Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown is, rightfully, upset about yard signs in Denver that use “Make Denver SAFER” as a tagline…for the legalization of marijuana ballot measure. From the Rocky Mountain News:

He says the wording is designed to fool residents into thinking that Initiative 100 on the Nov. 1 ballot is about highly publicized efforts to combat rising crime and falling arrest rates by boosting police staffing. The slogan is so vague, Brown said Wednesday, “I had no idea what they were for” until he read the small print at the bottom of the sign.

It states: “Paid for by SAFER and authorized by the Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative Committee.” SAFER stands for the I-100’s sponsor Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation. The measure would amend Denver law to make it legal for adults to possess 1 ounce or less of marijuana.

“It is incredibly misleading, it is devious, it is deceptive,” Brown said of the campaign signs. “This initiative does not put more cops on the street. It puts more marijuana on the street.”

Supporters of the ballot measure say the slogan speaks to their mission to amend city ordinances to make adult use of an ounce or less of marijuana a legal and “safer” alternative to alcohol, which they contend fuels violent crime and deaths caused by drunken-driving collisions and alcoholism. SAFER’s Web site — www.safer — cites national studies that show alcohol-related disease and crime kill more than 85,000 Americans annually, while marijuana causes zero deaths.

Toying with messages in political campaigns is nothing new, and the “NO” on Referenda C&D campaign has been doing it for months. Jon Caldara of the Independece Institute is fond of calling C&D a “tax increase” even though the measure doesn’t actually raise the tax rate. Caldara uses circular logic to argue that C&D are a tax increase because people won’t get the same refund they might get without it, but that still doesn’t make it a tax increase (though it is a very smart campaign slogan).

The “Make Denver SAFER” tagline is also a smart slogan, but this one is so far over the line and unethical that Brown has every right to be upset. I-100 is not a measure about public safety, even if you want to string out (no pun intended) the argument that legalized marijuana is safer than alcohol, therefore Denver is safer if more people are getting stoned than getting drunk. In fact, you could use the “Make Denver SAFER” tagline for virtually any campaign:

Legalize Gambling in Denver? If gambling were legal, more people could get rich. Rich people don’t commit crimes, therefore legalized gamling Makes Denver Safer.

Legalize Prostitution in Denver? Men who have sex more often are less likely to want to rob someone because they are so happy to be having sex. Therefore, legalized prostition Makes Denver Safer.

Tax Cuts for Businesses? Businesses that pay less taxes have happier owners, which in turn leads to happier managers and happier employees. Happy workers don’t commit crimes, because they are happy. Therefore, tax cuts for businesses Makes Denver Safer.

On a more serious note, the “Makes Denver SAFER” tagline is tough to police, because telling someone that they can’t put a message on a yard sign is an infringement on free speech. It may not be illegal to do this, but it sure is sleazy and unethical. Fortunately, if such shady messaging angers you as much as it does Councilman Brown, there is something you can do about it: Vote NO on I-100.