Wednesday, October 16, 2013
[Mason] Tvert says several factors help explain why Coloradans decided it was time to treat pot smokers like consumers instead of criminals. Nationwide support for legalization has been rising more or less steadily since the 1980s, hitting 50 percent in the Gallup Poll for the first time in 2011. And unlike in 2006 [when a marijuana decriminalization initiative lost in COlorado], voters were picking a president in 2012. "We see much greater turnout in presidential election years," Tvert says, "and when there is more turnout, there is virtually always more support for making marijuana legal." He also credits six years of public persuasion emphasizing the theme reflected in the name of the group he co-founded in 2005, SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation), and the title of the 2009 book he co-wrote, Marijuana Is Safer. Tvert cites polling data indicating that people who accept that premise are much more likely to support legalization than people who don't. "Our strategy all along," he says, "was to bring that message and break people's fears of marijuana down to the point where they would go ahead and go with their gut feeling on making it legal."
Supporters of Amendment 64 had a big financial advantage in getting their message across (although not as big as the one enjoyed by legalizers in Washington, who outspent their opponents by 400 to 1). According to campaign finance reports, seven groups backing the initiative raised about $2.7 million, the vast majority of it from out-of-state donors, including the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance. The opposition, which consisted largely of law enforcement groups, raised about $560,000, half of it from out-of-state donors. The biggest backer of the No on 64 campaign was Save Our Society From Drugs, a Florida-based group co-founded by Mel Sembler, a Republican fundraiser and drug treatment entrepreneur who co-founded Straight Inc., the notorious (and now-defunct) chain of behavior modification centers for troubled teenagers.
Tvert argues that, contrary to what you might expect, the switch from merely decriminalizing use to legalizing the marijuana business improved Amendment 64's prospects, because it promised to eliminate the black market and addressed the question of where people would get the pot they were now allowed to smoke. Voters' familiarity with state-regulated medical marijuana centers also helped. "When you talk about legalizing marijuana in the abstract," says Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, "people say, 'I don't understand. What does it look like?' The visual matters. The medical marijuana dispensaries have been regulated since 2010, and there were already hundreds of stores voters would walk past every day."
In addition to the cover story, Jacob Sollum has these companion pieces on related topics: