SAFER Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) is a grassroots
marijuana policy organization founded in January 2005. MAPS kindly
serves as SAFER’s 501(c)(3) agent of record, allowing us to
receive tax-deductible contributions as a non-profit educational
Our organization—like many other drug policy organizations—envisions
a society in which the private adult use of marijuana is treated similarly
to the private adult use of alcohol. And like many of those organizations,
we believe the means to achieve that vision is the promotion and establishment
of a system in which marijuana is taxed and regulated in a manner
such as alcohol.
Unlike any organization, however, the overarching goal of SAFER is
to effect sociopolitical change conducive to such tax-and-regulate
efforts by drawing a direct comparison between marijuana and alcohol.
Polling and other testing shows a strong correlation between those
who believe marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and those who believe
marijuana should be taxed, regulated and made legally available to
adults. SAFER serves as a test-project to determine whether this is
in fact a causal relationship through which we can build support for
marijuana taxation and regulation by spreading the message that
alcohol is in fact the more harmful drug.
Our mission, therefore, is to educate the public about the relative
safety of marijuana as an alternative to alcohol, which is undoubtedly
the more harmful drug both to the user and to society. For example,
alcohol consumption kills about 85,000 people and is involved in more
than 3 million violent crimes in the United States each year. (Mokdad,
2000) (Greenfeld, 1998) It is also heavily associated with the majority
of domestic violence and sexual assault cases. Marijuana use clearly
does not lead to such serious societal problems, and most research
has found that using marijuana actually inhibits such behavior in
many people. (Hoaken, 2003) Furthermore, alcohol use can lead to alcohol
poisoning and overdose deaths—more than 1,000 Americans die
from unintentional alcohol overdoses each year—whereas there
has never been a marijuana overdose death in history. (Yoon, 2003)
So why do our laws prohibit adults from making the safer choice to
use the next most prominent and less harmful substance—marijuana—instead
Not surprisingly, many of our pious opponents accuse SAFER of encouraging
the use of marijuana. Well, if more marijuana use means less dangerous
alcohol use and abuse, then they’re damn right. As we all know,
prohibition does not work. What we are seeing here is selective prohibition,
and it is causing a whole new set of problems. Thus, it is time we
address a fatal flaw in the laws of our cities, states and nation,
and that flaw is that current law encourages and promotes the use of
alcohol. Pardon me for sounding like one of the drug warriors—not
to mention a prohibitionist circa 1920—but what about the
children? What kind of message are we sending to people about the
acceptability of alcohol use?
As a matter of fact, SAFER was created in response to the rash of
student alcohol overdose deaths on college campuses around the country,
particularly a number of them in Colorado during the Fall 2004 semester.
It became clear that not only had the so-called “culture of
alcohol” turned deadly, but it was being fueled by campus policies
that not only made student alcohol use seem acceptable, but actually encouraged students to use it instead of the next most available,
yet far less harmful substance on college campuses: marijuana.
Our first project involved organizing students at the two largest
universities in the state—the University of Colorado-Boulder
(CU) and Colorado State University (CSU). SAFER helped students at
both schools establish a chapter of the organization, and—more
importantly—initiate and pass student referendums at each
school demonstrating the notion that, given the harm of alcohol compared
to marijuana, university penalties for student marijuana violations
should not exceed those for student alcohol violations. SAFER coordinated
successful signature drives on each campus, followed by equally successful
campaigns and GOTV drives that produced sizeable victories in both
April student elections (68-32 at CU, and 56-44 at CSU). More importantly,
the overwhelming success of the referendums put the two universities’
administrations in the precarious position of having to cite state
and federal law to defend their unwillingness to implement potentially life-saving alcohol-related policy changes.
SAFER applied pressure to the administrations throughout this project
by implementing an innovative and intensive press strategy. We successfully
capitalized on the opportunity to spread our message to a mass public
audience, as we repeatedly earned coverage in campus, local, state
and national print and television news outlets. Whether it was holding
a rally in front of an administrative building or holding up bed
sheets in front of the Coors Events Center on the CU campus (reading:
“Coors is a dangerous drug dealer,” “Coors kills.
Pot does not,” etc.), SAFER captured the ear of the media, initiating
a much needed public dialogue about our nation’s hypocritical
stance and imprudent priorities when it comes to public policy concerning
alcohol and marijuana. We will continue to lobby CU and CSU to adopt
the recommended policy changes, as well as export our organization
to colleges elsewhere in Colorado, particularly in Denver.
In May 2005, SAFER introduced the Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization
Initiative to the City of Denver, and we subsequently collected about
12,900 signatures—more than double the 5 percent of Denver voter
signatures needed—to place it on the city ballot. If adopted
by voters in November, the initiative—now known as I-100—would
amend city ordinances to make the possession of one ounce or less
of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older in Denver.
SAFER is currently in the thick of its campaign to pass I-100, and
it is expending every effort to draw public awareness to the initiative
and its message, not to mention the polls in Denver. The campaign
has already received a great deal of press attention, and we have
just begun to implement our volunteer-based, grassroots campaign.
Along with a decentralized phone bank and large-scale literature
distribution plan, we are actively working to raise the funds necessary
to purchase supplemental materials such as yard signs and mailings,
that could dramatically increase our chance for success.
Come November 1, it is hoped Denver voters will take a giant stride
toward marijuana tax and regulation, by adopting a safer, more equitable
marijuana and alcohol policy.
Greenfeld, L. A. (1998). “Alcohol
and Crime: An Analysis
of National Data on the Prevalence of Alcohol Involvement in
Crime.” U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Hoaken, P. S. & Stewart, S.H. (2003).“Drugs
of abuse and the
elicitation of human aggressive behavior.” American Psychology
Association Journal of Addictive Behaviors, 28.
Mokdad. (2004.) “Actual Causes
of Death in the United States,
2000,” Journal of the American Medical Association.
Yoon. (2003). “Accidental Alcohol
Poisoning Mortality in the
United States, 1996–1998.” National Institute on Alcohol
and Alcoholism Epidemiological Bulletin, 40.