09/11/2012 02:35 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2012

Colorado's Marijuana Legalization Campaign Goes To Court Over Deleted Text In Ballot Book

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the pot advocacy group behind Colorado's marijuana legalization measure Amendment 64, filed a lawsuit in response to the Colorado Legislative Council's deletion of "Arguments For" Amendment 64 text in Colorado's voter guide, known as the "blue book."

The campaign says that the "Arguments For" Amendment 64 section of of the blue book is now just 208 words following the deletion, whereas the "Arguments Against" section is approximately 366 words -- meaning "Against" has nearly 75 percent more words than the "For" section. "The blue book is supposed to be fair and balanced, and it's safe to say this is quite lopsided and, thus, unfair," the campaign said in a statement.

In an op-ed, The Denver Post agreed with the Amendment 64 proponents, saying that the legislative committee "erred" in their blue book edits. Via The Denver Post:

There's no question that several of the most common arguments made on behalf of it have been edited from the blue book that goes to voters.

Worse, the legislative committee that took out the language did so more or less by accident. At least six of its members didn't realize what was happening and later voted unsuccessfully to restore the language.

The blue book was scheduled to go to print Monday, but after a hearing Monday afternoon in Denver District Court, an attorney representing the state agreed to postpone the printing until after a Wednesday afternoon hearing could take place allowing both the Colorado Legislative Council and the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol to debate the language in the ballot book.

Brian Vicente, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol sent this email to the legislative committee's staff director Mike Mauer requesting a fair solution to the blue book text dispute:

Director Mauer -

I am writing with the hope that we can settle our dispute over the blue book, ending the litigation in which we are currently engaged. We merely seek a fair outcome, and believe what we are proposing below is entirely fair. We hope you will agree.

We believe it is important to examine this situation objectively and with a desire to assess the actual intent of the members of the committee you direct. Amy Zook's email of September 7 focused on the technicalities of the votes related to paragraph 1 in the Arguments For section. Any intellectually honest assessment of the September 5 hearing, however, leads to the clear conclusion that there were *not* 12 members who wanted to delete the last three sentences of that staff-prepared paragraph. This is clearly demonstrated by the second vote, in which six (or eight) members of the committee voted to insert those sentences back in. This means that only seven (or five) members of the committee actually wanted the last three sentences removed.

It seems that as the Director of the Legislative Council, your primary responsibility with respect to the blue book is to ensure that the process and the book are fair and impartial. Hiding behind technicalities, while knowing that there was not true two-thirds support for removing the final three sentences of paragraph 1, is far from fair and impartial.

We are hoping that you will choose what we believe is the most fair means of resolving this situation: simply survey the 13 members who were present on September 13 and have them say, yes or no, whether they believe the final three sentences from paragraph 1 should be deleted. If 12 of these members indicate that they want to remove the three sentences, then they can and should be removed. If not, the staff-prepared three sentences should remain in the blue book.

Our opponents in the No on 64 campaign are complaining that this situation is wasting taxpayer dollars on litigation. If you are not moved by our pleas for fairness, we hope that you will at least respect their opinion and will end this litigation before the hearing tomorrow by simply surveying the 13 members. We are confident you will find that there are not 12 members in support of removing the sentences. You can then, with the power delegated to you as Director, reinsert the three sentences and begin the printing of the blue book.

Please inform me by 10:30 this morning whether you are willing to survey the 13 members present on September 5 in order to resolve this situation and settle the pending legal action. If we have not heard back from you in the affirmative by that time, we will notify the media that we attempted to settle this dispute amicably and fairly, but you rejected our reasonable proposal.


Brian Vicente, Co-Director
Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

According to the Amendment 64 proponents, Mauer has not yet responded to the letter.

State law requires the blue book to include major arguments in suport of each state issue that will appear on the ballot, however the campaign says that the legislative committee unfairly deleted three of the proponents' key arguments in support of the initiative:

  • Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol.
  • The consequences of a marijuana offense are too severe.
  • Law enforcement resources would be better spent on more serious crimes.

The campaign says that the modification was "improper" because it wasn't brought about by a "true" two-thirds majority vote -- a so-called supermajority -- which is required to make modifications.

Proponents of Amendment 64 also said that the modification was made in confusion and that the lawmakers did not intend to delete the lines. The campaign summarized the events in a statement:

Sen. Mark Scheffel made a motion to amend the first of three paragraphs in the "Arguments For" section of the blue book, and it was approved unanimously by the Council. A short time later, members realized the motion had deleted the last three sentences of the five-sentence paragraph, whereas they thought it would only remove a few words from the first two sentences. To rectify the mistake, Rep. Mark Ferrandino made a motion to reinsert the three sentences, and it was seconded by Rep. Lois Court. The Council voted 8-5 in support of the motion, but it failed because it did not receive the two-thirds vote required to modify the draft. As a result, the key arguments in support of Amendment 64 were deleted without true two-thirds support.

"I don't think he was trying to cause confusion," Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver) said to The Denver Post. "But it did cause confusion."

Listen to a recording of the hearing here and view the lawsuit filed here.

"The blue book process should be based on a good faith effort to provide objective and balanced information to the voters," Brian Vicente, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said. "With the action, members of the Legislative Council have knowingly and intentionally taken advantage of a misunderstanding in order to permanently omit some of the strongest arguments in favor of the initiative from the blue book."

"We are not looking for special treatment," Vicente said. "We simply want the Legislative Council Staff to correct this error before the language is finalized and sent to two million voters."

Vicente added: "We have come to expect dirty tricks and deception from our opponents, such as the No on 64 campaign's repeated lies about the effect of the amendment on employer drug-testing policies – the truth is that they would not be affected – but we expect more from our elected officials."



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