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Reform Moves Forward Through Voter Initiative Measures


Another Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed in California

Californians can now decide between three different legalization measures proposed for the 2010 ballot. J. Craig Canada, the Examiner's Santa Cruz County Drug Policy Examiner, provides a useful summary of the first two, filed respectively on July 15 and July 28, 2009, here. However, as Canada reported on August 10, 2009 ("California Has Three Initiatives Filed to Legalize Marijuana"), Californians now have a third ballot measure, the "Common Sense Act of 2010" (filed by Common Sense California - no relation - on August 4, 2009), from which to choose.

The "Common Sense Act of 2010," like its predecessors seeks to legalize (and thus enable regulation and control of) marijuana sales and consumption in the state of California. However, the newest of California's legalization initiatives differs with some magnitude from earlier counterparts. While the initiative would repeal "marijuana prohibition in California," it would also "give the legislature a year to pass laws to regulate and tax marijuana." Additionally, the initiative "calls for California members of Congress to work to remove cannabis from the Federal Schedule of Controlled Substances." Thus, Common Sense California's ballot measure offers something not only to California's cannabis consumers but for their counterparts nationwide.

To learn more about the iniative, visit is sponsor's website and read the full initiative here in PDF form.

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Oregon Cannabis Tax Act Moving Toward Ballot Inclusion

According to an August 6, 2009 Examiner report, "the movement to put the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act on the ballot in 2010 is gearing up" ("Oregon Cannabis Tax Act 2010"). The initiative's sponsor, the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CRRH), "has recently revised and refiled the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2010 (OCTA) petition and are in the process of gathering 1,000 sponsorship signatures. After this first step, the group will be given an official ballot title from the state." The group will conduct polling and then "begin circulating the petition" across the state in an attempt to acquire the 100,000 signatures needed "to qualify for the November 2010 election."

The initiative seeks to allow adults 21 and over to legally purchase cannabis in "adult only stores, where the age limit [...] is strictly enforced;" let farmers obtain licenses "to cultivate cannabis for both medicinal and adult private use;" enable farmers to "grow industrial hemp without a license, for paper, fabric, protein, and oil;" provide doctors with the ability "to prescribe untaxed cannabis through pharmacies, so patients won't have to grown their own or buy medicine illegally;" and promises to "[r]aise millions of dollars in new public revenue, lowering the tax burden on all and saving [Oregon residents] money."

If you live in Oregon, visit the group's website (linked above) to find out more about how you can help pass this laudable initiative.

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Colorado Initiative Sets Sights on Legalizing Possession of Marijuana

Activist organization Sensible Breckenridge, an arm of Sensible Colorado, succeeded in getting on November's ballot a "measure that would remove all penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in the [...] ski resort town of Breckenridge," Phillip Smith writes in a post for the Drug War Chronicle's "Speakeasy" blog on July 25, 2009. The measure, as Smith reports, "would remove local penalties for the private possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older, effectively legalizing small amounts of marijuana for adults under the town code."

Organizers told Smith that they "encountered overwhelming support" for the measure while gathering 1,400 signatures - nearly three times the 500 needed "to make the ballot." As local attorney Sean McAllister said, "Now it is up to the Breckenridge voters to decide if responsible adults should be criminalized for using a substance less harmful than alcohol." However, the measure could be implemented even earlier. According to Smith's post, "The Breckenridge Town Council will have the opportunity to enact the law at their meeting on August 11. If they do not, it will automatically be placed on the November 3rd ballot."

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Richard Lee Proposes 2010 Initiative to Tax and Regulate Marijuana in California

California could become the first state to establish a regulated marijuana industry if Oakland dispensary owner, Oaksterdam University president, and Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance founder Richard Lee's proposed ballot initiative receives enough support from California voters in next year's midterm elections. Lee told MSNBC, as Alternet reports in a June 15 article by Don Hazen ("Legal Pot in California in 2010? 'Oaksterdam' Provides the Model"), that his "basic idea is to professionalize the [marijuana] industry, and have it taken seriously just like beer and distilling hard liquor." Lee's Control, Regulate, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 would be "the first major statewide initiative designed to legalize marijuana for personal use," and, if passed, would not only be a major achievement for drug policy reformers but also a boon to California's ailing economy, a reprieve for the vast number of individuals caught up in the criminal justice system because they choose to consume a substance less harmful than alcohol, and an innovative legal experiment.

In an informative and insightful interview with Drug Law Blog's Alex Coolman ("An Interview with Richard Lee on the Tax Cannabis 2010 California Ballot Initiative"), posted on July 8, 2009, Lee continued framing his initiative in terms similiar to current laws regarding alcohol. As he states, "it's a local option initiative, so it would authorize 'wet' and 'dry' cities and counties basically. Cities and counties that wanted to tax and regulate cannabis could do so, and those that don't want to could continue to ban it. The history of alcohol regulation is similar, like in other states, [such as] Texas where I come from, you have wet and dry counties" - in other words, counties that ban and counties that allow alcohol sales. He also draws a parallel between long-defunct alcohol prohibition and current drug prohibition laws, stating that the recent outbreak of devastating violence in Mexico "makes it easier to make the analogy to alcohol prohibition and the history of Al Capone." Lee additionally credits the current economic downturn, a "generational shift," and increasing public support for medical marijuana as well as all-purpose legalization for his ability to even get the initiative rolling toward California polling places. Indeed, as Hazen notes, a May 2009 Zogby poll "demonstrated that a majority of Americans" - 52 percent - "say it 'makes sense to tax and regulate' marijuana." Moreover, "a Field Poll found 56 percent backing" marijuana legalization in California specifically.

Importantly, Lee emphasizes that his initiative differs from other, earlier Californian proposals that sought simply to decriminalize cannabis. He explains that "in a decriminalized system [the sale and possession of marijuana] is still illegal, it's just not a jailable offense." The Control, Regulate, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, however, "would make it totally legal." In short, the initiative, if passed, would effectively erase the difference between alcohol and marijuana sales in California - a huge step forward from current federal drug policy and even other states' decriminalization measures. Though fellow Californian Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is currently attempting to pass a similar proposal in the state's legislature, Lee believes, according to the San Jose Mercury, that "a ballot initiative is quicker than waiting for any bill on the contentious issue of marijuana legalization to grind through the legislative process." As Lee told Associated Press reporter Marcus Wohlson on June 11, 2009 ("Pot Advocates Want Calif to Vote on Legalization"), "We believe that the people lead the politicians on this issue."

To learn more about Lee's proposed measure, visit the initiative's website or check out Alex's above-linked (and highly recommended) chat with the proponent.

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Election Results 2008: Drug Policy Reform Edition

On November 4th, 2008, several states presented voters with ballot initiatives devoted to drug policy and drug policy-related reform. In California, Proposition 5 sought to allocate more money for expanding and improving drug offender treatment programs; reduce criminal consequences for nonviolent drug offenders, including those who would otherwise face jail time or other sanctions due to (primarily technical) parole violations; decrease parole time for certain drug offenses and nonviolent property crimes; and re-classify petty marijuana offenses as infractions rather than misdemeanors. Oregon voters were faced with a particularly difficult choice, as both Measures 57 and 61 set their sights on increasing mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, among them nonviolent drug offenses. However, Measure 61's provisions were much harsher than those of competing 57 (which also promised to increase access to drug treatment and provide more funding for drug courts), and - due to the somewhat competing natures of the measures - only the measure that received the most votes would go into effect. Marijuana reform showed up on the ballot in both Massachusetts and Michigan. Massachusetts voters had the ability to voice their support for marijuana decriminalization, and voters in Michigan could vote to make their state the 14th to allow medicinal marijuana use.

