The Fiasco in Denver: Putting the Cart Before the Horse

The embarrassing episode this week in Denver, when the sponsors of a city-wide initiative to legalize marijuana smoking in some bars and lounges withdrew their initiative, even after qualifying for the ballot, reminds us of the need to thoroughly vet these types of projects – especially those with the potential to set-back the legalization movement if they fail – before moving forward. This was an impulsive act that should never have seen the light of day – at least not in 2015.

While I am not privy to the actual discussions that led to the launch of this ill-fated campaign in Denver, one can imagine a couple of friends sitting around one night, smoking some good weed, and convincing themselves that now is the time to expand on the legalization plan in effect statewide in Colorado, by allowing for smoking in bars in Denver. It is a natural next-step for Colorado and the other legalization states.

Most smokers favor the option of bars or lounges where marijuana smokers can gather to socialize outside the home, so the intent of the initiative was admirable. We should not be limited only to smoking in our homes. There is no valid reason for such a limitation, and it really reflects the remaining stigma many non-smoking Americans still associate with the use of marijuana – that it may be tolerated in the home, but is somehow an offense to society to permit smoking in a public venue.

But these public policy changes are always challenging, and generally before going public with their proposal, proponents fully consider both the electoral timing of the effort and the level of public support for the proposal. Did no one realize that 2015 is an off-year election, when all voter turnout is low, and especially the youth vote, where support for legalization is the strongest? Did no one undertake advance polling to determine whether a majority of the public would support such a proposal? Or was this initiative a reflection of the arrogance that sometimes comes with a big victory, such as A-64, that leave those sponsors believing they can do no wrong?

The Spin


The official announcement from the Campaign for Limited Cannabis Social Use, a spin-off of the two groups, Sensible Colorado and SAFER, that were behind the successful Amendment 64 campaign approved by the Colorado voters in 2012, was one of the more creative attempts to try to turn an embarrassing defeat into a victory, but hardly convincing.

Claiming their decision to withdraw was based on a desire to work cooperatively with elected city officials to accomplish their goals “without a contentious ballot initiative fight,” the sponsors said they are now willing “to give the collaborative process a shot.”

“We are optimistic about these discussions, but also know that we can return to the ballot in November 2016 – when the electorate will be far more favorable to our case,” the group said.

In other words, they realized what other observers had seen from the start – this was the wrong time to be mounting this voter initiative. Truly amazing that this conclusion was only reached after squandering tens of thousands of dollars and enormous political credibility.

Their conclusion: “Today is not the end of a campaign; it is a transition from a ballot initiative process to a lobbying effort.”

Perhaps a lobbying effort in 2015 would have made sense all along, as some have been doing, and only if that effort were unsuccessful, and advance polling indicated a voter initiative would enjoy the support of a majority of the public in 2016, should the discussion have shifted to an initiative. The sponsors clearly had the cart before the horse, and we are now paying the price.

I appreciate the need to minimize the damage from withdrawing the initiative, and to attempt to salvage their political credibility, but somehow I doubt those who contributed either money or time to qualify the proposed initiative for the ballot will consider this a victory. And if one were forced by the reality of the situation to pull the plug, even at this late date, it would have been refreshing to at least see the sponsors acknowledge the obvious – that this decision was based on low polling results indicating their proposal could not win at the polls in November.

Let’s hope this was a lesson well-learned, and we can now move forward in a more reasoned manner.


This column was originally posed on



16 thoughts

  1. Casting aside all the rhetoric, wouldn’t it just be easier if people actually owned and controlled their OWN property and bodies? If you own a fucking bar, and YOU want to allow smoking there, it should be YOUR choice, just like if you own your body, it should be YOUR choice to smoke or not.

    When freedom is run through the politics mill if anything comes out at all, it’s watered down to “permission based” and you end up paying government thugs for a granted privilege. Those same kinds of thugs haven’t even stopped throwing people in cages for just possessing weed in most place yet.

