Labor Day has come and gone, and the 2014 election is now less than two months away. Marijuana legalization initiatives are on the ballot in two states -- Alaska and Oregon -- and the District of Columbia. For the marijuana reform movement, 2014 is a chance for a legalization trifecta on the way to an even bigger year in 2016, but there is also the risk that losing in one or more states this year could take the momentum out of a movement that has been on a seemingly unstoppable upward trend.
[image:1 align:right][Editor's Note: There are also local marijuana reform initiatives in several states, a Florida medical marijuana initiative, and a California sentencing reform initiative. The Chronicle will address those in later articles.]
The Alaska and Oregon initiatives are quite similar. Both envision systems of taxation, regulation, and legal sales, and both allow individuals to grow small amounts of marijuana for their own use. The DC initiative, on the other hand, does not allow for taxation, regulation, and legal sales. That is because of peculiarities in DC law, which do not allow initiatives to enter the domain of taxation. But like the Alaska and Oregon measures, the DC initiative also allows individuals to grow their own.
Alaska Measure 2
The Measure 2 initiative allows adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and up to six plants (three flowering). It also allows individual growers to possess the fruits of their harvest even in excess of one ounce, provided the marijuana stays on the premises where it was grown. The initiative also legalizes paraphernalia.
The initiative grants regulatory oversight to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, but gives the legislature the authority to create a new entity, the Marijuana Control Board. In either case, the regulatory authority will have nine months to create regulations, with applications for marijuana businesses to open one year after the initiative becomes effective.
A $50 an ounce excise tax on sales or transfers from growers to retailers or processors would be imposed.
The initiative does not alter either existing DUI laws or the ability of employers to penalize employees for testing positive for marijuana.
The initiative would not interfere with existing medical marijuana laws.
Oregon Measure 91
The Measure 91 initiative allows adults 21 and over to possess up to eight ounces and four plants per household. Individuals can also possess up to 16 ounces of marijuana products or 72 ounces of liquid marijuana products. And individuals can also transfer up to an ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana products, or 72 ounces of liquid marijuana products to other adults for "non-commercial" purposes.
The initiative would designate the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to regulate marijuana commerce. The commission would license, audit, and inspect growers, suppliers, and retailers. The commission could set purchase amount limits, which are not specified in the initiative. The commission would have until January 4, 2016 to begin licensing growers, producers, and retailers.
Marijuana sales from producers to processors or retailers would be taxed at a rate of $35 per ounce, $10 per ounce of leaves, and $5 per immature plant. The commission can recommend to the legislature any changes in the tax structure, which would then have to act to enact them.
The initiative does not alter either existing DUI laws or the ability of employers to penalize employees for testing positive for marijuana.
The initiative would not interfere with existing medical marijuana laws.
DC Measure 71
The Measure 71 initiative would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and six plants, three of which can be mature. Households could grow up to 12 plants, six of which can be mature. Growers can possess the fruits of their harvests. Plants could only be grown indoors.
Adults could transfer up to an ounce to other adults without remuneration. There are no provisions for taxing and regulating marijuana sales because District law forbids initiatives from taking up tax and revenue matters. A bill is pending before the DC city council that would do precisely that.
The initiative also legalizes the sale and possession of pot paraphernalia. It does not change existing DUI law, nor does it "make unlawful" any conduct covered by the District's medical marijuana law.
None of these measures are long-shots at the ballot box, although none appear to be shoe-ins, either. None of the campaigns have made internal polling available, but an Oregon poll this summer had 51% in favor of a generic legalization question, with 41% opposed. A DC poll in January had 63% in favor of legalization.
[image:2 align:left]Alaska is looking a little dicier, at least according to the most recent Public Policy Polling survey, which had the initiative trailing by five points after leading by three points (but still under 50%) in May. But, as we shall see below, there are questions about the reliability of the survey data there.
There are a number of factors other than public opinion that could influence whether these initiatives pass or fail. They include voter turnout in an off-year election, financial support for the campaigns, and the degree of organized opposition.
The Chronicle checked in with a number of national marijuana reform professionals and people involved with the initiatives to get a sense of the prospects, the challenges, and the implications of electoral success or defeat. There is a sense of cautious optimism, tempered with concerns that won't be allayed until the votes are counted.