Despite some disappointments, the drug policy reform movement gained more than it lost on election day. Although Californian's voted down promising Prop 5, Oregonians chose, as Jag Davies wrote in a blog post for the ACLU ("Oregan Voters Choose Lesser Evil of Two Misguided Criminal Justice Measures"), the "Lesser Evil" of two "flawed measures that both rel[ied] on a criminal justice-based approach to drug use, rather than a health based approach." Or, put more simply, the less draconian Measure 57 received more votes than its competitor and was thus ushered into Oregon law.

Marijuana (both medicinal and recreational) proved popular in Massachusetts and Michigan ballot booths. As the Boston Globe ("Mass. Voters OK Decriminalization of Marijuana") reported, "Massachusetts voters [...] approved a ballot initiative to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, making getting caught with less than an ounce of pot punishable by a civil fine of $100." Though confusion continued to surround the issue months after its voter approval, as stated in the Globe article (and the many follow-up stories that covered the initiative's passage), Massachusetts citizens' support for marijuana decriminalize is certainly something drug policy reform advocates can celebrate. Michigan voters established their home as the first Midwestern medical marijuana state, and patients began receiving ID cards in April of 2009 ("Medical Marijuana Program Appears on Track").

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Measures Would Greatly Expand Oregon Prison System

Oregon voters are faced with two competing measures that could expand the prison industrial complex by over $1 billion. According to the Statesman Journal October 13, 2008 article, ("Measures Would Swell State Prisons") "Two dueling measures on the Nov. 4 ballot ask Oregon voters to impose tougher sentences on property criminals and could require the state to spend $314 million to $1.3 billion to build more prison space, state analysts said. Measure 61, sponsored by former Salem legislator Kevin Mannix, seeks to extend mandatory minimum prison sentences to first-time identity thieves, burglars and drug dealers. It also targets repeat offenders for tougher sentences. Measure 57, an alternative placed on the ballot by the Legislature, proposes to increase prison terms for repeat offenders but also would require more comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment for such inmates."

The article states, "Under either measure, Oregon's 14-prison, 13,600-inmate corrections system would swell with more non-violent felons. State analysts project that Measure 61 would increase the prison population by 4,106 to 6,389 inmates by mid-2012. To house the influx of offenders, the state would need to spend $1.1 billion to and $1.3 billion to expand existing facilities or build new ones, according to state estimates. It also would cost between $522 million and $797 million for operating costs in the first five years. State analysts estimate that Measure 57 would send to prison an estimated 1,670 property and drug offenders, requiring the state to spend $314 million for prison expansion, plus $411 million in operating costs in the first five years."

The article adds, "Public opinion polls indicate that both measures are likely to pass. If that happens, the one with the most votes will go into effect Jan. 1. The competing property-crime measures come at a time when the U.S. financial system is shaky and the economy is ailing, raising concerns about funding for Oregon's 2009-11 budget. When lawmakers convene in January, they will face tough choices about funding for schools, mental-health care, prisons and other needs."

For clarity, the Statesman Journal article included the following measure outline:

Measure 61: Explanation: Creates mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug, theft, forgery and burglary crimes; Effect of a Yes Vote: A state analysis concluded that the measure would increase Oregon's prison population by 4,106 to 6,389 inmates by July 2012. Costs: State debt for prison construction estimated between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion. Operational costs estimated between $522 million and $797 million in the next five years; Sponsor: Mannix

Measure 57: Explanation: Increases sentences for drug and theft crimes; requires the prison system to provide inmates with drug and alcohol treatment; Effect of a Yes Vote: A state analysis concluded that the measure would increase the state's prison population by 1,670 inmates. Costs: State debt for prison construction estimated at $314 million. Operational costs estimated at $411 million during the next five years. Sponsor: 2007 Legislature

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The Nonviolent Offenders Rehabilitation Act (NORA) is Proposition 5 on the 2008 California state ballot.

As the Sacramento Bee reported on Sept. 2, 2008 ("Props 5 and 8 will make waves nationally"), "Given the prison mess we've locked ourselves into, (George) Soros' [sic] proposal may be the brightest light on a bleak horizon. This one, Proposition 5, called NORA, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, is a monster plan designed to direct many more drugusing lawbreakers to treatment and keep them out of the slammer. It puts more money into diversion and rehabilitation for both adults and youthful offenders, for whom there is now no drug treatment program at all. It's a complicated and costly plan, running to an estimated $1 billion a year. It would allocate more resources to treatment, probation and parole. But the Legislative Analyst's Office believes it could save the state as much money, especially in prison construction, as it will cost, and maybe more. The numbers are a little iffy. Nonetheless, the LAO says the program could reduce the state's adult inmate population, now roughly 171,000 prisoners, by 18,000 at $46,000 per year apiece, that's not peanuts and reduce the rolls of parolees by an additional 22,000."

According to the Bee, "Proposition 5 has strong opposition from the leaders of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, which, in the words of one of its California members, Jeffrey Thoma, the public defender of Solano County, is based "on misunderstanding and misinformation" and was adopted "using heavy-handed tactics." Conversely, Proposition 5 has the endorsement of a long list of California individuals and groups, from the League of Women Voters and organizations representing physicians and drug and alcohol abuse counselors to labor unions, the former warden of San Quentin Prison and former director of the state Department of Corrections to conservative libertarians like former Secretary of State George Shultz. If Proposition 5 passes, it could ring bells in the new Congress, elected on the same day, that Americans are ready for a new drug strategy. Congress, in its fear of being tarred as soft on drugs, has so far ignored all the other ballot measures. But given the general fatigue of right-wing ideology, the messages might be heard this time. A growing number of Americans are beginning to understand that the countless billions we're spending on tracking down and incarcerating users, the additional billions in overseas interdiction and eradication, and the human and property cost of the crimes addicts commit to sustain their habit may not be worth the price."

More information about Prop 5 is available at the campaign website.

Voters in Fayetteville, AR, will decide on how law enforcement should prioritize cannabis.

Television news station KFSM reported on September 5, 2008 ("Marijuana initiative makes the ballot in Fayetteville") that "Fayetteville voters will have the choice come November to vote on making adult marijuana possession the lowest police priority. Sensible Fayetteville pulled out more than enough signatures to make the november ballot with their initiative. Now, it's up to voters to decide whether or not the measure will pass. Ryan Denham with Sensible Fayetteville said, 'We needed 301 signatures to make the ballot.' Sensible Fayetteville turned in just over a thousand signatures august 29th. Reportedly, the petition has qualified with more than the necessary 3686 signatures to make it on the November ballot."

According to KFSM, "Denham describes how the initiative will read on the ballot, 'It's going to say lowest law enforcement priority and it's going to talk about establishing adult marijuana policy for misdemeanor amounts for adults.' The group claims these arrests are clogging the court and jail systems-using up a lot of taxpayer dollars. Denham said, 'We're spending 30 million dollars a year in the state of Arkansas just arresting and prosecuting marijuana offenders for small time-small amounts.'

