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Colorado's Legal Pot Battle on a Knife-Edge

The campaign on Amendment 64 is a proxy for the national marijuana-legalization struggle. Residents tell The Fix it could go either way.

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By Bryan Le

11/05/12

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The campaign over Colorado's Amendment 64—which seeks to regulate pot like alcohol—may be a closer-run thing than the equivalent races in Washington (where a yes vote looks likely) and Oregon (where the yes campaign seems to be struggling). Colorado's latest poll puts support for its initiative at 53% (up from 47% back in August), with 43% opposed. The pro-legalization Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol can also boast a sizable fundraising edge: they've raised over $3 million, while their opponents at the anti-legalization organization Smart Colorado have pulled in only $433,000.

But supporters worry that the numbers shown by the polls could collapse when it comes to actually casting votes. Anh, a 24-year-old student in Colorado, is one of them: “I think marijuana usage should not be a crime, but am doubtful it will pass—never has passed and never will,” she tells The Fix. “Actually, when the baby boomers die, then it will pass.” With "Vote No" endorsements coming from 42 (out of 64) of the state's county sheriffs, plenty of figures in local government and the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police, there may just be grounds for her pessimism. As with anti-legalization groups in Oregon and Washington, Smart Colorado didn't respond to The Fix's request for comment.

Meanwhile Mason Tvert, the co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, thinks that record-breaking national support for legalization (polls have put it as high as 59%) and the large donations to his cause show that a turning point has been reached. “In Colorado and nationwide, people are becoming increasingly fed up with the failed policy of marijuana prohibition. They recognize the harm that it is causing on a daily basis and sense the urgency to end it,” he tells The Fix. “Support for ending marijuana prohibition increases every year, and it has or will soon reach a point where change is inevitable.” Amendment 64's supporters variously want to expand civil liberties, prevent underage access, deny criminals drug profits, free up law enforcement and generate tax revenue. But big endorsements from the NAACP and the ACLU came for reasons of equality: A recent report shows that despite whites being the keenest potheads in Colorado, blacks and Latinos are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related reasons.

Colorado seems to be serving as a proxy for the national marijuana-policy battle. Most of the money backing both sides on Amendment 64 has come from out-of-state—with 89% and 51%, respectively, of the pro and anti totals donated by nationwide advocacy and interest groups. “People around the country who support marijuana policy reform recognize the importance of these state-based efforts and want to be a part of sparking that broader change,” says Tvert. “Those who want to maintain marijuana prohibition recognize it, as well, which is why they pour money into opposing these efforts and preventing change from spreading.” Celebrity endorsements from the likes of Morgan Freeman and Pat Robertson may have shaken things up, but as Tvert says, the fate of Amendment 64 isn't up to them: "Ultimately, the voters of Colorado are going to decide."

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