Marijuana activists ask John Suthers to take ethics pledge after Dan Hartman criticism
At noon today, Mason Tvert and other Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act backers will stage an event at Attorney General John Suthers's office. Why? Suthers feels a letter by (outgoing?) Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division head Dan Hartman published in places mulling MMJ retail-sales bans was unethical, even though Suthers himself has spoken out on the subject. Which is why proponents want Suthers to sign an ethics pledge.
As we've reported, multiple medical marijuana industry sources say Hartman's last day at MMED was Friday -- a claim that prompted the Department of Revenue, which oversees the division, to tease changes likely to be announced this week. Among the possible reasons cited for his departure was a Hartman letter published in newspapers like Steamboat Today that took a pro-MMJ stance in towns that will vote on prohibiting dispensaries. An excerpt reads: "If your community bans commercial medical marijuana businesses... you will only remove the regulated medical marijuana distribution model from your community."
According to the Associated Press, Suthers reviewed the letter at the request of Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey, whose jurisdiction includes Palisade, one of the burgs that will decide on an MMJ ban. Suthers determined that the letter wasn't illegal, but it was unethical.
This claim leaves Tvert agog. Suthers "determined that a state employee's actions were unethical when he has engaged in these actions several times with regard to the same subject. He was the number one opponent of the 2006 marijuana initiative. He wrote op-eds on behalf of the opposition campaign, he appeared at press conferences, he was quoted several times in the news saying he was going to be part of a large coalition to defeat this measure, he appeared in debates opposing it. And all of these things are far more severe than writing a letter explaining his belief about what a measure might do, which is all Dan Hartman did. And Hartman simply addressed questions and provided educated answers on the subject, whereas the Attorney General provided only exaggerations and propaganda to suit his purpose of defeating the measure."
Tvert feels that "if the head of MMED had spoken out in favor of the ban, I believe the Attorney General would have had no problem with it." Nonetheless, "if John Suthers believes it's unethical for a state official to engage in campaigning or speaking out against a ballot initiative, we expect him to abide by that determination and refrain from encouraging voters to oppose the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative next year."
To that end, Tvert and company will present Suthers with a statement that reads: "I, John Suthers, will behave ethically during the 2012 election season, and will refrain from encouraging voters to oppose the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol."
How likely is it that Suthers will sign such a pledge? Tvert defers on that question, although he says "I would like to think that the top legal official in our entire state would have no problem swearing to remain ethical based on his own public standard."
The chances of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol making the November 2012 ballot continue to grow. Right now, Tvert estimates that 95,000 signatures have been collected -- over the 86,000 required, and only about 50,000 away from the 145,000 target set in the hope of guaranteeing enough valid signatures to be blessed by the Secretary of State's office.
Should the measure be placed before voters, Suthers will likely be tempted to weigh in. But would that be ethical?
Page down to read the Regulate press release about today's event at the AG's office, 1525 Sherman Street. It includes examples of Suthers sharing his views on marijuana, including an op-ed published in the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News.