Election Day is less than a week away, and it's not just statewide marijuana, medical marijuana, sentencing reform, and drug testing initiatives that we're watching. In five states, voters in some cities or counties will have opportunities to cast ballots for local marijuana reform measures.
[image:1 align:left]In four out of the five states—California being the exception—the local initiatives, some binding, some not, are chances to vote for decriminalizing or legalizing pot. In all of those states, these city- or county-level measures are just the latest steps in sometimes years-long campaigns laying the groundwork for state-level legalization, either through the ballot box or through the legislature.
California is a special case this year. With pot possession already decriminalized, its unique medical marijuana laws providing broad, if uneven, access, and the near certainty that statewide legalization is going to be on the ballot in 2016, nobody is bothering with local legalization measures in 2014 (although they had successful ones in a number of cities in the past).
In California, all the action is about medical marijuana. Let's start there.
With the state legislature unable or unwilling to pass statewide medical marijuana regulations, battles on the topic regularly devolve to the local level. This year is no exception. There are three broad areas of contention this year: cultivation, dispensaries, and taxes.
Four counties are dealing with cultivation issues. In Butte County, Measure B is a less restrictive ordinance than Measure A, which was passed by the board of supervisors. Both are on the ballot. In Lake County, Measure O and Measure P, both seek to overturn the restrictive Measure N, which was narrowly approved by voters last year. Measure O would allow more plants to be grown, while Measure P declares that personal—not commercial—grows are a fundamental right and that people growing for their own use are exempt from county cultivation ordinances.
In Nevada County, Measure S would liberalize the county's restrictive cultivation ordinance by allowing indoor cultivation anywhere, eliminating some minimum distance and other restrictions, and allowing up to 60 plants to be grown on plots over 30 acres. In Shasta County, Measure A is a referendum on an ordinance banning outdoor grows and home cultivation. A "no" vote on Measure A would repeal the ordinance.
[image:2 align:right caption:true]Dispensaries are on the ballot in a number of cities and counties. In Orange County's Santa Ana, two competing measures are on the ballot. Measure CC would allow for a minimum of 22 dispensaries, while the more restrictive, city council-sponsored Measure BB has no minimum number of dispensaries, a higher tax rate, and more restrictions than Measure CC.
In San Diego County, two cities have dispensary measures on the ballot. In Encinitas, Measure F would allow dispensaries and tax them at a 2.5% rate, while in La Mesa, Measure J would do the same thing. In Riverside County, Blythe's Measure Z would authorize and regulate dispensaries, with a 15% business tax.
Straight taxation questions are also on the ballot in Santa Cruz County (Measure K), the city of Santa Cruz (Measure L), Shasta Lake City (Measure C), and two Riverside County communities, Cathedral City (Measure N) and Desert Hot Springs, which has both a cultivation tax measure (Measure HH) and a dispensary tax measure (Measure II) on the ballot.
[Thanks to the Drug Policy Forum of California and its November 2014 Election Guide for the information on California local initiatives.]
In Maine, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and local allies are sponsoring possession legalization initiatives in two towns, Lewiston and South Portland. A similar effort in York was blocked by recalcitrant town leaders. This year's effort builds on last year's success in Portland, Maine's largest city, where a similar initiative was approved with 67% of the vote.
Lewiston is the state's second largest city, while South Portland is its fourth largest. Victories in those two cities next week, along with last year's victory in Portland, will lay the groundwork for a statewide legalization push in 2016, which MPP says is coming.
For the last six election cycles, activists with the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts and MassCann/NORML have been laying the groundwork for marijuana law reform through the use of non-binding Public Policy Questions (PPQs), by which voters signal their reform desires to their elected representatives. The questions have been on medical marijuana, decriminalization, and legalization—and they have never lost.
[image:3 align:left caption:true]Public opinion in the form of successful public policy questions helped decriminalize marijuana in 2008 and legalize marijuana in 2012. This year, the questions are all about legalization, and the aim is clear: making Massachusetts a legal marijuana state within the next couple of years.
This year, the question asks: "Shall the State Representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow the state to regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol?"
Voters will be answering that question in the following districts: 4th Barnstable, 4th Berkshire, 1st Essex, 2nd Franklin, 14th Middlesex, 15th Middlesex, 24th Middlesex, and 8th Norfolk.
But wait--there's more. Meanwhile, Bay State Repeal has an even less restrictive question on the ballot in five districts. That question asks whether voters would like to tell their representatives to "replace the state's restrictions on marijuana with a law that regulates the cultivation and commerce in marijuana by persons over the age of 21, in the same manner as laws that apply to the cultivation and sale of fruits, vegetables, and herbs."
That question will be asked the following districts: 4th Essex, 7th Essex, 8th Essex, 3rd Middlesex, and 6th Middlesex. A slightly different form of the question will be asked in the 2nd Hampshire district.
