Columns

Colorado’s Marijuana Light Proposal Gets Few Tokers

Who would have ever thought marijuana growers and smokers would be the Establishment?

They are in Colorado, and Ali Pruitt, a Denver mother and one of the leaders of the Amendment 139 petition drive, said they are not fighting fair.

“As disappointed as I am to shelve these critical public safety reforms, for now, we simply couldn’t go toe-to-toe with the Marijuana Moguls, who committed tens of millions to defeat our common-sense controls on the sale of recreational marijuana,” said Pruitt.

Only three weeks into the campaign, Pruitt and the Healthy Colorado Coalition had to admit defeat.

“The marijuana industry built a wall of money between us and the November ballot that we simply couldn’t break through,” she added.

However, she also said the fight is not over.

The Healthy Colorado Coalition wanted to put a proposed state constitutional amendment before voters that would have limited the THC content of marijuana and pot products sold in Colorado to 16 percent.

It would have also required everything that contained weed to carry a label that warned of possible birth defects, loss of brain ability, increased risk of brain and behavior problems in babies, mood swings, altered senses, etc.

The Colorado marijuana industry said just limiting THC content, which is what gives marijuana its buzz, would have taken 80 percent of the marijuana and marijuana products off retail shelves in the state.

So this was more than a debate over the medical impact of Colorado smoking marijuana legally, or a Grateful Dead-style philosophical and lifestyle statement.

Marijuana is a huge industry in Colorado.

Colorado Department of Revenue tax data released in July showed the industry had sold nearly a half-billion-dollars’ worth of products in the first half of 2016. The trickle-down state tax revenue, $71.4 million through May, is enough to cause many of the other 49 states to be green with envy.

So the people who have turned weed into a nearly $1 billion legal business in Colorado quickly formed the Colorado Health Research Council to fight the Healthy Colorado Coalition’s Amendment 139 proposal.

The marijuana moguls of the Rocky Mountain State didn’t have any trouble raising $300,000 to fund the campaign against Amendment 139. That doesn’t sound like much money for a statewide campaign, but McNulty’s group couldn’t come close to accumulating that kind of bankroll.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the Colorado Health Research Council spent that money on advertising. In this day and age, 300 grand would hardly make a dent in the TV, radio and internet world.

Frank McNulty, a former state House speaker and attorney who represents the Healthy Colorado Coalition, charged the marijuana industry didn’t spend any money on ads. They didn’t have to. They only locked up the biggest company in Colorado that pays people to collect petition signatures.

That was enough, McNulty said, to strangle the opposition.

McNulty named names. He said Kennedy Enterprises, a signature-gathering company based in Colorado Springs, was paid as much $200,000 to refuse to work for the Amendment 139 people.

A spokesman for Kennedy declined to comment on the accusation.

But Neal Levine of the Colorado Health Research Council told the Denver Post his group did not do that.

Blocking the competition from companies that gather signatures is not a new political ploy. It’s been done before.

But the Posts editorial board pointed out there are 19 other companies eligible to gather petition signatures in Colorado. Why not sign a deal with one of them?

Whatever the reason, the Healthy Colorado Coalition was forced to admit defeat less than a month after going public with the petition drive.

“At least for now, the racketeers have won,” said Ron Castagna, a former high school principal. “The Marijuana Moguls put a pile of campaign cash on the table and won. Our kids and our communities are in crisis, for now.”

Another of the group’s organizers, Sue Anderson, admitted the petition idea didn’t work. She can’t see that it would ever be a viable option given the industry’s ability to “buy off signature gatherers and stall the process.”

“It’s time for our elected leaders to recognize the harm that legalized pot has had on our state, and more importantly, to end their excuses and rein in an out-of-control marijuana industry,” Anderson said. “We are not done, and we will keep up our fight to protect our children and our communities.”

However, Dr. Michele Ross, a neuroscientist and endocannabinoid expert who specializes in addiction, warned lowering the potency of marijuana by reducing THC levels would only move pot production back into the hands of amateurs in the very neighborhoods Anderson and her friends said they were trying to protect.

And that would mean, Dr. Ross said, “Houses and garages are going to blow up.”