A statewide ballot initiative aimed at Colorado's legal cannabis industry disintegrated on July 8, much to the chagrin of its proponents and relief of opponents.
Amendment 139, which would've effectively taken 80 percent of products off dispensaries' shelves, had scored approvals from the state Title Board, Colorado Supreme Court and Secretary of State's Office. But, according to backers' withdrawal announcement, the task of gathering 98,492 valid signatures by Aug. 8 became nearly impossible when, they alleged, industry-funded opposition "[bought] off signature gatherers to keep the initiative from moving forward."
First, a little background. Why did Colorado's "marijuana moguls" — or, those with a stake in the survival of the industry as termed by their ill-wishers — consider Amendment 139 an existential threat?
Chiefly, it was because of a potency limit the ballot question would have written into Colorado's constitution. As it is, marijuana products come in all different strengths and are all dosed and labeled as such. Amendment 139 would have ordered the Legislature to cap it at 16 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, otherwise known as the stuff that gets you high).
One such "mogul," Denver-based attorney Rob Corry, explained in a Huffington Post op-ed: "Imagine if Colorado's alcohol industry, consisting of bars, restaurants, taverns, saloons, clubs, cabarets, stadiums, concert or entertainment venues, liquor stores, manufacturers, weddings, parties, receptions, and even your own personal liquor cabinet, were all legally-limited only to alcohol with 16.0% potency. No more legal vodka, whiskey, bourbon, tequila, gin, and so forth. It would make only beer and wine legal in Colorado."
That kind of policy, Corry continued, would be both "insane" and "unachievable" for the same reason alcohol prohibition was. Higher-potency cannabis would just migrate back into the black market. And in trying to comply with the law, growers would need years to rebreed the genetics of their plants — likely shutting down businesses, costing thousands of jobs and drying up millions in tax revenue.
Amendment 139 also would've mandated dire-sounding warnings on product packaging, most notably including "permanent loss of brain abilities" as an identified health risk.
To an industry verging on its stigma going extinct, those regulations — some of which are already in place — sound more like a death wish than well-meaning safeguards. That's why advocates jumped to arms, pouring $248,000 into the newly formed Colorado Health Research Council (CHRC) as of June 27, according to filings with the Secretary of State's Office.
Total expenditures since its inception amount to $33,133.96, mostly going to a Virginia-based law firm for a Colorado Supreme Court review of proposed language, catering and filing fees.
"They stalled as long as they could, then used financial muscle to shut down the very process by which [Amendment] 64 got on the ballot," spokeswoman for the pro-139 committee Patricia Ross told the Indy. "We were getting the last of our money Wednesday evening when we found out one of the last paid signature gathering firms signed a non-compete agreement with [CHRC]."
CHRC didn't return requests for comment by press time, but Ross says, "It must've been quite a sum because we were ready to pay hundreds of thousands."
So, did "Big Marijuana [...] negate Colorado's grassroots petitions process," as a July 8 Gazette editorial claimed?
Depends what you consider "grassroots," of course. Regardless, the tactic was so effective that Ross wants her group to consider asking the Legislature to prohibit it.
But, as policymakers may well be aware at this point, outlawing something won't necessarily make it go away.