city officials to respect the will of the voters who elected them."

In Denver, backers of the initiative sparked controversy with their campaign.

Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown blasted as deceptive their campaign signs, which declared: "Make Denver SAFER, Vote Yes on I-100." Brown said he feared voters would believe the initiative would put more police on Denver streets.

Under fire from domestic-violence groups, SAFER also pulled a controversial billboard that showed a battered woman and her abuser with the slogan "Reduce family and community violence in Denver. Vote Yes on I-100."

Proponents of the initiative tried to draw Mayor John Hickenlooper into the fray by labeling him a hypocrite for selling alcohol in his brewpubs when he opposed their efforts to legalize marijuana.

During one rally, they unveiled a banner that read: "What is the difference between Mayor Hickenlooper and a marijuana dealer? The mayor has made his fortune selling a more harmful drug: alcohol."

Tuesday night, Hickenlooper said he was surprised by the vote.

"It doesn't supersede state law, so it's really symbolic of changing attitudes," the mayor said.

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