Blue Book Shenanigans

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Blue Book Shenanigans

 

•  The Blue Book

•  Legislative Council's Dirty Trick on Amendment 64

•  Lawsuit Filed to Reinsert Improperly Deleted Arguments

 

The Blue Book

Whenever a statewide initiative or referendum is set to appear on the ballot in Colorado, the state is required by law to produce a ballot information booklet and mail a copy to the household of every active registered voter at least 30 days prior to the election. This booklet is known as the "blue book." For each ballot measure, it must provide the full text, title, a fair and impartial analysis, a summary, and the major arguments for and against. The drafting process is overseen by the Legislative Council Staff, which is required to meet with proponents and opponents, then solicit comments from them and the public on a series of three drafts. The final draft is then sent to the Legislative Council Committee, a group of 18 state legislators tasked with reviewing and approving it at a public hearing. At that time, the Legislative Council can make modifications to the draft upon a two-thirds vote of its members. Click here to read a full description of the drafting process.

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Legislative Council's Dirty Trick on Amendment 64

In summary, Legislative Council Committee members have knowingly and intentionally taken advantage of a misunderstanding in order to permanently omit some of the strongest arguments in favor of the initiative provided in the "Arguments For" section of the blue book.

In particular, the misunderstanding resulted in the removal of sentences conveying three of the proponents' primary reasons for running the initiative – marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol and the consequences of a marijuana offense are too severe; and that law enforcement resources would be better spent on more serious crimes.

The "Arguments For" Amendment 64 section of the blue book is now just 208 words following the deletion, whereas the "Arguments Against" section is at least 366 words – 75 percent more than the section explaining the major arguments for the initiative. The blue book is supposed to be fair and impartial, and it's safe to say this is quite lopsided and, thus, unfair.

•  Click here to read the Denver Post editorial, "Panel erred in blue book edits: Backers of a marijuana amendment
   are right to object to a legislative committee's ommissions"

Here is a detailed account of what happened:

The Legislative Council held its public hearing regarding the blue book draft for Amendment 64 on Wednesday, September 5, 2012.

During the hearing, Sen. Mark Scheffel initiated a discussion about Argument #1, the first of three paragraphs in support of the initiative that are required to be included in the blue book. Here is the final draft of Argument #1 prepared before the hearing by Legislative Council Staff:

Current state policies that criminalize marijuana fail to prevent its use and availability and have contributed to the growth of an underground market. By creating a framework for marijuana to be legal, taxed, and regulated under state law, Amendment 64 provides a new, more logical direction for the state. The use of marijuana by adults may be less harmful than the use of alcohol or tobacco, both of which are already legal for adults to use and are regulated by the state. Furthermore, marijuana may be beneficial for individuals with certain debilitating conditions. The consequences of burdening adults with a criminal record for the possession of small amounts of marijuana are too severe, and there are better uses for state resources than prosecuting such low-level crimes.

Sen. Scheffel said that he would like to start by addressing the first two sentences of Argument #1, then move on to the following three sentences. Following a lengthy discussion, it appeared a consensus had been reached to remove two phrases from those first two sentences:

Current state policies that criminalize marijuana fail to prevent its use and availability and have contributed to the growth of an underground market. By creating a framework for marijuana to be legal, taxed, and regulated under state law, Amendment 64 provides a new, more logical direction for the state. The use of marijuana by adults may be less harmful than the use of alcohol or tobacco, both of which are already legal for adults to use and are regulated by the state. Furthermore, marijuana may be beneficial for individuals with certain debilitating conditions. The consequences of burdening adults with a criminal record for the possession of small amounts of marijuana are too severe, and there are better uses for state resources than prosecuting such low-level crimes.

Without any discussion of the following three sentences, Sen. Scheffel made a motion to amend Argument #1 so that it reads:

Current state policies that criminalize marijuana fail to prevent its use and availability and have contributed to the growth of an underground market. By creating a framework for marijuana to be legal, taxed, and regulated under state law, Amendment 64 provides a new, more logical direction for the state. The use of marijuana by adults may be less harmful than the use of alcohol or tobacco, both of which are already legal for adults to use and are regulated by the state. Furthermore, marijuana may be beneficial for individuals with certain debilitating conditions. The consequences of burdening adults with a criminal record for the possession of small amounts of marijuana are too severe, and there are better uses for state resources than prosecuting such low-level crimes.

The amendment was unanimously approved. A short time later, upon learning that the motion had actually resulted in the deletion of the last three sentences of Argument #1, multiple members of the Legislative Council said that they thought they were only voting on whether to amend the first two sentences based on Sen. Scheffel's request to separate the discussion of Argument #1. To rectify the mistake, Rep. Mark Ferrandino made a motion to reinsert those three sentences, and it was seconded by Rep. Lois Court. It was announced the Council voted 8-5 in support of the motion – Legislative Council Staff later said it was 6-7 – demonstrating that there was never two-thirds support for removing the three sentences. Nevertheless, the blue book is now being prepared without some of the key "Arguments For" Amendment 64.

The audio recording of the hearing is available below. Sen. Scheffel's motion and the subsequent vote can be heard from 2:00 to 2:03, and. Rep. Ferrandino's response can be heard from 2:19 to 2:26.

•  Click here to listen to the audio recording of the hearing online.

•  Click here to download the audio recording of the hearing in mp3 format.

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Lawsuit Filed to Reinsert Improperly Deleted Arguments

A significant portion of Legislative Council members acknowledged with their vote that they never intended to remove the three key arguments in favor of the initiative. Thus, it is clear that there was not true two-thirds support for deleting the three sentences in question. This was the correction of a mistake, not an intentional modification of the language. The blue book process should be based on a good faith effort to provide objective and balanced information to the voters. With this action, the Legislative Council has intentionally deleted some of the strongest arguments in favor of the initiative without true two-thirds support for that modification of the staff-prepared language.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has filed a lawsuit in Denver District Court in response to the Legislative Council's improper modification of the blue book. Specifically, the campaign is seeking a Preliminary Injunction asking the court to direct the Legislative Council Staff to reinsert the deleted arguments. It has also filed to obtain a Temporary Restraining Order to prevent the Legislative Council Staff from sending the blue book to print with the improper modification.

•  Click here to download the campaign's complaint filed in Denver District Court. [PDF]

•  Click here to read the Denver Post editorial, "Panel erred in blue book edits: Backers of a marijuana amendment
   are right to object to a legislative committee's ommissions"

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