    Now they want some protection money to “allow” property owners to control their own property via licensure etc. ? Too ironic.

  2. Didn’t mention a possible most important flaw of that initiative, that it concerned “$moking” when just maybe a large amount of 2015 voters were ready (or at least curious) to try permitting VAPING in the said bars and lounges.

    At this point maybe time to desert the $inking $moking $hip anyway, and have our Lord Photographers render us as $milingly vape-literate to lure 2016 voters in a reasoned manner.

    $moking (Joints) lets half the content escape loose, ubercarbolizes another quarter, wasting cannabinoid value. Let’s abandon no$talgia and promote zero-sidestream-smoke, universally tolerated 25-mg Single Vapetoke Convention, and a Handmake-It-Yourself flexdrawtube one-hitter industry.

  3. Have to disagree, Keith.

    I do agree that it had a slim chance of succeeding in 2015 (same with ResponsibleOhio), but I would hardly characterize it as a fiasco.

    As with you, I’d prefer having alcohol and marijuana in separate establishments. The only polling on this issue that I’ve heard of had it at 56% approval. The fact that they easily got this on the ballot shows electoral strength and what I believe is a bargaining advantage. They very well could have been positioning themselves for 2016 (or forcing some sensibility from Denver lawmakers before 2016). Then again, I’m not a professional MJ activist.

    All I know is that for a state that voted in A64, a constitutional amendment to regulate marijuana LIKE alcohol, Denver politicians could stand to be less anal-retentive authoritartians and have some common sense.

  4. This does not bode well for Ohio. As you said Keith, This is
    an off-year election. The youth vote is always tougher to get to turn out with no presidential election comming up. Timing and planning for the long term are the most important elements of any ballot initiative. Plus it gives time for the voter demographics to shake out. Patience (like what Show Me Cannabis is doing in Missouri) is doing.

  5. Back in the day, my hippie friends and I were back-to-nature, organic believers. When organic and back-to-nature went mainstream, suddenly you couldn’t trust anything labeled ‘natural’ or ‘organic’.

    I can remember when advertising on the Internet was viewed with disdain. Those days are gone!

  6. Wish we had our stuff together here in Flo-re -duh….. voters aren’t that sophisticated here, but we have a new petition started, “Regulate Florida”, its going the route of regulating cannabis like alcohol, well see. if the tokers get registered to vote, then get off their butts… Well see…

  7. Cannabis was used for phytoremediation by farmers to lessen the flow of nitrate enriched fluids from their stockyards. If they are allowed to continue this practice without the authorities swooping in to steal their lands, the waterways would once again loose their algae blooming encarceration.

  8. By bringing the measure onboard with enough signatures, the organizers gained a club to use on the Denver elected officials. Either the city finds a way to meet the measure’s desire or else there will be a 2016 campaign with fallout for any elected official who stood in the way.

    As for Bob Constantine, all I can say is “Freedom Forever!” and applaud your POV!

  9. Several illegal grows were raided in Denver. They said they were ran by Cubans and were shipping the weed to Miami. I think they said there was over 2000 plants. Not Good at all.

  10. I think it’s wise strategy! I like it! Sorry, Sir K! Let’s just see if it works; we can slam dunk an Initiative victory in ’16, ifwe must ahow, now…

  11. The Dutch coffeeshop system has one thing going for it – the fact that you have a social context for smoking weed. Without this users are still second class citizens. If there are no restrictions on how many people you have in your home to smoke with you then why on earth should it not be allowed in a designated public place ?

