Complicating matters for the Amendment 139 claim by backers: It is not unheard of, or illegal or unethical, for groups to hire circulators to work to advance their cause against a rival’s petition-gathering effort. Pictured: A selection of indica and sativa cannabis flowers on sale at Denver Relief. The recreational and medical marijuana shop purports to be the first in the city, and the first on the "Green Mile" on April 25, 2016. (Vince Chandler, The Denver Post)

Amendment 139: Anti-pot backers make dubious claim

News that backers of an anti-pot ballot measure decided to shelve their campaign should count as a hollow victory for Colorado’s cannabis industry — and as a clear wake-up call.

For one thing, the surprising claim that the marijuana industry gamed the system to keep Amendment 139 from voters would be, if substantiated, a public relations nightmare. But that’s not all. The ballot fight stirs up a second perception problem that marijuana sellers would be smart to address on their own.

First, the charge that pot industry supporters paid key petition-gathering companies to not work for 139’s backers. It’s not coming from nowhere land, but it strikes us as dubious.

Colorado’s former speaker of the House, Frank McNulty, the attorney representing the ballot backers, tells us his understanding is that supporters from the pro-pot side paid Colorado Springs-based Kennedy Enterprises up to $200,000 to sit out this fight. When asked by Cannabist editor Ricardo Baca about such claims, Kennedy declined to comment on any of its possible clients.

But Neal Levine, of the pro-pot Colorado Health Research Council, tells us that the anti-139 effort did no such thing.

We marvel at the logic behind McNulty’s claim.

Wouldn’t an experienced operative like McNulty have been able to secure a petition-gathering service from the outset? McNulty’s Healthy Colorado Coalition was willing to pay north of $1 million to gather petitions. With that kind of money on the table, you’d think at least one of the 20 companies presently available to gather petitions in Colorado would have come forward. Campaign finance disclosures show that the pro-pot effort had raised less than $250,000 by the last reporting deadline on July 1.

Complicating matters, it is not unheard of, or illegal or unethical, for groups to hire circulators to work to advance their cause against a rival’s petition-gathering effort.

Fortunately, the law should settle this mystery. Come Aug. 1 — the next campaign finance filing deadline — the anti-139 camp would have to document such an expense.

Meanwhile, there is the second public relations problem the anti-pot ballot measure ostensibly sought to address: THC levels.

We doubt most Colorado voters who agreed to legal pot sales envisioned concentrates that pack huge percentages of THC. The idea of limiting THC content would be an easier task for the anti-pot folks to advance.

The pot industry has reasonable-enough sounding answers: you can’t die of a THC overdose; forbidding high-THC products just sends them back to the black-market days of exploding garages; the 16 percent THC level the anti-pot ballot measure called for would outlaw 80 percent of the pot products now being sold; didn’t Colorado learn its lesson after decades of 3.2 beer? But the anti-pot internal polling suggests that they have a winner on this argument.

Make no mistake, 139 was an anti-pot measure designed to gut the industry. And it’ll be back. If the cannabis industry is to continue to thrive, it will have to watch out for these bare-knuckled tactics.

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