The report noted that "Right now, Police say anything under an ounce is a Class A misdemeanor, which means mandatory arrest with a one year max jail time and possible thousand dollar fine. The same procedure applies to shoplifters-and other Class A misdemeanor offenses-they have to be brought to jail for fingerprinting. Police say they see many more shoplifter arrests than ounce or less marijuana arrests. If arrested for a second offense of misdemeanor possession with a conviction on the first offense then it becomes a felony."

A lowest law enforcement priority of adult personal use of cannabis will be placed on the Hawaii ballot. The proposal defines personal use as an individual who has less than 24 plants or 24 ounces of cannabis. According to The Honolulu Advertiser August 19, 2008 article,("Big Isle Vote Could Lessen Marijuana Enforcement") "The off-and-on political struggle over eradication and enforcement of anti-marijuana laws on the Big Island is moving to the fall election, when voters will be asked whether law enforcement officials should make busts of small-time marijuana users the county's lowest policing priority. The proposed ordinance advanced by a group called 'Project Peaceful Sky'--and ordered onto the ballot by a split vote of the County Council--would also prohibit the county from accepting any further state or federal money for marijuana eradication operations."

The article states, "However, County Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida said the proposed ordinance to be placed on the ballot may be unenforceable even if the voters do approve it because it apparently violates the pre-emption doctrine arising from the U.S. and Hawai'i state constitutions. That doctrine says legislative bodies such as the County Council cannot dictate to executive branch agencies such as the police and prosecutors how to run their day-to-day operations. The initiative to de-emphasize marijuana enforcement appears to do just that, Ashida said, and he will ask the state attorney general's office to rule on whether the ordinance is legal if the voters approve it."

The article adds, "Councilman Bob Jacobson, who introduced the council resolution to put the proposal on the ballot, said he wants to see the issue put to a public vote. Jacobson said a variety of people told him privately they wanted to sign the petition, but were embarrassed or were afraid to sign for fear they would suffer repercussions at work. Adam Lehmann, board director of the Peaceful Sky effort, said his group collected the nearly 5,000 signatures in about two months, proving there is significant support for the idea. 'People are really tired of seeing money misappropriated away from education and healthcare to fund a military-style war on a plant,' said Lehmann, 30. 'It's clearly going to give law enforcement more time and resources to focus on serious crimes. It's going to provide lots of space in our prisons, it's going to help courts run smoother, and it's going to essentially save this county's taxpayers millions of dollars every year,' because they will avoid the costs of strict marijuana enforcement, he said."

Several initiatives were voted on in the general election of 2006. Some were successful.

Colorado
Voters in Colorado failed to pass a marijuana legalization initiative. The Rocky Mountain Gazette reported on Nov. 8, 2006 ( "Pro-Pot Proposal Takes A Big Hit") that "By about a 2-1 ratio, voters snuffed out a measure that would have allowed adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. With 701 precincts reporting, it appeared to be doomed to defeat, especially since it was barely getting a split vote in traditionally liberal Boulder County."

According to the Gazette, "Mason Tvert, campaign manager for Amendment 44, said he 'wasn't disappointed by the results' and conceded defeat early in the evening. 'We had a yearlong conversation about marijuana,' he said. 'We still believe there are a larger number of people in favor of changing the laws.' 'We think the writing is on the wall,' he added. If the initiative passed, it would have made Colorado the first state to legalize marijuana use for recreational purposes. Previously, several states - including Colorado - passed medical marijuana initiatives that allowed for the distribution of the drug for those battling illness."

The Gazette also noted that opposition to the initiative was led by out-of-state forces and the White House: "The campaign had been opposed largely by Save Our Society from Drugs - - a Florida-based group that made several sojourns to the state to drum up opposition against the measure. Through (Robert) McGuire, they successfully brought the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to campaign against it as well as employing the help of Colorado Attorney General John Suthers."

Nevada
Voters in Nevada rejected that state's proposal to legalize marijuana. The Ely Times reported on Nov. 8, 2006 ( "Voters Say No To Legalizing Marijuana") that "Nevada voters were just saying no to legalizing marijuana, welcoming a hike in the state's minimum wage and keeping alive eminent domain reform, among other decisions on ballot initiatives on Tuesday's ballot. With at least 1,620 of 1,913 precincts statewide reporting, Question 7, which would have allowed Nevada residents 21 years of age or older to possess an ounce of marijuana or less, was being rejected by 56 percent of voters. Only 44 percent were in support."

According to the Times, "Despite the apparent loss, backers of the measure were heartened by the turnout in favor of the measure. 'This will be the all-time biggest vote for ending marijuana prohibition in the history of this country,' said Neal Levine, Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana campaign manager. 'This is an enormous amount of progress. Unfortunately, we fell a little bit short.' Levine said his group would continue its efforts to win over Silver State voters and 'it is a 100 percent certainty this will be back on the ballot' in 2008 or 2010."

South Dakota
Voters in the state of South Dakota decided not to pass a medical marijuana initiative on the 2006 general election ballot. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported on Nov. 8, 2006 ( "Support Short For Medical Marijuana") that "A movement to legalize the use of marijuana for medical uses was headed for defeat with partial election results available late Tuesday. South Dakota's Initiated Measure 4 was patterned after laws in 11 states. Passage looked doubtful at 11 p.m. with 141,734 votes against legalized use compared with 127,713 votes in favor, a 53-47 margin, with 743 precincts out of 818 reporting."

According to the Argus Leader, "Those in favor argued in part that marijuana can relieve seriously ill patients' discomfort and even save lives. But under South Dakota law, patients who use it face a year in prison and a $2,000 fine. Support came from a group called South Dakotans for Medical Marijuana. A spokesman, Tony Ryan of Sioux Falls, was a police officer in Denver for 36 years. He has family members who suffer from cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. 'It would be an option,' Ryan said. 'They don't need it now, but there might be a day when they need it.' Valerie Hannah of Deerfield supported passage. She uses marijuana in a vaporized form to ease chronic pain of nerve damage she suffered from nerve gas in the Gulf War. Hannah said legal drugs such as morphine make her feel 'like a zombie' and put her in a stupor. 'If it fails, of course it's a disappointment, and very terrifying,' she said. 'I think we need to provide voters with a better education.'"

Missoula County, Montana
The Missoulian reported on Nov. 8, 2006 ( "Missoula County Approves Marijuana Initiative") that "A ballot measure recommending Missoula County law enforcement officials make adult marijuana offenses their lowest priority passed Tuesday night. The measure, dubbed Initiative 2, won the support of 22,502 Missoula voters, or 53 percent. Opponents of the initiative totaled 19,565, or 46 percent, and included some of Missoula County's top law enforcement officials. The initiative will make marijuana crimes the single lowest priority for Missoula County authorities, but won't include marijuana sales or drug use by minors as low-priority offenses."

According to the Missoulian, "Proponents of the initiative, sponsored by Citizens for Responsible Crime Policy, say Initiative 2 strives to place increased emphasis on crimes that threaten people's lives and property and on other, more pressing drug issues. The proposal calls for a Community Oversight Committee that would consist of community members, criminal defense attorneys and a drug rehabilitation counselor who would investigate marijuana arrests and produce a report on the initiative's effects seven months after its passage. 'We are very pleased that Missoula voters approved a clearer, safer and smarter crime policy,' Goodhope said. Police Chief Rusty Wickman and Sheriff Mike McMeekin have publicly voiced their concern about the initiative, saying they worry federal dollars could be yanked from Missoula's drug enforcement programs in retaliation to the measure. Goodhope said all evidence suggested the contrary, pointing to Seattle's passage of a similar measure several years ago as evidence. In Missoula, like Seattle, the measure strives to place increased emphasis on crimes that threaten people's lives and property and on other, more pressing drug issues."