"All three measures have a great chance of passing, and it'll really be a matter of how well these campaigns get their message out," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "There's also the question of what type of opposition there is, and how well it's funded. I'm familiar with the opposition in Alaska, and it's just more of the same old. They're trying to make marijuana sound as scary as possible, and it's up to those campaigns to make sure voters know it's not so scary."
It's about getting out the message and getting out the vote, Tvert said.
"Typically, the more turnout, the more support for making marijuana legal," said Tvert. "We would expect to see broader support during a presidential election year, but we'll find out if support is strong enough to pass these in an off-year. All these measures can pass, but these campaigns have to get their message out."
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has endorsed all three initiatives, not having found anything too objectionable in any of them.
"When you're in the marijuana legalization business, that's what you do," explained NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre. "All three entities involved requested our endorsement, and our board of directors voted unanimously to do so," he explained.
"Oregon and Alaska are very similar, and while DC is the least impactful in what it seeks to achieve, but they all basically move the meter," he said. "If one or all of them pass, they will be seen as a good thing; if we get a full sweep, that will only affirm that we are now in the legalization epoch."
But can marijuana legalization pull off that trifecta this year?
"Alaska looks like it's in the most trouble, but with the caveat that polling there is hard to nail down," St. Pierre said. "That makes it all the more important for reformers to embrace the effort there, send resources, and encourage others to do the same. We're raising money for all three states right now on our web site, and Alaska is getting the least amount of earmarked donations -- and those are coming in from Alaskans. It's the proverbial out of sight, out of mind state, but it's one where you can actually impact an election at relatively low cost."
Frank Berardi of the Alaska Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation had plenty to say about the polling.
"If you look at the polls, it's close, but in that 44% poll, the way they worded the question doesn't even reflect the language of the initiative, and since the question was inaccurate, a lot of people who would have been in support said no," he said. "Also, the age distribution was off -- it was mostly older people who were polled. And if you take the margin of error into consideration, it's a toss-up. It makes me wonder what the results would have been if the poll had been valid."
The coalition is working with the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska to pass Measure 2, but there is something of a division of labor between the two groups, Berardi explained.
"We're partnered with the campaign, but while they're focused on passing this is November, we're focusing on helping to implement the regulatory aspects of the bill," he said. "We've been polling our members about what they want, and we hope to work with the legislature on ensuring the people get what they want."
Still, the coalition isn't just waiting for Measure 2 to pass.
[image:3 align:right]"We're helping out on the campaign, we go to events, we've share a booth with the campaign, we're informing people about the measure and out goals," he said.
People are equally hard at work down in Oregon.
"We are fighting for every vote, and we don’t take any vote for granted, but we feel like we have a really strong case and a growing majority of Oregonians support us," said Peter Zuckerman, communications director for New Approach Oregon, the group behind Measure 91.
"The challenge is going to be turnout," he said. "We really need our voters to register and vote. The polls have us ahead, but we need voters, volunteers, donors -- all the help we can get."
The campaign is getting significant help. It has raised millions in campaign funds and has a $2.3 million TV ad reservation. And it has a well-honed message.
"In Oregon, somebody gets arrested or cited for marijuana once every 39 minutes," Zuckerman said. "Seven percent of all arrests are for marijuana. Treating it as a crime has failed. With a regulated market, police will not be distracted with small marijuana cases. Instead of people buying it on street corners, they can buy it in a regulated marketplace. It's a much better system."
The campaign is also picking up key endorsements. It's won the support of the state's largest and most influential newspaper, The Oregonian, the Democratic Party, and the well-heeled City Club of Portland. It's even won the support of the Oregon State Council of Retired Citizens. (Click here for the complete list of endorsements.)
"Every endorsement helps," said Zuckerman.
"Oregon is going to make it," NORML's St. Pierre predicted, citing polling so far, key endorsements like The Oregonian, and a changing political climate.
"Gov. Kitzhaber has made it clear that if he is reelected and the citizens task him with this, he will faithfully implement it," he said. "Oregon is a state that is environmentally conscious, and he was concerned about energy use. He wanted alternatives to indoor cultivation. But you can set up greenhouses -- safe, water-friendly, criminal-deterring greenhouses. And not only is Kitzhaber keen, Attorney General Ellen Rosenbaum is very supportive. She's probably one of the most progressive attorneys general in the country."
