Critics have taken pot shots at Colorado’s cannabis laws since voters there became the first in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Now, a pair of activists want to scrap the system entirely, erasing all mention of adult-use cannabis from the state Constitution.
A newly filed proposed ballot initiative would repeal the section of the Colorado Constitution that says cannabis “should be legal for persons twenty-one years of age or older and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.”
The measure, submitted to state officials for review last month, would not change Colorado laws concerning medical cannabis or industrial hemp, both of which are also legal in the state.
The long-shot effort seems unlikely to pass, at least in its current form. The proposal as submitted last month is four sentences long and appears to leave key questions unanswered. But the would-be initiative is nevertheless an indication of the ongoing frustration felt by those who believe communities would be better off under prohibition.
The full text of the proposal is as follows:
The people of Colorado declare that the recreational use of marijuana is a matter of statewide concern.
Article XVIII, Section 16 of the Colorado Constitution (Personal Use and Regulation of Marijuana) is repealed.
Laws regarding medical marijuana and industrial hemp are not changed.
This amendment is effective upon the official declaration of the vote hereon by the Governor pursuant to Section 1(4) of Article V of the Colorado Constitution.
The initiative was submitted to the state last month by Mary Lou Mosely of Denver and Willard Behm, a lawyer in Rocky Ford. Neither responded to telephone messages left by Marijuana Moment on Thursday morning.
Legalization advocates are downplaying any threat posed by the measure, saying there’s no evidence to support the idea that voters want to reverse course.
“We view this initiative as a deeply misguided and futile attempt to roll back a successful legalization policy that Coloradans firmly support,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director of Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “This initiative would kill jobs, destroy businesses, deprive the state of tax revenue, and restore the injustice of prohibition.”
“We are confident that Colorado voters would firmly reject it,” Schweich added. “But we will not be complacent. If this initiative qualifies for the ballot, the marijuana reform movement will make sure that there is a strong and well-funded campaign to defeat it.”
A 2016 poll commissioned by MPP found that only 36% of voters supported reversing legalization in Colorado.The group’s communications director, Violet Cavendish, said she’s unaware of any more recent polling on the issue but added that studies out of other states, such as Washington, which began legal sales just months after Colorado did, suggest that residents of legal-cannabis states are broadly happy with the decision to legalize.
Nationally, support for marijuana legalization has never polled higher than it does now. A Pew survey published in November found that two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans support legalization, extending an upward trend that stretches back to the late 1980s. A majority of those polled (59 percent) said they support both medical and adult-use legalization, while a third of respondents (32 percent) said only medical use should be legal.
A representative for Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a leading prohibitionist advocacy group, did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the new Colorado proposal.
To qualify the initiative for the state’s 2020 ballot, organizers will need to collect 124,362 signatures from registered voters—a task that can be quite expensive to organize. But first, the campaign has to reply to questions from state legislative staffers, who earlier this week pointed out a number of problems with how the proposal is currently written.
For example, proposed initiatives are supposed to indicate specific changes to state laws, showing precisely what language would be added or removed. The current proposal doesn’t do that. “You have provided a description of the measure,” the state Office of Legislative Legal Services wrote in a February 3 memo to the initiative’s backers. “Please amend your proposal to show the actual proposed constitutional or statutory changes.”
Other questions hinge on apparent legal conflicts created by the measure. The proposal’s text said it wouldn’t change laws on industrial hemp, for example, but the state’s reply points out that “article XVIII, section 16 of the Colorado constitution includes provisions related to industrial hemp,” which would cease to exist if that section were repealed. “How do the proponents intend to address this conflict?”
Moreover, regulations around cannabis retail stores exist in separate state statutes, officials said, which the proposed constitutional amendment wouldn’t change. “What is the proponent’s intent in repealing the constitutional provisions but not the statutory provisions? Do the proponents believe that a person would still be able to purchase marijuana at a licensed entity and use small amounts of marijuana?”
The measure’s supporters have until March 20 to submit a revised proposal.