- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

DENVER — An initiative on tomorrow’s ballot would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the Mile High City, but you wouldn’t know it from the ad campaign.

The pro-pot campaign, Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), has blanketed the city with red-and-white signs urging Denverites to vote yes on Initiative 100, saying the measure will “Make Denver Safer.”

Nowhere do the signs say anything about marijuana. The point, says SAFER Executive Director Mason Tvert, is that boozers would mellow out and become less violent if they could smoke pot instead.

“It’s our position that if people choose to use marijuana instead of alcohol, we would not have these problems,” said Mr. Tvert, 23, who has run successful nonbinding pro-pot campaigns at two Colorado universities.

That argument has outraged everyone from domestic-violence counselors to tough-on-crime advocates, who say the SAFER campaign is deliberately deceiving the public with tortured reasoning.

“It’s blatantly misleading,” said Denver City Council member Charlie Brown. “They ought to be ashamed of themselves. I was shocked and surprised that they would use this tactic without ever mentioning the word ‘marijuana.’”

Mr. Brown pulled dozens of the campaign’s signs from Observatory Park while calling on the SAFER campaign to cease its ads. Colorado law prohibits the display of campaign materials at public parks.

“The problem is there’s no organized opposition, and you see these signs everywhere,” said Mr. Brown.

SAFER activists are unbowed, insisting that crime, domestic abuse and drunken driving would plummet if marijuana were legalized. A prominent billboard near Invesco Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos, reads: “Alcohol use makes domestic violence 8 times more likely … Marijuana does not.”

At a rally last week, SAFER activists called Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper a “drug dealer” because he owns the Wynkoop Brewery Co.

“What’s the difference between Mayor Hickenlooper and a marijuana dealer? The mayor has made his fortune selling a more harmful drug: Alcohol,” said an enormous banner at the rally.

The proposal would make it legal for adults to possess as much as 1 ounce of marijuana, similar to laws in Seattle, Oakland, Calif., and a few college towns.

Despite widespread condemnation by lawmakers and editorial pages, the outcome of Initiative 100 is uncertain. A poll commissioned by SAFER found 32 percent of voters favored the measure, with 36 percent opposed.

Even if the measure passes, lawmakers say, Denver police would charge violators under state law, which carries a fine of up to $100 for marijuana possession, plus a $100 drug-offender surcharge.

The biggest impact could come on Denver’s reputation, critics say.

“The real concern is about the ramifications for Denver for attracting business if this thing happens,” Mr. Brown said. “Next thing you know, we’ll have drug dealers setting up shop in City Park.”

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