St. Pierre also argued that Oregon pot people are coming around to regulation.
"The industry itself, as in Colorado, seems to recognize that there is a better opportunity for both legitimacy and profits if they embrace legalization, as compared to some brethren in California and Washington who chose to oppose it," he said. "This is the state where voters have been asked the legalization question the most, and I think finally Oregon is going to break out."
A victory in Oregon would carry the most weight, the NORML head said.
"That would move the meter the most. It would be actual sales, taxation, and regulation, and it's not as out of sight as Alaska. And it would cinch up the Pacific Northwest."
And then there's DC.
"DC is kind of symbolic, it's not legalization in the purest sense of the word, but it goes as far as it can under DC law," said St. Pierre. "But it's building in the District, going from medical to decriminalization being almost universally supported, and now building to soft legalization. That will de-incentivize police, they won't have any reason to ask what's in your hand, what's in your pocket."
"I feel like we're in the lead, but I'm very nervous about a well-funded opposition mounting," said Adam Eidinger of the DC Cannabis Campaign, which is leading the charge in the nation's capital. "We have no great war chest and we could be caught flat-footed. I don't want to be overconfident; I would rather have a well-funded campaign to assure victory."
Eidinger said the DC campaign had $50,000 in pending pledged contributions, but less than $2,000 in the bank right now. He said he's had problems raising money not only from advocacy groups, but also from the industry, which also contributes to the advocacy groups.
"I don't think we were on the advocacy groups' schedule," he said, adding that some had also expressed skepticism about whether the measure would ever be implemented even if it won because of possible city council or congressional interference.
"Nonprofits are getting a lot of money from the cannabis industry, but in our case, there is no clear business model for profiting from selling cannabis or having exclusive rights to growing it," Eidinger pointed out. "Even some dispensaries have painted this as a threat to their near monopoly. We do not have aligning interests. Monopolies and price supports don't benefit consumers or anyone except business entities and the government."
The campaign is getting some financial backing from the Drug Policy Alliance, but it needs more help, he said.
"You need to talk to your family and friends and get them to support the campaign with donations, with voter registrations, and as election day volunteers," Eidinger said. "We will be doing a postering blitz, we're planning some mailers, but with less so little money in the bank right now, we need a major influx of cash. We blew everything we could leverage just getting on the ballot."
Three initiatives, three chances to win marijuana legalization victories this year. But the stakes are high, and they go beyond 2014.
"This is the penultimate year, and if we have any losses, our opponents will immediately claim we're losing momentum, that whatever has happened has peaked, and that would be really regrettable," St. Pierre suggested.
"But 2016 is the ultimate year. If California moves forward -- it will likely be joined by Maine or Massachusetts, but California is so important, if it legalizes, America will legalize, and North America will move in the same direction, and so will the European Union," he said. "But if we lose this year, that makes the job in 2016 that much harder. If we lose in Alaska or Oregon, that will provide fodder for the opposition."
MPP's Tvert was a bit more sanguine.
"We're in a position where we will continue to move forward, and it's unlikely we will move backwards," Tvert said. "In Colorado in 2006, people told us we were crazy to run an initiative because we would lose and the state would never legalize marijuana, but public opinion is moving toward ending prohibition, and we expect to see that continue. And even if one or more don't pass this year, we will surely see several pass in the near future."
Chronicle AM: Illinois Taking Medical Marijuana Applications, WaPo Forfeiture Series, NYT on SWAT, More (9/8/14)
Two majors newspapers have special reports on law enforcement related to the drug war, a staunch Kansas Republican says marijuana should be decided by the states -- not the feds -- Illinois is now taking medical marijuana business applications, Britain's Lib Dems are ready to consider drug decrim and marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Kansas Republican US Senator Pat Roberts Says Legalization Should Be Up to the States." [Marijuana is] not a federal issue. That's a state issue. If you want to get a Rocky Mountain high, go west. That should be for the Kansas legislature and the governor to decide, not federally," Roberts said during a campaign debate last Saturday. Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell was inspired to respond: "When a conservative Republican senator from Kansas tells the feds to let states legalize marijuana in the middle of a tight race for reelection, it's pretty clear that the days when politicians thought they needed to be as 'tough' on drugs as possible in order to get elected are over. But Sen. Roberts needs to do more than just talk about change. At the very least he should team up with Sens. Cory Booker & Rand Paul on their effort to stop federal interference with state medical marijuana laws."
