DENVER -- Mile High City residents on Tuesday voted to legalize the possession of a small amount of marijuana, capping a surprisingly nasty campaign that included allegations of misleading voters and exploiting their fears of violent crime.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, 54 percent, or 56,001 voters, had cast ballots for Measure I-100, while 46 percent, or 48,632 voters, voted against it.
"We educated voters about the facts that marijuana is less harmful to the user and society than alcohol," said Mason Tvert, campaign organizer for SAFER, or Safer Alternatives For Enjoyable Recreation. "To prohibit adults from making the rational, safer choice to use marijuana is bad public policy."
Some supporters hoped the Denver proposal would launch a national trend toward legalizing the drug. They say enforcement causes more problems than it cures. They argued that smoking marijuana should carry the same penalties as abusing alcohol.
"What this does say is reconsidering marijuana prohibition is absolutely a mainstream issue now," said Bruce Mirken of the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.
Under the measure, residents over 21 years old could possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It would not affect the medical marijuana law voters approved in 2000.
The Marijuana Policy Project said Denver is the second major U.S. city in less than a year to pass a measure aimed at replacing marijuana prohibition with policies designed to treat marijuana in a manner comparable to alcohol. A similar measure won by a wide margin in Oakland, Calif., in November 2004.
"A few years from now, this vote may well be seen as the proverbial 'tipping point,' the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition in the U.S.," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Last year, there were more than three-quarters of a million marijuana arrests, an all-time record. That's equivalent to arresting every man, woman, and child in the state of Wyoming plus every man, woman, and child in St. Paul, Minn. The public understands that this simply makes no sense. Regulating marijuana will take money out of the pockets of criminals and free police to go after violent crime, and the voters of Denver took their first step in that direction today."