Santa Cruz, CA
Voters in Santa Cruz also approved a measure to make the marijuana laws the lowest priority for law enforcement. The San Jose Mercury News reported on Nov. 8, 2006 ( "Pot Effectively Legalized In Santa Cruz") that "Measure K, the marijuana initiative, was put on the ballot with the help of pot-smoking billionaire Peter Lewis of Cleveland. Proponents said police needed to spend less time arresting pot smokers and more time focusing on serious crime. But Santa Cruz police accused Measure K supporters of blowing smoke. Police officers argued that the measure would make it harder to do their jobs and send a message to teens that it was cool to smoke dope."

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Nov. 8, 2006 ("SC Minimum Wage Measure Fails; Sales Tax Hike, Pot Initiative and USCS Growth Measures Pass"), "Voters also showed sympathy for marijuana causes with approval of Measure K, a plan that forces police officers to make adult marijuana crimes their lowest priority. 'This proves the community's desire that tax dollars and police resources should be focused on something besides nonviolent marijuana use,' Measure K campaign coordinator Kate Horner said. 'We look forward to working with the police on this.'"

A group of religious leaders endorsed Nevada's Question 7, a measure on the 2006 general election ballot which if passed would legalize marijuana for adults. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on Oct 4, 2006 ("Clergy Members Support Effort To Legalize Marijuana") that "A total of 32 ministers, rabbis and other members of the Nevada clergy signed statements saying they support Question 7, the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana's initiative to establish a state-regulated system in which marijuana would be grown by licensed farmers, sold in state-approved stores and taxed by the state. Voters will decide the question in the Nov. 7 election."

According to the Review-Journal, "Several of the religious leaders attended a news conference in Northern Nevada to announce their support for the question. The Rev. Ivan Gunderman, senior pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Las Vegas, who did not attend the news conference but was among those endorsing the measure, said in an interview that the penalties for using marijuana are far worse than the offense merits. 'Sometimes the crime is worse than the problem,' Gunderman said. 'Look at Prohibition. It didn't stop people using alcohol. If anything it launched organized crime.' Gunderman said he knows people suffering serious illnesses who needed marijuana as medication. He said they did not qualify for the state's medical marijuana program, so they were forced to acquire it illegally and technically become criminals. A state law permits Nevada residents with their doctors' permission to enroll in a medical marijuana program. Once enrolled, they can grow marijuana and use it as their medication. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in Nevada is a misdemeanor, punishable by a $600 fine. Until 2001, the possession of any amount of marijuana in the Silver State was a felony."

The Review-Journal noted that "David Scheuncman, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Las Vegas, said funds used for the fight against marijuana could be better spent on other programs. 'The current approach has failed,' he said. 'They have hardly made a dent in marijuana consumption. Put the money to better use: Fire a drug dealer and hire a teacher.'"

Colorado voters in 2006 will have the opportunity to decide whether the state should legalize possession of marijuana by adults over age 21. The CO Secretary of State's office announced on August 16, 2006 ( "Proposed Initiative Concerning Marijuana Possession Is Found To Be Sufficient") that "Secretary of State Gigi Dennis announced the proposed ballot measure concerning 'Marijuana Possession' was found to be sufficient as required by statute. Petitions were submitted to the Secretary of State’s office on August 7. Secretary of State staff immediately began checking the 5% random sample signatures selected by computer."

According to Secretary Dennis, initiative supporters submitted 130,815 total signatures. Of these, 79,758 were estimated to be valid signatures based on verification of a random sample. Only 67,829 valid signatures were necessary for placement, so "Pursuant to C.R.S. 1-5-407 (5.3), this initiative will be numbered 'Amendment 44' on the November 7, 2006 General Election ballot."

The initiative was developed by SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation), the Denver-based national organization which proposed and passed a similar city-wide measure in the previous election cycle. Specifically, the initiative asks: "Shall there be an amendment to section 18-18-406 (1) of the Colorado revised statutes making legal the possession of one ounce or less of marihuana for any person twenty-one years of age or older?"

For more information about the measure and the campaign, contact SAFER.

Voters in three US states will decide ballot measures dealing with marijuana policy in the 2004 general election. The electoral battles pit patients, their families and supporters, activists and other concerned citizens, against the White House and ONDCP Director John Walters. As Associated Press reporter David Crary noted in a story carried by the Kansas City Star on Oct. 10, 2004 ( "3 Western States To Vote On Pot Proposals"), "The Bush administration's war on drugs stretches deep into Asia and Latin America, yet one of its most crucial campaigns - in the eyes of drug czar John Walters - is being waged this fall among voters in Oregon, Alaska and Montana. In each state, activists seeking to ease drug laws have placed a marijuana-related proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot as part of a long-running quest for alternatives to federal drug policies they consider harsh and ineffective. If all three measures are approved, Montana would become the 10th state to legalize pot for medical purposes, Oregon would dramatically expand its existing medical-marijuana program, and Alaska would become the first state to decriminalize marijuana altogether. Walters has been campaigning in person against the measures, taking a particularly aggressive role in opposing Oregon's Measure 33. It would create state-regulated dispensaries to supply marijuana, let authorized growers sell pot to patients for a profit, and allow patients to possess a pound of it at a time instead of the current 3-ounce limit."

Oregon

Oregon voters will decide Measure 33 in the election concluding Nov. 2, 2004. The measure amends the existing Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, which was voted into effect in November 1998. As Oregon attorney Brian Michaels wrote in the Eugene Register-Guard on Oct. 12, 2004 ( "Measure 33 Would Improve Marijuana Law"), "Measure 33 is an initiative to correct deficiencies in the day-to-day operation of the Medical Marijuana Act passed by voters in 1998. It does not legalize marijuana, nor does it invite black market drug cartels to Oregon. From the patients' perspective, the objective of Measure 33 is to make access to the medicine through their physicians as free from judicial impediments as possible. From the physicians' perspective, the objective is to lift the pall of political controversy hanging over those who provide this medicine to patients."

According to initiative sponsors A Life With Dignity Committee, Measure 33 would:

  • Create state-regulated dispensaries where patients can buy medical marijuana.
  • Increase amounts patients may possess or cultivate to reasonable amounts: one pound of usable marijuana and 10 marijuana plants.
  • Add Naturopathic Physicians and Nurse Practitioners to the definition of attending physicians who can qualify patients. Both groups are licensed in Oregon to prescribe Schedule II drugs already.
  • Fund scientific research into the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana
  • Create a commission to oversee the program.
  • Build on a successful, self-funding program that helps Oregon patients.

For a full text of the current Oregon medical marijuana law, click here.

Montana

In Montana, voters will decide whether to approve a medical marijuana program. The measure, I-148, is sponsored by the Medical Marijuana Project of Montana.

As reported by the Billings Outpost on Oct. 21, 2004 ( "Medical Marijuana Act"), "If the measure passes, patients could use a limited amount of marijuana to relieve symptoms suffering from illness such as cancer, glaucoma and HIV/AIDS or treatments that produce chronic pain, nausea, seizures, or muscle spasms and atrophy. A patient or caregiver could also register to grow up to six marijuana plants and possess no more than one ounce if they provide a physician's certification that the patient has a debilitating condition and could benefit from marijuana's use."

