So Much for Democracy — Marijuana Industry Kills Ballot Initiative

Colorado’s marijuana industry, brought into being by a state ballot initiative, stopped citizens from floating a public-health initiative by paying companies hundreds of thousands of dollars NOT to collect signatures for it. The initiative, Amendment 139, would have limited THC potencies and required health warnings on labels and child protective packaging.


Some 26 states and the District of Columbia allow citizens to write laws and take them to voters. Americans who live in the other 24 states are generally not aware of how the ballot initiative process works.

In his book, Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money, journalist David Broder, now deceased, revealed how political campaigns and moneyed special interest groups are threatening our democracy.

“Government by initiative is not only a radical departure from the Constitution’s system of checks and balances,” he wrote, “it is also a big business, in which lawyers and campaign consultants, signature-gathering firms, and other players sell their services to affluent interest groups or millionaire do-gooders with private policy and political agendas.” Many don’t live in the states whose laws they are writing.

Signature-gathering firms? To place an initiative on the ballot, most initiative states require proponents to collect signatures from a given percent of people who voted in the last election. The standard is five percent, but it can vary from state to state.

There are actually businesses whose single purpose is to pay people, usually from $2 to $5 per signature, to go out and collect them. In fact, all of the ballot initiatives that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, have succeeded because proponents were able to pay millions of dollars to collect enough signatures to get their measures on the ballot and then pay millions more to promote them to voters in TV commercials.

With the exception of Florida last year, opponents of these measures have been unable to come close to matching proponents’ riches, raising only thousands vs millions of dollars. Where’s the check and balance in that?

Amendment 139

Last week, we reported that a court decision gave a group of Colorado citizens, Healthy Colorado, clearance to begin collecting signatures for Amendment 139.

Colorado’s marijuana industry claimed that 139’s THC cap would shut down the industry. It took the issue to the state Supreme Court to challenge the initiatives and reduce the amount of time proponents had to collect signatures. But the Court ruled in Healthy Colorado’s favor two months later.

With polls showing widespread support for the amendment, the marijuana industry struck back by paying signature-gathering firms NOT to gather signatures for Amendment 139.

“The 139 opponents went out and bought up some of the most important circulators in the state, and without them we didn’t have the ability to get it to the ballot,” said a 139 spokesman. “They went out and paid these circulating firms to not circulate petitions for 139.”

Last Friday, July 8, Healthy Colorado withdrew Amendment 139.

Said Ali Pruitt, a Denver mother and a designated representative of Amendment 139, “As concerned moms, dads, teachers and friends, we simply couldn’t keep up with the financial costs brought on by the underhanded tactics and baseless delays used by the marijuana industry to keep us off of the ballot. The marijuana industry built a wall of money between us and the November ballot that we simply couldn’t break through.”

Added Healthy Colorado member Jo McGuire, “Unlimited THC has allowed the marijuana industry to create marijuana by-products that pose a public health and safety risk. THC potencies as high as 80 to 90 percent have not only caused an upsurge in Colorado ER visits and hospitalizations, but also have caused psychotic episodes that have led to death. The industry has refused to hear voters’ concerns by disabling the very process by which it introduced legalization in Colorado in 2012.”

Read “Activists behind THC-limiting initiative to withdraw controversial Amendment 139” here.
Read Healthy Colorado press release here.
Learn more about ballot initiatives here.

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