This month's national elections are over, but marijuana reformers in Colorado are taking no breaks. Just 11 days after red state Colorado turned dramatically blue, nearly 300 activists and would-be activists gathered last Saturday morning at Regis University in Denver for the 2008 Colorado Marijuana Reform Seminar and Activist Boot Camp, designed to make them more effective and to pave the way for more marijuana law reform in the Rocky Mountain State.There is plenty to build on. Colorado has been a medical marijuana state since 2001 and a decrim state since the 1970s. In the past few years, activists like Mason Tvert of SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation) and Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado have been building an impressive movement for a new set of reforms. In 2005, SAFER won a Denver vote to legalize marijuana possession, and after that was ignored, came back in 2007 with a winning lowest law enforcement priority initiative in Denver.
But while Denver appears ready to embrace legal weed, the rest of the state is not quite there yet, and a 2006 statewide legalization initiative ultimately came up short with 41% of the vote. A big part of the focus of the boot camp was to ensure that next time a legalization initiative appears on the ballot, it goes over the top.
To that end, SAFER and Sensible Colorado assembled a series of panel for the day-long seminar. Beginning with "Colorado's Marijuana Laws: Past, Present & Future," and "Everyone Can Agree: Colorado Needs Reform," "Citizen Lobbying: Reaching & Influencing Elected Officials," "The Media: How It Works, How We Can Use It, & Why It Matters," and culminating with "Taking Action: Building Support & Maintaining Momentum," organizers created a very full plate indeed for the assembled activists. The panels featured scientists, liberal and conservative public policy analysts, media representatives, and seasoned activists.
One big catch for the boot camp was House Majority Leader Paul Weissman (D-Louisville), who explained the necessity and the how-to of lobbying elected officials to bring change. "We frankly just listen to each other unless there's an effort for people to get a hold of us," Weissmann said. It is more effective to build long-term relationships with elected officials than to make a campaign donation, he said. "The people who I remember more aren't folks who wrote a check, but the people who went door-knocking," he said.
"The 2008 campaign season only just ended for most people," said SAFER executive director Mason Tvert. "But for the growing number of Coloradans committed to reforming state and local marijuana laws, the 2009 campaign season has already begun. Our first goal -- to disprove the myth that marijuana makes people less motivated -- has clearly already been accomplished."
The boot camp filled an identifiable need among Colorado activists, said Tvert. As groups who had led campaigns and garnered considerable notoriety, it fell on SAFER and Sensible Colorado to address that need, he said.
"Because of all the work we've done around the state and all the media coverage we've received, we frequently hear from people who want to get involved; there are some every week," Tvert explained. "We wanted to find productive things for these people to do and we wanted to create a more supportive environment for ballot measures, so we identified areas where people can make a difference and developed materials so they can do things more effectively and understand the whys and wherefores," he explained. "The boot camp brought everyone together to provide them with the materials and some training. The point of the panels was to give them first-hand information that will help them be better, more effective activists," he added.
Drug War Chronicle