Out-of-state money funded push to pass Amendment 64 and legalize marijuana in Colorado

Pro-legalization groups collected $2.4 million

DENVER - By January 5, it will be legal for adults over the age of 21 to smoke a joint in Colorado. Voters approved legalization in a constitutional amendment that was largely supported by out-of-state funding.

In addition to allowing adults to possess and use one ounce of marijuana, a fully-enacted Amendment 64 will allow adults to grow up to six plants. By January 2014, licenses will be issued for stores, labs and growing facilities.

According to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, $2,393,183 was donated to committees that promoted the amendment. By contrast, only $297,837 was donated to a group opposing the amendment.

Although 55 percent of voters in Colorado approved Amendment 64, marijuana law expert Sam Kamin said he doesn't expect to see the amendment fully enacted.

"While the federal government has been tolerant of what's happened so far, they will be very intolerant of thousands rather than hundreds of dispensaries in Colorado," he said.


The biggest donors


Of the $2.4 million donated to groups supporting the amendment, the biggest donor to the cause was a group called the Marijuana Policy Project. They made at least two donations totaling at least $1.2 million.

MPP's motto is "We change laws."

At an Election Night gathering celebrating the passage of the amendment, 7NEWS reporter Lindsey Sablan asked Betty Aldworth, advocacy director for a group called "Yes on 64," if MPP had indeed donated $1.2 million.

"At least," Aldworth responded.

The national lobbying group is based in Washington, D.C. and their stated goal is a nation where marijuana is regulated similarly to alcohol.

Spokesman Morgan Fox said they've been working on passing laws in Colorado since at least 2000.

"Public opinion is starting to come around on this issue and it is far ahead of where legislators think it is," he said.

Fox said Colorado's implementation of the procedures for licensing and regulating the marijuana industry will be under a national microscope.

"Other states will definitely be watching," he said.

Interestingly, records show MPP was not in the top 20 donors who supported a similar campaign to legalize marijuana in Washington State.  Initiative 502 was approved by 55 percent of voters in that state.

"We felt like the time was right in Colorado," Fox said. "There was a very effective grass roots organization there."

The second largest donor to the campaign in Colorado was Ohio billionaire Peter Lewis, chairman of Progressive Corp. He donated $875,493 to Citizens for Responsible Legalization, a pro-legalization group in Colorado.

The donation was 98 percent of their total funding.

National Institute on Money in State Politics records show Lewis donated over $2 million to a Washington group supporting that state's legalization initiative.

"No person on the face of this Earth has donated more money to reform marijuana laws than Peter B. Lewis," Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2011.

Complete donation data for and against Amendment 64.


Moving forward


Under Amendment 64, an undecided number of dispensaries would be allowed. Preference in the licensing system would be given to existing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Regulations are still being crafted, but Yes on 64 campaign director Brian Vincente said pot won't be for sale everywhere.

"There's specific stores that sell this product and they're strictly regulated by the Department of Revenue," Vincente said.

Sam Kamin said the federal government has turned a blind eye to medical marijuana, but won't be so inactive about legalization.

"What we have in Colorado right now is a multi-million dollar where everything happens in the industry is a federal crime. With the passage of 64 we have potential of multi-billion dollar industry that would be built on the same quicksand," Kamin said.

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Colorado, said that his office was reviewing Amendment 64 and has no plan to change their enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act.

“The Department of Justice's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," he said in a written statement. "In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. We are reviewing the ballot initiative and have no additional comment at this time.”

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers acknowledged that details remain to be worked out, but pledged to work toward the program voters approved. The one glitch he highlighted was the taxation of marijuana under Amendment 64 that proponents said would result in up to $40 million each year going to state schools.

"In fact, Amendment 64 did not comply with required language under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and no such tax will be imposed," Suthers wrote.

Under TABOR, it will be up to the state legislature whether they will allow voters to actually approve the tax.

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