In an fight led by the Safer Michigan Coalition, marijuana decriminalization is on the ballot in 11 Michigan towns and cities this year. Like the efforts in Maine and Massachusetts, the effort in Michigan this year is part of an ongoing process whose ultimate end is legalization. Eleven other Michigan cities, including Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Lansing—the state's largest cities—have already passed similar measures. No city has ever defeated one.
This year, voters will have the chance to do the same in Berkley, Clare, Frankfort, Harrison, Huntington Woods, Lapeer, Mt. Pleasant, Onaway, Port Huron, Pleasant Ridge and Saginaw.
All will be voting on questions similar to this one, from Port Huron: "Shall the Charter of the City of Port Huron, Michigan be amended such that nothing in the Code of Ordinances shall apply to the use, possession or transfer of less than 1 ounce of marijuana, on private property, or transportation of 1 ounce or less of marijuana, by a person who has attained the age of 21 years?"
The state's most populous county, Bernalillo County, and its third most populous, Santa Fe County, will vote on advisory, non-binding questions designed to measure popular support for marijuana decriminalization.
In both counties, the question asks: "Are you in favor of the [...] County Commission supporting County, City, and Statewide efforts to decriminalize possession of one ounce or less of marijuana?"
There should also have been a pair of municipal decriminalization initiatives in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but it didn't work out that way. The Drug Policy Alliance and Progress New Mexico worked through the summer and into the fall to put the initiatives before the voters in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but neither actually happened.
In Santa Fe, the city council, when presented with the qualified initiative, just voted to accept it instead of putting it to a popular vote. In Albuquerque, the reason no vote is occurring is not so happy. Although the city council voted to put the initiative on the November ballot, Mayor Richard Berry (R) vetoed it.
If the past is any indication, these building-block local initiatives should all fare very well at the polls and continue to build the number of American political jurisdictions that have gone on record for ending pot prohibition. Come back next week to see if we can confirm that.
Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Init in Danger, CO Legalization Report, Russia Synthetics Ban, More (10/28/14)
The Florida medical marijuana initiative appears to be in trouble, thanks in part to a deep-pocketed GOP opposition donor, a federal court is hearing evidence on marijuana's scheduling, a new report on Colorado's legalization finds less than meets the eye, Russia bans some new synthetics, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Federal Court Hears Arguments on Proper Scheduling of Marijuana. In a federal court hearing in Sacramento that continues today, three medical experts testified that the scientific evidence does not support classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This is the first time in living memory that a federal court in a criminal case has allowed discussion of marijuana's proper placement in the drug schedules. Testifying for the defense in US v. Schweder, Gregory Carter, MD, and Carl Hart, PhD, told the court that marijuana is neither "very dangerous" nor "lacking medical use," both of which are required to support a Schedule I placement.
Cincinnati City Council Moves to Fix Its Pot Policy Misstep. Ohio is a state where the possession of marijuana is decriminalized, but in 2006, the Cincinnati city council tried to crack down on it, making possession of even small amounts a misdemeanor offense under city ordinance. The council later repealed that law, admitting it was a mistake. Now, it has moved to undo one of the nastier consequences of its actions, voting Monday to allow people arrested under that ordinance to have their criminal records expunged. More than 10,000 people were arrested under the ordinance, which was in effect until its repeal in 2010.
Cato Report on Colorado Legalization: No Big Deal. For all the sturm und drang surrounding the consequences of marijuana legalization in Colorado, a new report by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron for the Cato Institute finds it just wasn't that big a deal. Miron found little impact on crime, traffic accidents, or teen drug use -- the banes of the anti-legalization folks -- but neither did he find a big impact on the state's economy. And he found that tax revenues were lower than estimated. Miron's bottom line? "The evidence here indicates that strong claims about Colorado's legalization, whether by advocates or opponents, are so far devoid of empirical support."
Florida's Measure 2 In Danger. A Gravis Marketing poll released Monday has support for the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative at 50%, with 42% opposed and 8% undecided. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needs 60% to win. Gravis had the initiative with 62% in August and 55% early this month. On the other hand, the United for Care campaign sent an email to supporters last night claiming its internal polling had the initiative at 61%. Click on the poll link for methodological details.
Republican Money Man Sheldon Adelson Contributes Another $1 Million to Defeat Florida's Measure 2. Las Vegas casino magnate and Republican sugar daddy Sheldon Adelson has thrown another million dollars into the battle to defeat the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative. Opponents of the initiative have raised $5.8 million to defeat it; Adelson is responsible for $5 million of it. Overall, opponents have spent $5.5 million, pretty much matching supporters, who have so far spent $6.5 million.
Russia Bans Ingredients for New Synthetic Drugs. Russia has expanded its list of banned drugs to include methoxetamine, NM-018, and methylphenidate -- all used to create new synthetic drugs. The move comes after Russian senators proposed earlier this month to ban new synthetics from the moment they are discovered instead of going through the lengthy process of listing them on the Federal Drug Control Services' list of banned drugs.