York, Maine, to Vote on Possession Legalization Initiative. York will be the third Maine community to vote on marijuana reform this year. Organizers for an initiative removing penalties for simple pot possession have handed in enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. York joins Lewiston and South Portland in voting on the issue this year. Portland, the state's largest city, approved a similar initiative last year.
Los Angeles Event to Mark 100th Anniversary of First "Marihuana" Raid. Cal NORML and the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will host a press conference marking the 100th anniversary of the nation's first "marihuana" raid in LA's Mexican Sonoratown neighborhood on Thursday, September 11 at 10 am on the steps of LA City Hall. And LA NORML will be hosting an "End the 100 Year War on Pot" party on Saturday, September 13. State and local political officials and advocates will address the failed marijuana policy that has cost California billions of dollars in arrest, prosecution and prison expenses; fueled an illegal black market and lined the pockets of violent narcotrafficantes; promoted environmentally damaging trespass grows on public and private lands; and blocked access to useful medicine, all while failing to stem drug abuse in the state and depriving it of billions in tax dollars from a legitimate industry. Click on the title link for more details.
Illinois Accepting Applications for Medical Marijuana Businesses. The state Agriculture Department is now taking applications from people who want to open dispensaries or cultivation centers. There are 22 licenses available for growers and 60 for dispensaries.
Washington Post Takes on Asset Forfeiture, In an ongoing series of articles, The Washington Post is taking a cold-eyed look at asset forfeiture practices and the law enforcement culture that has grown around them. The article linked to above examines a private intelligence network used by cops across the country to trade information on motorists and help them decide whom to subject to pretextual traffic stops in order to look for loot to seize. There's a lot of dirt in here, and there's more to come as the series continues.
NFL, Players Union in Drug Policy Talks.The NFL and its players' union are meeting today to try to thrash out new drug policies. Marijuana use is a key topic. The league has been criticized recently for treating pot-smoking offenses by players more seriously than domestic abuse.
Obama Administration Announces Expanded Prescription Drug Takeback Plan. The White House announced today that hospitals, pharmacies and other medical facilities will be authorized to collect unused prescription drugs, a move designed to keep the drugs out of the hands of people who may attempt to abuse or sell them. "We know if we remove unused painkillers from the home, we can prevent misuse and dependence from ever taking hold," said Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "These regulations will create new avenues for addictive prescription drugs to leave the house and be disposed of in a safe, environmentally friendly way."
DEA Sets Production Limits for Pain Relievers, With Big Increases for Some. In a Federal Register notice posted last Friday, the DEA released a list of dozens of Schedule I and II substances subject to production quotas next year. Twenty-two of the 63 substances will see increases in production quotas next year, including cocaine, codeine, dihydrocodeine, hydromorphone, and ephedrine. The DEA says the changes are based on public comments that quota amounts were "insufficient to provide for the estimated medical, scientific, research and industrial needs of the US." Among substances seeing quota decreases are amphetamine, methamphetamine, and methadone.
New York Times Video "Retro Report" Takes on History of SWAT. As part of a video documentary series presented by the Times called Retro Report, the nation's newspaper of record examines the rise of SWAT-style policing, tracing its roots to the turmoil and tumult of the 1960s. Once rare, SWAT teams now appear ubiquitous, whether in big cities or sleepy small towns. They are now under greater scrutiny in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri, protests, making this report quite timely.
British Liberal Democrats to Consider Drug Decriminalization, Legal Marijuana Sales. Britain's Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in a governing coalition with the Conservatives, will consider drug decriminalization and marijuana legalization at their party conference next month. The announcement comes after a party policy paper to be debated at the conference called on the party to "adopt the model used in Portugal, where those who possess drugs will be diverted into other services." The paper also said the party "welcomes the establishment of a regulated cannabis market in Uruguay, Colorado and Washington state. These innovative approaches are still in their infancy and the data that would allow us to examine their impact are not yet available. We will establish a review to examine the impact of these schemes in relation to public health," it said.