The measure has a good deal of support in the state. According to a story in the Hartford Courant on Oct. 20, 2004 ( "White House Battling Medical Marijuana"), "As Teresa Michalski's weakened son Travis, 29, battled a rare form of blood cancer last year, he turned to smoking marijuana. 'Marijuana ... helped quell my son's agony and made it possible for him to eat,' Teresa Michalski said. 'Because of marijuana, he was able to live his last days and die in relative comfort.' In recent weeks, Michalski has emerged as a frequent spokeswoman in favor of a proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot in Montana that would make the Big Sky state the 10th in the nation to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Two polls show Montana residents appear poised to defy the Bush administration and approve the ballot initiative." The Courant continued:
"Surveys by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research and Montana State University-Billings showed the Montana initiative winning, with 58 percent and 57 percent, respectively, in the polls. 'We're very hopeful,' Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said of the outcome in Montana."

According to the Courant, "In Montana, both sides have been pressing their case in recent weeks. Scott Burns, deputy director of the drug policy office, campaigned across the state against Initiative 148. At one stop, according to local press reports, he said, 'If we make it acceptable in society to smoke dope, our children are more inclined to do that.' Tom Riley, communications director for the drug policy office, said the administration had a mandate from Congress to uphold federal laws against marijuana. Riley added that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of marijuana to relieve pain or for other medical treatments. 'We have an obligation to uphold sound science,' he said. Mirken, the marijuana policy project spokesman, responded that there is 'no doubt' that marijuana can relieve pain for some patients. 'Current policy is just crazy,' Mirken said. Michalski said families 'shouldn't have to deal with the fear of criminal prosecution' during difficult times, as she and her family did when her son was dying."

Alaska

Alaskan voters will decide Measure 2 in the Nov. 2, 2004 general election. According to the Yes on 2 Committee:
"This bill would do away with civil and criminal penalties for people 21 years or older who grow, use, sell, or give away marijuana or other hemp products. These products include hemp used for paper, fiber, food, fuel, medicine, or personal use in private. Marijuana could be regulated like alcohol or tobacco. State law could not stop doctors from prescribing marijuana. The bill allows for laws limiting marijuana use in some cases to protect public safety, and it allows laws to limit marijuana use in public. The bill would not nullify laws regulating marijuana use by minors."

To download a PDF copy of the Alaska Measure 2 text, click here.

The citizens of California will decide on reform of the state's landmark mandatory sentencing rule, the so-called 'Three Strikes' law, in the Nov. 2004 general election. The measure, Prop 66, is sponsored by Fix Three Strikes/Yes on 66. For reference, a summary of the measure's provisions and an explanation of some of the problems with Three Strikes is online, as is a PDF copy of the full text of the initiative.

According to Prop 66's supporters, "Proposition 66 reforms California's three strikes sentencing law to require that a third strike -- carrying a mandatory minimum 25-to-life sentence -- be a violent or serious felony. It also changes the list of crimes counting as 'strikes' to exclude some nonviolent or nonserious crimes. Resentencing would be an option for some third strikers only."

The New York Times reported on Prop 66 and the effort to reform the California sentencing law on Oct. 24, 2004 ( "California Rethinking '3-Strikes' Sentencing"). According to the Times, "Public outrage over the murder of Polly Klaas, a 12-year-old who had been kidnapped from her bedroom by a man who had repeatedly committed violent crimes, was the driving force behind California's passage 10 years ago of the country's harshest "three strikes" sentencing law. Now the Klaas family is at the center of an election battle over an initiative that would significantly scale back parts of the 1994 law. This time, Polly's father and grandfather are on opposite sides of an impassioned campaign that criminal justice experts say reflects a broad rethinking of the nation's tough-on-crime legislation of a decade ago."

The Times reported that "One of the most significant changes proposed in the ballot measure, known as Proposition 66, would put California more in line with the 24 other states that have three-strikes laws. The change would restrict so-called third-strike offenses for repeated felons, which require a 25-year-to-life sentence, to serious or violent crimes. Currently, even crimes not defined as serious or violent can count as a third strike, leading to instances in which multiple offenders have received the maximum penalty for committing crimes like shoplifting or possessing small amounts of narcotics. Last year, the United States Supreme Court rejected constitutional challenges to sentences of 25 years without parole for a man who stole three golf clubs from a pro shop and 50 years without parole for another man for stealing children's videotapes from a Kmart store."

The Times noted that "While honoring his son's request not to invoke his granddaughter's name, Joe Klaas has emerged as the most listened-to proponent of the ballot measure, in large part because of his family's suffering from Polly's kidnapping and murder in 1993. A campaign official described him as a "stud grandpa" who has been tirelessly flying across the state. 'The three-strikes law needs fixing,' the elder Mr. Klaas said. 'Everybody thought they were voting to put violent criminals away. It has taken 10 years to get the word out and educate the public.'"

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of those campaigning against the measure. But according to the Times, "even with the popular governor against it, opinion polls show passage of the measure leading among likely voters of both parties. A Field Poll early this month indicated the measure was comfortably ahead, with the support of 65 percent of likely voters. A recent Los Angeles Times poll put support at 3 to 1."

Voters in Detroit's August primary election approved a measure to allow medical marijuana. The Associated Press reported on Aug. 3, 2004 ( "Detroit Voters Approve Allowing Medical Marijuana") that "With 98 percent of precincts reporting, 59 percent, or 38,604 votes, were in favor of Proposal M, while 41 percent, or 26,497 votes, were against. The vote changes the city code, creating an exception to the marijuana ban for people who use the drug for medical purposes under a doctor's direction. But the change has no effect on federal and state laws that allow prosecution of those possessing or using marijuana."

According to the AP, "Timothy Beck, founder of the Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care, which collected the necessary signatures to put the measure on the ballot, said his group will work to change state laws following the Detroit vote and a similar one scheduled for November in Ann Arbor. Beck said the group will work with lawmakers to put the issue before the state Legislature or push for a statewide ballot initiative in 2006."

Voters in Montana will have the opportunity to approve a medical marijuana law in the November 2004 general election. The Billings Gazette reported on Aug. 2, 2004 ( "Voters Get Final Say On Medical Marijuana") that "Come November, Montana voters will have a chance to change this state's marijuana laws. Activists from the Marijuana Policy Project of Montana raised more than enough signatures - some 25,000 - to get their medical marijuana initiative placed on the general election ballot. Voters will be asked to cast their ballot for or against Initiative 148, a proposed law that would protect medical marijuana patients, their doctors and their caregivers from arrest and prosecution."

For more information about the Montana initiative, check out www.MontanaCares.org.

Several medical marijuana initiatives around the US were circulating in 2004, and some have reached the ballot.

Arkansas
Activists in Arkansas continued to gather signatures in July 2004 in spite of media reports of the campaign's early termination. As the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on July 13, 2004 ( "Campaign To Legalize Medical 'Pot' Not Over"), "Arkansans who've been campaigning for years to legalize marijuana as medicine say they'll continue their attempt to put the question before voters, with or without the financial backing of an Ohio billionaire. The national organization supporting the Arkansas Alliance for Medical Marijuana announced last week that it's pulling out of the state effort, citing the slim chances that a proposed initiative would qualify for the ballot. But state supporters, dismayed by a costly campaign that may have produced fewer petition signatures than needed, announced Monday they'll pick up where the national campaign left off. 'We can't stop now. This is farther than we've ever been before,' said Denele Campbell of West Fork, treasurer for the alliance."

