Thursday, May 11, 2006

Political Buzz : Drinking Liberally with Mason Tvert

Early Wednesday, Congressional Candidate Herb Rubenstein was at a PTA meeting in Green Mountain. He listened as the principal crowed about how five canine units made a surprise visit to the High School. They locked down the classrooms while the dogs swept the school for the scent of marijuana. None was found, but that was never really the plan. "The goal was to scare the kids," said the proud administrator, and by all accounts they achieved that goal.

If you are a student in Colorado who smokes marijuana, there is a list of reasons you should be afraid. Mason Tvert came to Denver's Drinking Liberally to give us the facts on what things really were on that list, and what things never really have been.
For a full accounting on the medical benefits and legal hazards of marijuana, I will simply link to NORML, but in short, the damage done to our society by criminalizing the reasonable behavior of half our citizens far outweighs the negative effects of a drug that is far less damaging than alcohol or tobacco.

Mike Krause of the Independence Institute is concerned about the 85% of our drug task force money that is spent to enforce marijuana laws instead of targeting Meth, and Harvard Professor Jeffrey Miron shows that the state of Colorado could be drawing $85,000,000 dollars a year in tax revenue if we decided to legalize and regulate the sales.

Tvert also sited the danger of having a system where people ignore and disrespect an unrealistic law, and are forced to buy a product from vendors who have an interest in pushing truly damaging substances on the consumer. The real 'gateway' problem is not that doing one drug leads to harder ones, it is that breaking one law leads to breaking others. By creating a situation where 47% of the people have already crossed the line into illegality, you push them farther down that road. Use it as a reason to deny them a job, or rob them of educational funding, and you carve the damage deeper.

The ridiculous extent of our wasted resources can be seen at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Recently, as frequent readers of this blog know, the school took steps against drug reform protesters by closing a park where rallies were expected. When the rally occurred despite their attempts, undercover police officers walked through the crowd photographing students. These students, who had yet to be charged of anything, subsequently had their pictures posted on the internet with bounties offered for their identities. The chilling effect that this has had on political speech and the damage this has done to the education and careers of these students remains to be seen, but it pleased me to hear that a suit on behalf of a few of the students has been lodged against the State. Actually, it almost pleased me. As a Colorado taxpayer and a parent of a student at that university I was outraged that they would waste my money trying to harm his classmates for such a hypocritical reason. It is a mixed blessing to hear that more of my money will be wasted to defend my government from actions I would never have approved.

If Tvert and SAFER Colorado are successful in collecting the signatures they need to put marijuana regulation reform on the November ballot, our approval might finally be sought on this subject. Mason talked with us at length not only about the medical and legal questions, but gave us some insight into the politics of the issue as well. The topic is not fully partisan. It has strong Libertarian aspects, fiscal conservative and small government hooks, and from the other side a certain amount of resistance amongst Democratic leadership. Still, it may be an ideal mobilizing tool for young Democrats. Tvert posited that the referendum would energize young liberal voters in far greater numbers than it was likely to draw prohibitionists.

He argued that it could be a wedge in much the same way the Republicans use the gay marriage issue. But while showing how it favored the Dems, he made it clear that helping everyone with a (D) after their names was not his intention. He spoke approvingly of figures like Barney Frank, and acknowledged the vocal support of Rubenstein, but Tvert had no remorse about going after Democrats, like Gubenatorial Candidate Bill Ritter, who have opposed reform. When talking about the Mayor of Denver, Tvert stated, "We did use him as a foil," but went on to say that they would have left Hickenlooper alone if he had taken a more neutral position than the directly anti-reform stance he had chosen.

Much of Tvert's presentation was guided by good questions from Congressional Candidate Bill Winter. Winter, who like myself is one of those rare people who have never smoked marijuana, did not voice a position on the referendum tonight, but he did express a skepticism about the motives and consequences of our country's substance enforcement policies. He was concerned about how enforcement disproportionately burdens people of color. Most of his questions, however, were more about probing Tvert than anything about Winter. Bill asked about Mason's history, which included being a target in a multi-jurisdictional witch hunt back in college, and he tested Mason with, "what do you say about this argument..." queries.

One of my favorite answers;

Marijuana is illegal. We get that all the time. "But marijuana is illegal!"

Well, what the hell is an 18 year old drinking?

For a good laugh, look up the new ad campaign to discourage underage boozing at CU. I am told it recommends only monthly binge drinking.

Many of the questions evoked comparisons between marijuana and tobacco, or marijuana and drinking. Mason had arguments for why pot was the better option on everything from automobile accidents to military stress reduction. I think there are limits to the, 'it is not as bad as...' line of reasoning, but perhaps not so fully as Attorney General Suthers, who apparently spoke approvingly of prohibition of both pot and liquor in an April 19th interview. 

Overall, the evening was enjoyable and informative. Tvert held the attention from the moderately sized crowd far longer than many of our visitors have, and gave no sign of flagging energy for as long as people had questions. It will be interesting to see how the referendum plays out, and if the Democrats are indeed able to capitalize on its presence to turn out the youth vote both statewide, and in districts with high collegiate populations like Angie Paccione's CD-4.


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