- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In an American electoral first, a Colorado organization fighting new taxes on legal marijuana has filed a campaign finance disclosure report after a watchdog group complained that the group’s decision to give away free joints at a political rally could be considered a “campaign contribution.”

The group, No Over Taxation, handed out free marijuana cigarettes at protests this month in Boulder and Denver as part of its campaign against proposed taxes on pot production and sales, which state voters will consider next month. The group Colorado Ethics Watch then filed a complaint accusing the group of failing to disclose where it got the marijuana and how much it cost.


SEE ALSO: Majority of Americans favor legalized marijuana


In response, No Over Taxation filed a formal report last week listing the “alternative fair market price” of the marijuana handed out at $1,250, an estimate provided by Denver lawyer Robert Cory.

Mr. Cory defended the weed distribution promotion, saying, “Giving away free marijuana is a potent political tool that is fully within our constitutional rights. I think smart campaigns will forever be using this tactic.”

State officials see marijuana as a major revenue generator, but No Over Taxation has rebelled against the high duties state officials are contemplating. Proposition AA, an initiative on next month’s ballot, would authorize a 15 percent excise tax on pot sales and a special sales tax of up to 15 percent. That is in addition to state and local sales taxes, which in Denver total 8 percent.

Peg Perl, staff counsel with Colorado Ethics Watch, said the case marked the first time campaign disclosure rules were applied to marijuana, which has only recently been legalized in Colorado and Washington state and will be available for retail sale in Colorado starting Jan. 1.

Colorado always has required campaign groups to disclose non-monetary contributions, and this case was different simply because of the nature of the contribution, Ms. Perl said. “If someone donated a cheese platter at a fundraiser, we would be raising the same questions,” she said.

Although not all states require interest groups to disclose non-monetary items, Ms. Perl said, it would be in the groups’ best interests to file reports to keep voters informed.

“You might as well have it all disclosed and open to the public, because there is no danger of bumping up against a contribution limit,” she said.

Mr. Cory said the No Over Taxation group planned to throw a Nov. 5 postelection party where they would give away more joints to their supporters.

As the disclosure was filed in Colorado, a Gallup survey released Tuesday found that support for decriminalizing marijuana nationwide is at an all-time high. For the first time, a “clear majority” of Americans say pot should be legal, according to the poll.

The survey found that Americans’ views on marijuana legalization have changed dramatically since 1969, when 12 percent of those surveyed favored legalization.

“Now for the first time, a clear majority of Americans (58 percent) say the drug should be legalized,” Gallup’s Art Swift wrote in the poll analysis.

Mr. Swift said that the support could be tied to the number of Americans — nearly four in 10 — who have admitted to smoking pot and to the successful efforts to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington.

“Support for legalization has jumped 10 percentage points since last November and the legal momentum shows no sign of abating,” he said.

Mr. Swift likened the changing attitudes on the drug to the increased support of gay marriage, which has reached “majority support in the last two years.”

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for the decriminalization of responsible drug use, said the poll highlights the “absurdity and even venality of persisting with harsh prohibitionist policies.”

“No other law is enforced so harshly and pervasively yet deemed unnecessary by so many Americans,” Mr. Nadelmann said. “Spending billions of dollars and arresting 750,000 people annually for violating marijuana laws now represents not just foolish public policy but also an inappropriate and indecent use of police powers to favor one side of a cultural and political debate.”

Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.