According to the Democrat-Gazette, "The alliance turned in about 67,000 signatures on July 2 to get the proposed law on the Nov. 2 ballot. With at least 64,456 signatures of registered voters needed to qualify, national organizers said it seemed unlikely that enough valid signatures would be identified in the batch already submitted. So Campbell said the alliance will use the time remaining -- at least a month -- to try to come up with 20,000 or 30,000 more signatures to replace any that may be deemed invalid. She said she remains convinced that, if given the chance, voters would approve the initiative that would legalize marijuana use for people with 'debilitating medical conditions.'"

The Democrat-Gazette noted that "Arkansas supporters who've worked on similar campaigns for years said they don't understand how a paid contractor apparently failed to come up with enough signatures after being paid $186,000 to canvass the state. With money supplied by Peter B. Lewis of Cleveland, an Ohio insurance tycoon, the alliance paid The Southwest Group of Las Vegas to gather the signatures. 'I feel ripped off,' said Reed Martin of Conway, a cancer survivor who said marijuana use helped him slow weight loss during chemotherapy. 'I'd like to know what they did with all that money.' A spokesman for Southwest Group referred questions about the Arkansas contract to the Marijuana Policy Project, the Washington-based lobby group helping to steer the Arkansas effort. Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said Southwest Group should answer specific questions about the canvassing effort."

For more information about or to learn how to support the Arkansas medicalization effort, check out the Arkansas Alliance For Medical Marijuana / Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas website.

Oregon
In Oregon, organizations called Voter Power and A Life With Dignity Committee are sponsoring an initiative to amend and improve the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. The act, called OMMA, was passed by Oregon voters in 1998, and is the model for many of the medical marijuana laws which have been enacted in the US (aside from California's). Voter Power has also been the organization working to implement OMMA.

According to a story by Reuters News Service on July 3, 2004 ( "Oregon To Vote On Easing Medical Marijuana Use"), "Oregon voters will decide this fall whether to make medical marijuana more readily available after an initiative to expand an existing law gained enough signatures on Friday to be placed on the ballot. The ballot measure would let patients possess up to 1 pound of marijuana, up from 3 ounces under a law passed in 1999. It also would create a system of dispensaries that could legally sell pot to patients. 'This initiative will create a regulated supply of medical marijuana so that patients and their caregivers can safely and reliably get their medicine,' said John Sajo, director of Voter Power and a chief petitioner."

Reuters noted that "About 9,000 Oregonians have medical cards allowing them to grow and use marijuana for medical purposes. Currently, a patient has to grow his own marijuana or have a caregiver grow it. 'Most of these ill people cannot grow their own under the current restrictions,' which regulates the number of plants and sets other conditions. The initiative would clarify the caregivers' role by letting them grow pot for as many as 10 medical users."

(Editor's Note 1: The campaign is confident and hopeful of ballot placement, though as of the date of this writing (July 14), the Oregon Secretary of State has not yet certified the measure. The state has until the beginning of August to complete the signature validation process. Check the Voter Power website for more information.)

Nevada Group Begins Attempt To Place Marijuana Measure On 2004 State Ballot

The Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana announced in February 2004 that it would seek to place a marijuana regulation measure on the ballot in Nevada. According to the Las Vegas Sun on Feb. 18, 2004 ("Effort To Legalize Marijuana Renewed"), "The Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana announced it would file an initiative with the secretary of state's office today and start gathering signatures. The group's new initiative would allow people 21 and older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for recreational use. It would make Nevada the first state to do so. The petition needs the signatures of 51,244 registered voters by June 15 to qualify for the November ballot. The committee needs to gather signatures from 10 percent of the voters in 13 of the state's 17 counties to qualify. Proponents are hopeful that they will be able to get the initiative on the ballot. The last group to sponsor the effort, Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement, gathered 110,000 signatures in 2002 to land the initiative on the ballot. The initiative would then go to the voters and needs to pass in two general elections before it would be amended to the Nevada Constitution."

The Sun noted however that "'This is a totally different initiative,' committee spokeswoman Jennifer Knight said. 'It has a totally different team. We have addressed concerns of voters that were voiced in the 2002 campaign.' The committee, which is supported by the Marijuana Policy Project, has changed the amount of marijuana that would be legal and is suggesting an increase in the penalty for driving under the influence." The Sun also reported that "Some people involved in the last drive will continue their support. Andy nderson, a retired 29-year police officer and former president of the Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs, will be the campaign manager. Billy Rogers, who led the last campaign on behalf of the Marijuana Policy Project, will serve as a consultant. Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, who spoke in favor of the last initiative, said she's glad it will be introduced with tougher restrictions on how much marijuana a person can legally have. 'I'd rather get to the people who are dealing it, and if government has restrictions and regulations in this area, then you will actually be putting more of the dope dealers out of business and take it out of the hands of kids,' Giunchigliani said."

Marijuana Legalization Measure Reaches 2004 Alaska Ballot

Alaska voters will vote on marijuana legalization in the 2004 general election. As the Juneau Empire reported Dec. 30, 2003 ( "Alaskans To Vote On Pot Legalization In '04 Election"), "Lt. Gov. Loren Leman notified initiative sponsors in late November that the petition has the 28,782 signatures necessary to get the question on the 2004 ballot. Sponsors must collect signatures equal to 10 percent of those who voted in the most recent general election. Since the marijuana initiative was filed prior to the 2002 election, it is based on 10 percent of the voters in the 2000 general election. 'We have enough signatures,' said initiative sponsor Linda Ronan of Anchorage. 'The problem is that it hasn't been certified. We don't know what the holdup is.' Annette Kreitzer, Leman's chief of staff, said she expects the initiative to be certified within the next two weeks."

The Alaska initiative had previously been rejected by state officials, however backers sued the state to force a recount. The Empire reported that "On Jan. 13, 2003, Leman rejected 194 of 484 signature booklets over what Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock described as "trivial rule violations." Following a lawsuit from the initiative sponsors, Leman was ordered in September to recount the signature booklets. Tom Godkin, an administrative supervisor for the Division of Elections, said the division has not yet completed the total count of the petition booklets but confirmed that the group has more than enough valid signatures."

Detroit Voters To Decide In 2004 On Legalizing Medical Marijuana

The city of Detroit will vote on the question of legalizing marijuana for medical use in 2004. The Detroit Free Press reported on November 21, 2003 ( "Medicinal Pot Headed To '04 Detroit Ballot"), "Detroiters will have a chance to vote on the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes next August. If the issue passes, authorities said users in Detroit would be exempt from marijuana-possession laws if they have a medical need for the drug. Earlier this month, Detroit City Clerk Jackie Currie validated 7,779 of the signatures submitted by the Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care, a group of metro Detroiters that has been fighting to get marijuana on the ballot for several years. The law requires 6,141 valid signatures. In 2001, the group gathered more than enough valid signatures, but the City of Detroit's law department challenged the petition, citing technicalities, and kept the measure off the ballot. 'The law department has raised no objections this time,' said coalition founder and chairman Tim Beck of Detroit. 'So the Detroit Medical Marijuana Initiative question will finally appear on the primary ballot next August.'"

