Late last month, a broad coalition of activists and organizations formally initiated the process of placing a statewide legalization initiative on the 2012 ballot by filing initiative language with the state. Essentially, the proposed constitutional amendment would do two things: 1) remove all penalties for private marijuana possession and limited home growing; and 2) establish a legal and regulated marijuana market for adults 21 and older. In other words, it would officially end marijuana prohibition in Colorado.
Eight versions of the language were filed, each of which include the same basic framework but with very slight variations. The purpose of this was to address any unforeseen objections election officials might bring forward and ensure the best possible initiative emerges following the intensive initial stage of the initiative process. For example, one version of the measure includes a small section that would legalize cultivation of industrial hemp, whereas another leaves it out in case its inclusion is found to violate the state’s single-subject rule, which requires
initiatives to address just one subject.
Arriving at the language of the proposed ballot measure entailed a lengthy and exceptionally exhaustive process. It started out with a very basic outline drafted by attorneys in Colorado and Washington, DC, who specialize in the field of marijuana policy reform. Among the core members of the coalition were Sensible Colorado, SAFER, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, along with support from the ACLU.
From there it was shared with a variety of local and national organizations, their legal teams, independent attorneys, and elected officials to provide comments, express any concerns, and propose edits. The coalition also made it a point to engage the medical marijuana community, including a vast cross-section of patients, caregivers, business owners, and organizations. Comments from the public were also solicited throughout this process via e-mail blasts to state and national organizations' lists of thousands of Colorado reform supporters, as well as magazine ads and public events around the state.
Ultimately, the process took about six months and 20 drafts before being filed. Yet it is still far from over. Submitting the initiative language is just the very first of many steps that must be taken before it is placed on the ballot. It must be thoroughly reviewed by the state in multiple stages before receiving the okay to begin collecting the approximately 85,000 signatures necessary to qualify. During this process there are opportunities to make slight changes to the language if they seem necessary, and of course there also remains the opportunity to re-file other versions of the language altogether.
As you can imagine, it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to produce initiative language on which everyone will agree entirely. This is not just the case with a marijuana-related initiative, but with legislation regarding any subject.
Hence, the goal here was to draft the strongest, most viable law possible – one that will accomplish our goal of bringing an end to marijuana prohibition as quickly as possible and allowing for future progress, all while appealing to a majority of Colorado voters. It is hoped that, in the end, supporters of reform across Colorado will feel comfortable with the final product, take ownership of this initiative campaign, and become part of the growing coalition working together to bring about victory in 2012.