Jerry Kopel


It's hard to choose the right metaphor for this column. "As easy as taking candy out of a baby's tiny hand?" might be close. This is about Rep. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, and her House Joint Resolution (HJR) 1042, which trashes a proposed initiative to the state constitution regarding medical use of marijuana.

HJR 1042 claims the state is "under attack" by a "well-financed national movement" to place "a measure to legalize marijuana in the constitution." The original resolution claimed physician groups "have rejected marijuana as a medicine". But since that wasn't true, Rep. Anderson changed it to "rejected marijuana as the only way to achieve medicinal benefits".

The marijuana initiative is labeled (by the Legislative Council) as No. 40, and is actually well drafted. No. 40 sets out rights and liabilities and provides safeguards against abuse of the medical privilege. But it places what amounts to another "statute" in the constitution. That will make success much harder even if No. 40 gets on the November ballot.

The resolution states "the General Assembly opposes any effort to mandate in the constitution that marijuana be described as medicine or that the possession and use of it be decriminalized for medicinal or any other purpose."

The REAL issue is the "bully" interference by the legislature with the right of initiative under our state constitution: Article V, Section 1, "the people reserve to themselves the power to propose...amendments to the constitution..."

In 42 years as a House bill proofer, legislative bill drafter, state legislator, advisor to the House and legislative columnist for the Statesman, I can't recall a single instance where the legislature by Joint Resolution urged registered voters to NOT sign a petition. It certainly didn't happen to the "Help The Sponsors Get Rich By Giving Us a Monopoly to Run Gambling Casinos in Manitou Springs" initiative which made the ballot in November 1994.

The Colorado legislature often tells Congress what to do, and sometimes "advises" other nations and the United Nations. The "advice" is ignored. But this HJR 1042 is different. It passed both houses by overwhelming margins and it DOES establish a dangerous precedent for future resolutions which will "knock" other ballot initiatives.

Even more interesting were the number of conservative legislators who have now made clear their lack of loyalty to the initiative process by voting "yes" on HJR 1042. The initiative process is now fine with them only if it is a proposal they agree with. There were 15 House and Senate votes against HB 1042, 12 by Democrats, 3 by Republicans.

This time, the resolution will probably backfire on lobbyists, such as former Rep. Chris Paulson who, representing "groups" opposed to the marijuana initiative, pushed the resolution. While constituents usually like their own legislator, most rankings place the state legislature in the same category as used car salesmen. Chances of petition signers obeying HJR 1042 are remote. However, opponents of No. 40 will advertise the resolution near election day.

Legislators may not be aware that there is ANOTHER initiative to amend the constitution which awaits approval by the Secretary of State as to petition language. Numbered as 61, it would allow cannabis use "by a patient under advice from a physician for the treatment of medical conditions." No. 61 is badly drafted and contains a large number of provisions that the courts would hold invalid.

Two examples: If No. 61 is enacted the governor is required to urge repeal of federal laws against therapeutic cannabis and urge enactment of federal laws similar to this proposal. If he doesn't do so, "it is (his) duty to resign from office". Also "failure of a state executive officer to perform their (sic) ministerial duties as provided...shall subject such officer to impeachment for malfeasance...."

No. 61 is definitely NOT a petition to sign or to vote for. But No. 40 would have merit if presented as a statute instead of amending the constitution. However, the vote by the legislature on HJR 1042 makes it clear that if No. 40 was an initiated statute approved by the voters, our legislature would do everything in its power to screw up the new law.

* * *

The Statesman is published two days after the 1998 legislative session has ended, so this column will bring you up to date on several stories we covered in the Statesman the past several months.

Back on Jan.30th, this column predicted U.S. District Judge Daniel Sparr would declare unconstitutional the following: "Candidates who do not agree to voluntary limits on campaign spending had to indicate the same in ads, and also have that information next to their names on ballots." And that is how Judge Sparr ruled on April 17th.

Judge Sparr still has to decide if the $100 contribution limit for House and Senate candidates is constitutional. While he cannot rewrite the statute to incorporate a new higher figure, he could merge all candidates with statewide candidates, who have a $500 limitation on donations. Other states HAVE struck the $100 figure.

On April 24th, I reported that the House was on its way to break the record for the 90s on the number of late bills introduced. The record HAS been broken. As of April 29th, the House had 59 late bills, four of them by Democrats. The Senate had 35 late bills, seven of them by Democrats. The House and Senate total of 94 is the third highest for the 90s, next to 95 in 1995 and 104 in 1993.

On May 1st, I reported that of the first 131 non-appropriation bills to be signed or become law without the governor's signature, 33 could be placed on the ballot through referendum petitions as they lacked a "safety clause". Since then, there are 38 more bills of which 13 lack a safety clause. Of the 169 bill total, 46 allow a referendum. That is MORE than in all of 1997 and is 27 percent of the total thus far for 1998.

HB 1072, the bill continuing the psychotherapy laws, is now on the governor's desk. The Senate amended the bill back to five separate disciplinary boards and the House concurred in the amendments.

Rep. David Owen, R-Greeley, whose House amendment had changed HB 1072 back to a single grievance board for all five occupations, had been hospitalized for neck surgery for several weeks. So lobbyists pushing the Senate version successfully speeded up the process in a "let's get this done before Owen returns" scenario.

The bill passed the Senate April 27 and 28th. The House concurred on April 29th. Guess who was still absent and excused that day? Rep. Owen. But he was back in the House on April 30th, too late to defend his amendment.

This was "smart" politics but morally indefensible. If this event had taken place in 1988 instead of 1998, a sponsor would have allowed the bill to be held one day so that Rep. Owen could defend his amendment.

Next week this column will review more final outcomes for bills discussed during the 1998 session.

Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.


Of course that didn't happen. And our readers wouldn't have known about it except for this column.

On Jan. 16th, I wrote about the book "The Education of Little Tree" by Asa Carter. What I didn't know then was that "Little Tree" had been turned into a first rate movie for 1998 with positive reviews by the movie critics. However, in Denver it played only in a few theatres and has now moved on.

Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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