As the Free Press noted, "National advocates said medicinal marijuana use will be a good thing for Detroit. 'It keeps police from wasting time and valuable resources,' said Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, based in Washington, DC. Zeese estimated that it can take police up to four hours to arrest, book and release people during a routine marijuana arrest. 'And for the patient, it would make them feel secure that they won't be harassed by law enforcement,' Zeese said. The medicinal value of marijuana has been recognized by numerous national organizations and medical institutions. Medical use of the drug has been approved in California, Nevada, Oregon, Maine, Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Arizona and Hawaii. And last fall, the Canadian Parliament legalized medical use of marijuana."

For more information on the Detroit initiative, visit the website for Medical Marijuana Detroit, sponsors of the Detroit Medical Marijuana Initiative.

2002 Election Results: Reform Measures Defeated In Several States; Local Measures Pass in DC, San Francisco

The election of Nov. 5, 2002 saw the defeat of drug policy reform measures in Ohio, Nevada, and Arizona, as well as the success of local reform measures in the District of Columbia and in San Francisco. As the Washington Post reported on Nov. 6, 2002 ( "Marijuana Legalization Backers Suffer Defeats"), "Advocates of marijuana legalization had a bad night at the ballot boxes yesterday as voters in several states appeared to reject proposals to relax or eliminate the prohibition on pot smoking. The only place to buck the trend was the District, where voters strongly backed a plan to send marijuana smokers to a clinic rather than to jail. Voters in Arizona and South Dakota rejected measures that would have legalized production and use of marijuana in certain circumstances. Nevada voters turned down a proposal to legalize the sale and use of the drug. And South Dakota voters rejected a proposal to let defendants argue to the jury that drug laws are unfair. Voters in Ohio rejected a proposal similar to the one that passed in the District, requiring courts to treat marijuana use as a health problem, not a crime."

Nearly correct. As the Agence France-Presses news service pointed out in its story of Nov. 6, 2002 ( "San Francisco Voters Approve City Cannabis Distribution"), "The city of San Francisco may soon begin cultivating their own lush crop of world-renowned California marijuana. Voters here have enthusiastically supported a ballot measure directing their city officials to consider growing and distributing medical cannabis. Proposition S, which passed by 63%, could make San Francisco the first city in US to provide cannabis for sick people. It will also put the city, and the state of California, on a direct collision course with the federal government."

Proposition S doesn't go as far as activists would like, but they are pleased with the measure. As AFP noted, "Many activists say they are disappointed that Proposition S only directs San Francisco to consider distributing medical cannabis instead of compelling the city to do so and offering an implementation plan. But they hope that the passage of Proposition S will push the state of California to block federal drug raids and provide added protection for vulnerable patients. 'The state should be supporting voters and patients by taking the risks on themselves to go up against the feds, and it lays down the gauntlet for the state to do something,' says Hilary McQuie, campaign coordinator for Americans For Safe Access which supports the rights of medical cannabis patients."

Election results from some of the statewide and DC votes can be viewed at the following links:
Drug Policy Alliance election wrap-up page
Arizona Proposition 203
DC Initiative Measure 62
Nevada State Measure 9
Ohio's Measure 1

Ohio's Treatment Alternative To Incarceration Ballot Measure Comes Under Heavy Federal Fire

The nation's Drug Czar, John Walters, has come under criticism for his attacks on Ohio's Measure One, to mandate that certain convicted nonviolent drug-using offenders would be forced into treatment rather than incarcerated. As the Toledo Blade reported on Oct. 17, 2002 ( "Drug Czar Blasts Treatment Option"), "U.S. drug czar John Walters toured a halfway house yesterday to make his case against Issue 1, but he faced questions about the need for more federal funds and better research to help criminals who have abused drugs and alcohol re-enter society. During a meeting at Alvis House - which also has a program in Toledo - state prison director Reginald Wilkinson told Mr. Walters that 640,000 inmates nationwide are released each year, and 80 percent have abused drugs and alcohol; Ohio releases about 20,000 inmates per year. 'There hasn't been the kind of funding to handle the kind of monumental problem we have in just providing substance abuse treatment, and that's not even including the people who have mental health problems or who are sex offenders. You can't just treat one thing and think that person will benefit,' Mr. Wilkinson said. Mr. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the federal government relies on states to manage treatment programs. 'We've gone from surpluses to deficits, and there are always competing needs,' Mr. Walters told Mr. Wilkinson, referring to the federal budget. At a news conference later, Mr. Walters blasted Issue 1 as a 'command-and-control ballot initiative' that would weaken the ability of society to use 'compassionate coercion' to help nonviolent drug offenders."

The Blade reported that "Ed Orlett, director of the pro-Issue 1 group the Ohio Campaign for New Drug Policies, doubted whether Congress would approve President Bush's proposal to boost federal spending on drug treatment programs by $1.6 billion over the next five years. The federal government is spending about $3.8 billion this fiscal year, Mr. Walters said. 'Unless Issue 1 passes, it's unlikely we'll be able to expand adult drug courts in this state in the forseeable future.' Mr. Orlett said Issue 1 would require regular drug testing of offenders receiving treatment and judges could send them to jail after two relapses."

Arizona Cannabis Ballot Measure Targeted By Feds

In the words of Yogi Berra, 'it's Deja Vu all over again' as the US Drug Czar, ONDCP Director John Walters, steps into another state ballot measure vote, this time in Arizona. The Mesa, AZ East Valley Tribune reported on Oct. 10, 2002 ( "Drug Czar Blasts Arizona Pot Proposition") that "Two polls in the last three months revealed that Proposition 203 is supported by a substantial majority of voters." According to the Tribune, "Sponsors of a Nov. 5 ballot proposition to lessen marijuana penalties 'expect the people of Arizona to be stupid,' U.S. drug czar John Walters said at a press conference today. 'They are plying on a kind of ignorance that is our job to correct,' said Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy."

As the Tribune notes, "The proposition eliminates arrests for possession of two ounces or less - or two living plants - of marijuana, and reduces the penalty from a felony to a civil offense subject to a $250 fine. It also requires the Arizona Department of Public Safety to distribute confiscated marijuana free to qualified medical patients and changes forfeiture laws so that a person must be convicted of a crime before police can seize any property." The paper reports that on the other hand "Walters called the proposition a 'stupid, insulting' con job run by a dishonest campaign."

Meanwhile in Nevada, the organization leading opposition to that state's measure to reform cannabis laws has a new leader. The Sacramento, CA Bee reported on Oct. 10, 2002 ( "Pot-Measure Foes Have New Voice") that "The chief spokesman for law enforcement groups opposing Nevada's marijuana legalization ballot question has been replaced after alleging a drug cartel link to the legalization effort."

The Las Vegas, NV Sun had reported on Oct. 7, 2002 ( "DA's Drug Cartel Remark Angers Pot-Initiative Official") that "A chief deputy district attorney in Clark County has suggested a drug cartel is behind the effort to legalize possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana in Nevada. But a spokesman who is pushing approval of the constitutional amendment called the statement of prosecutor Gary Booker 'an outright lie, slanderous and libelous.' Billy Rogers, spokesman for Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement, said Booker 'ought to have his mouth washed out with soap.'"

