A group of medical-marijuana activists held a news conference Thursday to announce the creation of the Patient Voter Project, a campaign to mobilize medical-marijuana supporters to raise the profile of the issue during an election year.
The project extends nationwide and has connections to national marijuana lobbying groups, said Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado. But the activists especially hope to make a mark in Colorado, where tens of thousands of medical-marijuana patients and hundreds of dispensaries mean there is an obvious constituency.
The presidential race in Colorado, Vicente said, could be “razor-thin.”
“The votes of medical-marijuana patients and their family and friends could make a difference,” Vicente said.
The activists held their news conference near an Obama campaign office on West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood.
President Barack Obama expressed a willingness to be lenient with medical marijuana during the 2008 campaign, and an October 2009 memo from a Justice Department official was interpreted by many in the medical-marijuana community as a green light to open dispensaries, even though all sales and possession of marijuana remained illegal federally.
But a memo this summer clarified that the Justice Department considers dispensaries and other medical-marijuana businesses to be fair game for prosecution. Last month, Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh sent letters to 23 dispensaries near schools, warning them to close or face federal punishment, even though those businesses are complying with state law.
Medical-marijuana patient Damien LaGoy, who has AIDS, said the letters will force the two dispensaries closest to him to shut down. LaGoy, who said he weighs 110 pounds, said he uses medical marijuana to control nausea in order to keep his life-saving antiretroviral drugs down. He said he will now have to take a bus to and from a dispensary.
“It’s just too hard for me to get around anymore,” LaGoy said.
Vicente said the campaign isn’t necessarily encouraging people to vote against Obama — who, save for Republican Ron Paul, is seen as likely to be more friendly toward medical marijuana than any other presidential candidate.
“Frankly, we want him to do what he promised to do — and that is to leave it up to Colorado to regulate medical marijuana,” Vicente said.
John Ingold: 303-954-1068 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more: Colorado medical-marijuana activists hope to put pressure on Obama – The Denver Post