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I-100 author smokes foes
date: 03-November-2005
editorial comment editorial comment
Nothing like a bit of truth to send power mad politicians on another planet. Watch out Kiddo, soon you will be labeled a narco-terorists by the DEA's dope dogs or by the hounds of Fox....

23-year-old turns tables on drug war with Denver victory

By Alan Gathright, Rocky Mountain News
November 3, 2005

It's not even noon and Mason Tvert already has hit seven television and five radio news shows in his post-election victory lap as the architect behind an effort to make Denver the first U.S. city to legalize adult marijuana possession.

Tvert has drawn international coverage by turning the tables on the drug war.

He calls marijuana the "safer alternative" for society and criticizes the "hypocrisy" of elected officials who condemn pot while condoning alcohol use, despite studies showing that alcohol fuels deadly violence, car wrecks and abuse.

He even hounded Denver's super-popular, brewpub-owning mayor, John Hickenlooper, to debate - a challenge the mayor ignored.

"I've gotten calls from as far as Australia and Germany," Tvert said Wednesday after wrapping an appearance on a national Fox News morning show.

Not bad for a 23-year-old kid who just graduated last year from the University of Richmond, in Virginia.

The burly 6-footer defies the sleepy-eyed stoner stereotype. He's a hyper political junkie in a dark pinstriped suit who sticks like glue to his talking points while juggling nonstop interviews on two ever-buzzing cell phones.

For the record, the Phoenix native refuses to say if he smokes pot.

"That's like asking a pro-choice person if they've had an abortion," he said. Besides, he added, admitting smoking a drug that's still illegal under state and federal law would be "self-incriminating."

Indeed, Denver law enforcement officials and city leaders warn that amending local law will change nothing because possession busts will continue to be prosecuted under state law.

"It is still illegal to possess less than an ounce of marijuana anywhere in the state, and that includes Denver," Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said in a statement Wednesday.

Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a petty offense and punishable by a fine.

Tvert accuses Denver officials of "defying the will of the voters" if they ignore the 7 percentage-point victory Tuesday for the Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative.

"We're going to be encouraging folks who do get cited under state law to take their cases to court," he said.

"And we will show just how damaging and how many problems it causes to keep citing nonviolent marijuana offenders who would otherwise be law-abiding citizens."

What's next for the Johnny Appleseed of weed? He vows to take the pot-beats-booze crusade to other Colorado communities, although he won't name any yet.

"This is something that is going to spread across the country because people are starting to open their eyes to look beyond 70 years of marijuana prohibition propaganda," he said.

After graduating from college in 2004, Tvert started the fight as a foot soldier for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

He campaigned against Arizona congressional candidates who "think it's OK to send sick and dying people to jail for using" medical marijuana prescribed by their doctor.

In January, he moved to Boulder and created the nonprofit Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, whose three-person board includes himself and current and former members of the Marijuana Policy Project.

After the University of Colorado and Colorado State University were rocked by student deaths from binge-drinking, Tvert engineered successful nonbinding student elections last spring urging university officials to make sanctions for marijuana no more severe than those for comparable alcohol violations.

In June, he moved into a south Denver townhouse and launched the Initiative 100 campaign, driven by 200 volunteers and funded by $32,000 in individual contributions, in-kind donations from his nonprofit group and independent billboard funding from a national marijuana-reform group.

Tvert's aggressive campaign drew harsh criticism - and lots of news coverage.

City Councilman Charlie Brown blasted SAFER for "deceiving" voters with lawn signs urging them to "Make Denver SAFER," which he said could have fooled people into thinking I-100 was an anti-crime initiative to boost police staffing.

A backlash by domestic violence groups also forced SAFER to cancel a billboard showing a battered woman with the slogan: "Reduce family and community violence in Denver" - without mentioning marijuana.

Undaunted, Tvert kept buttressing his arguments with studies underscoring alcohol's societal harm and even quoting former drug czar Barry McCaffrey, who said, "The most dangerous drug in America today is still alcohol."

Tvert dismisses suggestions that he's an out-of-state "carpetbagger."

"I'm really enjoying Denver, so I'm planning on staying around here for a long time," he said.

Mason Tvert

Age: 23

Birthplace: Phoenix

Pets: "I used to have a guinea pig."

Favorite book: Les Miserables

Favorite movie: True Romance

Web site: Saferchoice.org

gathrighta@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-892-5486

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