According to the Sun, "Booker, chief of the Clark County district attorney's Vehicular Crimes Unit, suggested the marijuana campaign was tied to people connected with organized crime -- 'In a word 'cartel.'' Booker said the proposal 'has nothing to do with medical marijuana.' The Sun reported that "Rogers, who took offense at Booker's remark about ties to organized crime, said the prosecutor has 'a long record of lying' about the proposition. He said Booker gave out false information that marijuana seeds were available from the state Department of Agriculture for those who are in medical need, that Rogers smoked marijuana and that the proposed amendment would abolish all drunken driving laws. 'This guy ( Booker ) will say anything to scare people,' Rogers said. He suggested Booker's superiors 'put a muzzle on him' because he is hurting their cause with lies."

The federal Drug Control Policy office has been active in trying to influence voters regarding the marijuana measure on Nevada's 2002 ballot. The Las Vegas Sun reported on July 24, 2002 ( "'Drug Czar' Blasts Proponents Of Pot Legalization) that "'Let's not kid ourselves -- this is about helping the marijuana dealers by making it easier to buy and sell on a wider scale and eventually legalize all drugs,' said John Walters, the national drug control policy director and so-called 'drug czar.' Walters was in Las Vegas today to address an anti-drug law enforcement convention at the Hilton."

Yet, Walters assured Nevadans that he wasn't threatening federal police action if they don't vote as he tells them to. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on July 25, 2002 ( "Marijuana Law Change Would Not Prompt Federal Crackdown") that "If Nevadans vote to legalize the possession of 3 ounces or less of marijuana, the federal government will not 'strong arm' them by stepping up the enforcement of federal drug possession laws, the nation's drug czar said Wednesday. 'That's not our intent,' said John Walters, who leads the Office of National Drug Control Policy."

Walters has his work cut out for him in opposing the ballot measure. The Review-Journal noted that "A recent poll conducted for the Review-Journal and reviewjournal.com showed that 44 percent of Nevada voters surveyed support the initiative, 46 percent oppose it, while 10 percent are undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points."

To get past public approval, ONDCP is working to get law enforcement involved in the campaign. One of Walters' deputies, Mary Ann Solberg, spoke to police about the ballot measure to the same conference. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on July 25, 2002 ( "Official Urges Police Officers To Oppose Marijuana Plan") that "Mary Anne Solberg, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, urged police officers Tuesday night to actively oppose Nevada's marijuana ballot initiative." According to the Review-Journal, Solberg urged them to lobby the public against the measure. "'You need to get involved with this issue,' she said, encouraging officers to write letters to the editors of their hometown newspapers. 'Educate your parents. You need to educate your community.'"

A measure to lower the penalties for simple possession of marijuana has made it onto the 2002 ballot in Nevada. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on July 10, 2002 ( "Petitions Pass Muster - Marijuana Proposal To Be On Ballot") that "Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement turned in 74,740 valid signatures on petitions to change the state's marijuana laws, Deputy Secretary of State Susan Bilyeu said. The organization, an offshoot of the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, needed at least 61,336 valid signatures to place the question on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. The proposal to allow adults to possess as much as three ounces of marijuana without police interference needs approval in the November election and again in 2004 to become part of the Nevada Constitution."

In addition to gathering enough signatures, "Bilyeu said Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement met a second requirement by collecting a sufficient number of signatures in 14 of the state's 17 counties, falling short only in Douglas, Elko and Nye counties. Under state law, sufficient signatures had to be collected in at least 13 counties."

The Review-Journal noted that "Until last year, Nevada had the strictest marijuana law in the nation. People possessing any amount of marijuana could be charged with a felony, although most received lesser charges in exchange for attending drug treatment programs. Possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in Nevada is now a misdemeanor, punishable by a $600 fine. Under the Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement proposal, adults would not be arrested if they possessed three ounces or less of marijuana. They still could not use the drug in public places or while driving. The petition also calls for the state to set up a distribution plan to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients. Currently, 185 people in Nevada have permission to use marijuana for medical reasons. They must grow their own marijuana. How they acquire seeds is left up to the qualified users."

For more information on the Nevada measure, check out the website of the sponsoring organization, Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement.

Florida Initiative For Coerced Treatment As Alternative To Incarceration Filed

The state of Florida is the site of an effort to pass a law mandating drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration for drug possession offenders and nonviolent drug-using offenders. The initiative drive is being organized by the backers of California's successful Proposition 36 treatment-alternative-to- incarceration initiative. As the Marcos (FL) Daily News reported on June 10, 2001 ( "Florida Eyed As 2002 Battleground For Drug Reform Laws"), "Calling the war on drugs an abject failure that wrongfully imprisons small-time users more in need of medical care, a California drug-reform group backed by three of the country's richest entrepreneurs is targeting Florida as its next battleground." The Daily News reports:

"The Campaign for New Drug Policies -- which receives heavy support from billionaire financier George Soros, insurance executive Peter Lewis and for-profit university founder John Sperling -- recently registered with the Secretary of State's office in Tallahassee in hopes of placing its reform measure on the fall 2002 ballot as a voter-driven initiative.
"Entitled the 'Right to Treatment and Rehabilitation for Nonviolent Drug Offenders,' the ballot measure would require courts to steer certain first- and second-time drug-law violators into treatment and rehab programs. It's modeled after California's Proposition 36, approved by voters last year."

Michigan Personal Responsibility Act Supporters Gather Signatures To Place Measure On 2002 Ballot

Supporters of the Michigan Personal Responsibility Act rallied in Ann Arbor to kick off their petition drive According to a story in the University of Michigan newspaper, the Michigan Daily ( "Petitioners Net 8,000 Signatures," April 9, 2001), organizers must gather 300,711 signatures in 180 days to qualify the measure for the 2002 general election ballot. Signatures for the petition must be obtained by October 3.

Read this interview with PRA organizer Greg Schmidt from the Metro Times of Detroit, "Pot Plan," from June 6, 2001.

Maine Reformers Start Petition Drive For Medical Cannabis and Hemp Measures

A group is moving forward with two initiative measures in Maine. The Portland (ME) Press-Herald reported on April 10, 2001 ( "Group To Start Petition Drive On Marijuana"), "Donald Christen, president of The Maine Vocals, said they will try to collect 42,000 signatures for each of the petitions to get the issues on the November 2002 ballot. The Secretary of State's Office has already approved the wording of the petition on the medical marijuana law, he said." Christen "criticized Maine's current medical marijuana law as unworkable, saying it doesn't allow patients to grow or possess enough marijuana." The other measure would legalize production of industrial-grade hemp.

Reform Initiatives Win Big in 2000 Elections

Drug law reform initiatives scored several major victories in the 2000 election. Voters approved measures reforming forfeiture laws in the state of Oregon, approving treatment as an alternative to incarceration programs in California and in Massachusetts, and approved medical marijuana measures in Nevada.

According to Kevin B. Zeese, President of Common Sense for Drug Policy, "In the last three election cycles the public has voted for a dozen reform initiatives on medical marijuana, forfeiture, marijuana decriminalization and treatment instead of prison. Perhaps the most important vote in 2000 was in California where by 61-39 the public voted for treatment instead of prison."

Get the 2000 results from the Campaign for New Drug Priorities, which ran some of the ballot measure campaigns in the 2000 election cycle.

Alaska's broad marijuana legalization and reparation ballot measure failed, however this admittedly extreme measure received approximately 40 percent of the vote, outpolling Al Gore and Ralph Nader combined statewide.


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