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The inside story of how marijuana became legal in Colorado

Amend64Betty-495x351By John Ingold

The morning after this year’s election, Troy Eid, the former U.S. Attorney for Colorado, was making his way through Denver International Airport when he ran into former Gov. Bill Ritter.

Their conversation turned to Amendment 64, the marijuana-legalization measure that passed the night before, and soon Eid was dialing former Gov. Bill Owens, as the three men — all of whom opposed the amendment — laughed about the diminished weight of their endorsements.

Though Eid said none of the men was crestfallen by the initiative’s passage, the metaphor that morning was lost on none of them: A new day had dawned in Colorado.

“We were surprised,” Eid said. “Bill was surprised. Bill Ritter was surprised. I was surprised. It was such a dramatic shift from where we’d been.”

But — two months after the historic vote that made Colorado one of the first two states in the country to legalize limited marijuana possession and commercial sales — interviews with Amendment 64 proponents and opponents show the men had little reason to be surprised: The campaign on the measure was always a lopsided one.

Supporters of marijuana legalization outplanned, outspent and outfoxed marijuana opponents. They capitalized on years of groundwork to re-frame the political debate about marijuana.

They even anticipated their opposition’s arguments and moves so effectively, they could frequently rebut endorsements for the No on 64 campaign by announcing endorsements of their own on the same day.

In mid-October, the No on 64 campaign staged a news conference outside the Colorado Convention Center. In attendance were Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and a slew of leaders of the city’s most prominent business groups, all there to denounce Amendment 64. Amendment 64 supporters were there, too, and after the No campaign’s event was over, they announced the support of the state’s largest union.

“We had a formal and prepared response to every major event they did,” said Mason Tvert, one of the pro-64 campaign’s leaders.

Tvert and other marijuana activists began working toward statewide legalization years ago, reframing the debate around marijuana from one about getting high to one about law-enforcement and budgetary policy. Two years ago, marijuana activists met with a number of major players in liberal politics in Colorado to discuss a 2012 legalization measure, Brian Vicente, another campaign leader, said. Nothing really came from the meeting, but it became a symbol of the issue’s place in mainstream politics.

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