Australia's Tasmania Reverses Course, Will Allow Medical Marijuana Trials. Tasmania's governing Liberals will support medical marijuana trials, the health minister told a parliamentary inquiry. The minister, Michael Ferguson, had rejected a bid for trials in the state just weeks ago in July. But now he has changed his tune. "We support appropriately conducted clinical trials, feeding into the existing national medicines regulatory framework," he said. "We will objectively consider any proposal regarding a trial of medicinal cannabis on a case-by-case basis."
Amnesty International Report Says Torture in Mexico Out of Control. Reported cases of torture and mistreatment by police and armed forces in Mexico have increased six-fold in the past decade, according to a new report issued by Amnesty International. The report says much of the increase was driven by the Mexican government's aggressive effort to repress drug trafficking organizations.
Top Albanian Christian Democrat Calls for Marijuana Legalization. The head of Albania's Christian Democratic Party, Zef Bushati, has called for the legalization of marijuana on his Facebook page. "Countries are okay with that," he wrote. "First USA, France and now Italy. It's business. It increases the economic level. I never knew or even imagined that cannabis was cultivated all over Albania. When I knew that I started thinking about those families that needed to feed with this kind of job." Christian Democrats have only one member in the Albanian parliament.
Are federal funds helping to oppose the Oregon initiative? Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) wants to know. Plus, Hawaii dispensary hearings loom, Charles Bowden dies, and today marks an infamous anniversary. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Oregon US Representative Calls for Federal Investigation into Use of Public Funds to Oppose Legalization Initiative. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has sent a letter to SAMSHA calling for immediate federal investigation into the possible misuse of federal funds to sponsor the "Oregon Marijuana Education Tour," which is filled with anti-legalization operatives and which comes as Oregonians prepare to vote on Measure 91, the legalization initiative. Click on the title link to read the letter and associated attachments.
Princeton Employee on Paid Leave over Medical Marijuana Use. Princeton University campus dining manager Don DeZarn, who had been told to choose between his job and his medicine after he began legally using medical marijuana this summer, is now on paid leave as the school attempts to resolve the issue. The problem arose after DeZarn said he might use the drug while at work and school public safety officials raised concerns he could be impaired and might accidentally give a student with food allergies the wrong item (or something).
Hawaii Dispensary Task Force to Hold Public Hearings This Month. A task force created by the state legislature to address dispensary issues will hold public hearings next week in Hilo and on September 24 in Honolulu. Click on the link for more details and information about how to submit public comments.
25 Years Ago Today, George HW Bush Waved a Bag of Crack on TV. Today is the 25th anniversary of President George HW Bush's infamous oval office speech escalating the war on drugs. In that speech, he waved at viewers an evidence bag containing crack cocaine that he warned had been sold in Lafayette Park, just across the street from the White House. Only later was it revealed that the dealer who delivered the crack had no idea where the White House or Lafayette Park were, and that he had to be given directions by DEA agents. Bush used the speech to ask for "more jails, more prisons, more courts, and more prosecutors" to fight the drug war, and largely got them.
Charles Bowden, Chronicler of the Southwest's Drug Wars, Dead at 69. Chronicler of the American Southwest and the brutal violence along the border sparked by Mexico's drug wars Charles Bowden has died in Las Cruces, New Mexico, at age 69. A vivid and evocative writer, Bowden's "Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America" achingly described environmental and social alienation in the Southwest (and turned your correspondent on to him), but in the last two decades he focused increasingly on the border and the drug wars. His insightful, critical, and horrifying books on the subject include "Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields," "Down By the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family," and "A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior." Bowden is gone, but his work remains. Check it out.
Austrian Activists Seek Parliamentary Inquiry on Marijuana. Legalize Austria is demanding a parliamentary inquiry into its proposal to remove marijuana from the country's drug laws. The group so far has more than 20,000 signatures on a petition to that effect and is seeking 80,000 more. The move comes as the Austrian Young Greens are also on a legalization campaign.