  12. Ahh… The old contentious debate over public and private. Don’t worry Keith, I don’t think this decision will change voter turn out in Ohio as much as a “Buddie” mascot with his head on fire.
    As much as I would personally enjoy a good blonde ale while passing a joint with my brothers and friends, I am happy to enjoy such a glorious pastime in a private setting like a family barb-q where I can provide a place to pass out for “that guy” who shouldn’t drive much less offer law enforcement the ambiguous opportunity to label marijuana in their police report involving violence.
    I went to watch the U.S. V. Mexico at the Alamodome in San Antonio several months back with a couple of my brothers. Around half-time, my youngest brother whips at a joint, lights up and passes it to me. I’m like, “REALLY, brother? You know there is such thing as a vaporizer?” (Not that I didnt sneak a toke…) He was like “yeah.. ” laughing with one of his friends. Mexico was clearly winning, so he didn’t care anymore. Good thing, because moments later he and his friends were escorted out of the Alamodome by security. “See? I told you they have cameras..” Not to mention the people sitting behind us didnt appear too amused. Fortunately, as we discovered later, no arrest was made and my little brother just wandered off with his friend to the afterparty. A foolish risk, but it attests to the priorities of a security overwhelmed by more violent drunk people.
    Nonetheless, I have to wonder, if we had a vaporizer instead of a joint would anyone have cared even if they noticed?
    One thing is for certain; I stopped drinking after that hit from the joint, and I’m glad for it as I sobered up at an IHOP with my other brother later that night. I still had to drive when we got back to his house! Finishing the night stoned and hungry is a hell of a lot better than ending up in jail or an accident.

  13. Can you imagine how the prohibitionists could use the imagery of video footage taken from establishments that would permit it? Out of context? Looping one, or a few, negative instances as though it were the norm? I’m glad if the backers of the initiative now feel they can negotiate with local and state officials on having private cannabis social clubs so they don’t have to do it at home around their kids or sneak behind the shed or something.

    Public places, as opposed to private clubs, could help keep those prohibitionist cameras out, whose footage could be used to harm legalization in other states. As someone toiling away at a thankless job most other people would refuse to do unless they had to do it I am one of countless numbers who will likely Never get to visit Colorado, Never get to visit any of the free states. Stuck here in Pennsylvania on the Least Coast, a state that has no ballot initiative process, my preference would be for folks in the cannabis community to do no harm directly or indirectly to the prospects of legalization in other states.

    Pennsylvania has medical marijuana legislation, but once again it is not a priority and is being held up in the state’s House. The bill number is 11-hundred something, so low priority, while the Republicans hold up everything, basically, in their endless argument with the Democratic governor who was elected to implement the state budget his way, basically. Total gridlock. That’d be the day that my employer would let me come up with a few bogus excuses to focus on so that I don’t have to get anything done. That’s be the day that the companies I pay bills to would let me come up with some lame-ass issues so that I don’t have to meet my budget/bill due date deadline.

    I’ve been battling cancer for years, and other people have kids with seizures, and then these politicians are just farting around.

  14. I would vote to allow for “using” marijuana at such locations, (you know, eating, drinking, tinctures, vaping) but not “smoking”. I only want to consume what I choose, and not other people’s smoke in the air.

    I would even vote to allow non-smoking consumption in areas cigarrette smoking and nicotine vaping is allowed (except vehicles in gear).

    I could vote for indoor smoking at a club if the smoking was in a non carpeted, well ventilated (and filtered so as to not smell outside), enclosed room. I could also vote for allowing it outside the club, if non-visable from the street, or smallable accross propeety lines.

    I think having the above restrictions is the way to go.

  15. What are those people in Denver smoking? Of course they should have waited until the 2016 election when turnout would have been much higher (in more ways than one).
    Seriously though Ohio is/was a major missed opportunity, even if it wins. Ohio is the most important swing state in a presidential election. Hillary would have been forced to back legalization knowing she couldn’t compete with the eventual Republican for the Prohibition voters. Not that a promise from a Clinton means much, but still the exposure generated by one of the two parties having to make a commitment in it’s platform could have been Prohibitions Waterloo.
    Now if we win in Ohio she can say, States, Federal, More Studies,, blah blah blah,,, Next Question. If we lose she’ll she no reason to endorse something a majority of voters in Ohio just rejected a few months ago, Either way it will be old news she doesn’t really have to say much about. And those of us who know Hillary know she can talk for hours without saying much
    What are those people in Ohio smoking?

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