It's nail-biting time for the Alaska and Oregon legalization initiatives, appeals courts in Arizona and Michigan rule on medical marijuana cases, Chuck Schumer (again) wants more money to fight drugs, the acting drug czar opens the harm reduction conference (!), naloxone is coming to Ireland, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Latest Poll Has Oregon Measure 91 Under 50%, But With Four Point Lead. The latest SurveyUSA Oregon poll has the Measure 91 legalization initiative leading 44% to 40%, with 16% undecided. All recent polls have shown the measure leading, but as election day draws near, the gap is tightening and support is hovering under 50%. That means it's going to come down to two things: turn-out and how the undecideds break.
Latest Poll Has Alaska Measure 2 Under 50%, But With Four Point Lead. A new Hellenthal and Associates poll has the Measure 2 legalization initiative leading 46.5% to 42.2%, with 11.3% undecided. Those supporting Measure 2 included 29.7% who "strongly favor" and 16.8% who "somewhat favor." Among foes, 35.0% "strongly oppose" and 7.2% "somewhat oppose." Like Oregon, it looks like this one is going down to the wire, and turnout and undecideds will make the difference. Click on the title link for full poll results.
Arizona Appeals Court Holds Medical Marijuana Users Can Be Charged With DUI Even if Not Impaired. Arizona has a zero-tolerance drugged driving law, and the state Court of Appeals ruled last week that the state's medical marijuana law does not provide immunity from prosecution, even if they are not impaired and only test positive for the presence of marijuana metabolites. The case is Darrah v. City of Mesa.
Michigan Court of Appeals Holds Medical Marijuana Users Can Get Unemployment Compensation. State-approved medical marijuana patients are eligible for unemployment compensation if the only reason they were fired is that they tested positive for the drug, the state Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The decision was based on the courts' reading of the state's medical marijuana law, which prohibits penalties for those who legally use medical marijuana. The series of consolidated cases in which the court ruled begins with Braska v. Challenge Manufacturing Company.
Pennsylvania State Senator Urges DAs to Not Prosecute Medical Marijuana Cases. Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), sponsor of a medical marijuana bill stalled in the House after passing the Senate, has called on prosecutors to not go after patients. Leach made the call in a letter to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. "Given the likelihood that using lifesaving medical cannabis will not be a legal issue in Pennsylvania for much longer, I ask that you consider using your prosecutorial discretion," he wrote. "I ask that you perform an act of compassion."
Acting Drug Czar Opens National Harm Reduction Conference. It wasn't so long ago that top US government officials wouldn't even say the words "harm reduction," but things have changed. Acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli opened the 10th Annual National Harm Reduction Conference, which took place in Baltimore over the weekend. "It really is no coincidence that I'm here,"Botticelli said. "I hope that my presence here reflects the Obama administration's commitment to continuing drug policy reform." Botticelli announced no great initiatives, but he did say that he wanted to ensure that "federal policy reflects the needs of people on the ground," and also expressed the hope that his working relationship with the Harm Reduction Coalition will "continue to grow."
Kentucky Republican Lawmakers Vow to Push Legislation Targeting Heroin Dealers. Two GOP legislators have pre-filed the Kentucky Heroin Impact Act (BR 164), which would increase criminal penalties for heroin trafficking. "Unless we take action now, our streets will be lined with dead bodies," said bill cosponsor Rep. Joe Fischer (R-Fort Thomas). The bill also calls for increased public education and more funding for drug treatment. Similar legislation died this year in the legislature.
Schumer Wants More Federal Dollars to Fight Online Drug Sales. New York US Sen. Charles Schumer (D) wants the Justice Department to turn up the heat on illicit online drug sales, he said today. He said in a statement he would fight to get more money for the department to fight "drug-related cybercrime." "These websites, by allowing users to rate the delivery services of sellers and by offering any drugs imaginable under the sun, are nothing less than an all-you-can order buffet of contraband that need to be investigated and targeted with more intensity,"he added.
Bail Reform Question is on New Jersey Ballot. New Jersey residents will be voting on a measure that could usher in comprehensive bail reform in the Garden State. Public Question No. 1 asks voters to change the state constitution to give judges the ability to deny bail to dangerous suspects, but it also would enact groundbreaking legislation to comprehensively reform the state's broken bail system. That legislation only goes into effect if the question passes. A recent found that on any given day, nearly 75% of the 15,000 individuals in New Jersey jails are awaiting trial rather than serving a sentence. The average length of pretrial incarceration for these individuals is more than ten months. Nearly 40 percent of the total jail population has the option to post bail but lacks the financial resources to do so and more than 10 percent of individuals could secure their release pending trial with $2,500 or less.
Irish Heroin Users to Get Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone. Beginning early next year, some 600 Irish heroin and methadone users and their families will be supplied with naloxone (Narcan), the overdose reversal drug. It's a pilot program from the Health Service Executive, and follows the success of a similar project in Wales. Ireland has suffered around 200 opiate overdose deaths a year in recent years.