Denver City Council members want to pass an ordinance that would make marijuana possession the lowest priority for police - but not because pot advocates have won them over.

Instead, the council wants to put the law on the books in hopes that the courts will quickly throw it out.

The move is in response to a ballot initiative that would go before voters in November to make possession of small amounts of marijuana the "lowest law-enforcement priority."

The council is decidedly against the spirit of the initiative, but to defeat the measure, council members will have to vote for an ordinance they oppose.

"It will allow the city attorneys to immediately go about proving how invalid, legally,this ordinance is," Council President Michael Hancock said during a Safety Committee meeting Wednesday. "I believe what is written here - because of the legal flaws - is purely symbolic."

But marijuana advocates said several cities have similar laws.

"I asked Hancock afterward if he is a gambling man," said Mason Tvert, who heads the group pushing for the looser marijuana regulation. "Other cities are doing it, and other cities have challenged and have been overruled."

The issue - and rather awkward political position for the elected officials - was born out of the group Citizens for a Safer Denver's ability to gather nearly 6,000 valid signatures for a citizens initiative.

Their successful campaign gives the City Council just two options under Denver's city charter: They can refer the matter to voters or bring and pass their own identical ordinance.

But Denver officials say it is unclear what, if anything, the initiative would do to law enforcement. And assistant city attorney David Broadwell told council members Wednesday that the proposal would ask Denver to act outside its jurisdiction because marijuana possession is a state law.

"It is just fundamental that a city ordinance can't affect the law enforcement discretion of the chief law enforcement officer of the 2nd Judicial District," Broadwell said, referencing District Attorney Mitch Morrissey. "If the Denver City Council itself ... wanted to run an ordinance to deprioritize the prosecution of a state criminal law, I would tell you as your attorney that I don't think you could make that stick."

Morrissey also attended the meeting and asked council members to consider a third option: "That is, just to refuse to put it on the ballot and have (Citizens for a Safer Denver) take it to court," he said.

Instead, the City Council filed for both their own ordinance and a ballot question. The ordinance and the ballot language will go before the full City Council on first reading Aug. 27.

Hancock said even if the council does both, the idea is to get the law on the books so that the courts can determine its legality as soon as possible.

The courts will not review the language until it has been passed into law.

Tvert accused the City Council of political trickery after the meeting. He issued a statement saying, "The Denver City Council is primarily - although not entirely - comprised of closed-minded bigots.

"They are doing everything in their power to directly violate the will of the voters who elected them, and they have made it very clear that when it comes to issues they dislike, they base their public service solely on their personal beliefs," he said.

This initiative is not the first time Tvert has made Denver wrestle with its marijuana enforcement. Tvert and his group, Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation, ran a successful campaign in 2005 to legalize possession of small amounts of pot in Denver.

But because Denver police had a history of ticketing offenders under a similar state law, authorities have not changed their enforcement.

Tickets for misdemeanor marijuana possession actually went up the year after Denver voters "legalized" marijuana, from 2,196 in 2005 to 2,446 in 2006.

Tvert and others tried last year to repeal the state possession law, but statewide voters rejected that initiative 59 percent to 41 percent.

Tvert's latest ballot push mirrors laws passed in 10 other U.S. cities, primarily on the West Coast.

Seattle's City Council president, Nick Licata, said that city has not seen any increase in crime or open marijuana use since a similar ordinance passed.

He said the only controversy there has been over what - if any - impact it has had on law enforcement.

"It really has been sort of an arcane argument over statistics among a very small group of people in an office hidden away in City Hall," he said.

Santa Barbara, Calif., tried to challenge a lowest-priority measure by suing the woman who brought the initiative. A Santa Barbara County superior judge ruled against the city, upholding the measure in July.