State board clears way for gay marriage, pot measures on Colorado ballot
July 21, 2011
DENVER – Gay marriage supporters were cleared Wednesday to begin collecting signatures on a petition to repeal Colorado’s same-sex marriage ban.
A state board charged with approving proposed ballot measures voted 3-0 to allow a measure to repeal the ban, which voters placed in the state constitution in 2006. The measure would strike the ban and say marriage is allowed regardless of the participants’ gender.
Gay-marriage activists would need to collect about 86,000 valid signatures to make the 2012 ballot.
Proponents of the measure have conceded it will be a challenge to gather enough signatures. A similar attempt for the 2010 ballot failed, and prominent gay-rights activists in Denver have said they plan to try to pass a civil-unions measure in the state Legislature before seeking a change to the state constitution.
The title board also rejected new challenges to a proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
That proposal would allow adults to have pot in small quantities starting in 2013, and proponents are already gathering signatures to force the question onto ballots.
A tax opponent, Doug Bruce, challenged the measure, saying it could raise taxes and needs to be rephrased to comply with Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Bruce did not attend the hearing but sent a supporter to argue that the pot measure doesn’t properly start with a disclaimer in capital letters that the measure would raise taxes in the form of an excise tax up to 15 percent.
A lawyer for the legalization proponents, Edward Ramey, argued that the pot measure directs state lawmakers to set an excise tax, but doesn’t itself set a tax. Ramey argued that if lawmakers decided to tax weed, it would trigger a TABOR requirement later. He said it would confuse voters to ask them about a hypothetical tax.
“At this stage of the game, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Ramey said.
Bruce supporter Douglas Campbell told the title board that because the pot measure instructs lawmakers to tax pot, the TABOR language must be used.
“You would be creating a legal mess if an improper ballot measure is approved by voters,” Campbell warned.
In the end, the title board didn’t decide the tax question at all. The panel ruled unanimously that because Bruce and other opponents have appealed the language to the state Supreme Court, the title board no longer has the authority to change anything.
The board also rejected a request to keep alive an appeal from pot legalization backers who don’t like the measure. That appeal has also been sent to the state’s top court. Title board member William Hobbs said the board cannot keep hearing challenges, especially when the high court has been asked to intervene.
“There would be no end to rehearings,” he said.