Statewide medical marijuana and marijuana legalization initiatives had a tough time at the polls on Tuesday, but it was a different story for a set of local measures that make adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. In three California cities, small-town Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and college town Missoula County, Montana, voters sent a clear message to law enforcement and local officials that they should find better things to do than persecute pot users.
Voters in Albany, California, also passed a medical marijuana initiative, Measure D, supported by Americans for Safe Access.
Tuesday's lowest law enforcement priority victories, which were funded by the Marijuana Policy Project, are the latest of a series of initiatives that started in Seattle in 2003 and now include Oakland, California, and Columbia, Missouri. In California, initiative supporters hope to use this week's victories as a springboard to either more local initiatives or statewide action in the near future.
In the Golden State, as part of the California Cities Campaign, the cities of Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica all passed lowest priority initiatives, with 65% of the vote in the first two and 64% in Santa Monica.
Sensible Santa Barbara campaign director Lara Cassell told Drug War Chonicle Thursday the group was eager to move on to implementing the new lowest priority policy. "We are looking forward to working with the police and the city council to get this up and running," she said.
But Cassell and the rest of the California Cities Campaign crew are not resting on their laurels. They are instead seeking to broaden the impact of their victories. "We are looking at the state and federal levels and we hope this will strengthen the case for reform," she said. "The voters have sent a really clear message that the drug war has failed and it is time for a new approach."
That same message was resonating -- though not quite as loudly -- in Big Sky Country. In Missoula County, Montana, the lowest priority initiative there won with 53% of the vote. Ignoring strong opposition from local law enforcement, voters in what is arguably Montana's most liberal county sent a strong signal that they, too, are looking for an alternative to the drug war, or at least marijuana prohibition.
Instead of listening to the police, a majority of Missoula voters listened to Citizens for Responsible Crime Policy, the group that proposed the measure and got it on the ballot. Led by spokesperson Angela Goodhope, the group argued that police should emphasize solving crimes that threaten people's lives and property, not those involving the use of marijuana by adults.
"We are very pleased that Missoula voters approved a clearer, safer and smarter crime policy," Goodhope told the Missoulian newspaper. Voters rejected law enforcement claims approval would result in the loss of federal anti-drug dollars, she noted. "None of the negative outcomes our opponents predicted will come true," Goodhope said. "We know that for a fact."
Meanwhile, down in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a counterculture haven near the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, voters approved a similar lowest priority initiative with 64% of the vote. Sponsored by the Fayetteville/University of Arkansas NORML, the Eureka Springs vote marked the first rollback of marijuana prohibition in Arkansas history.
The strong showing in local races from California to Montana to Arkansas suggests that American voters are ready for more sensible marijuana policies, said National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws executive director Allen St. Pierre. "What these results tell us is that citizens strongly support reforming America's marijuana laws, but that they prefer to do so incrementally," he said. "These successes on the municipal level, once again, affirm that a majority of US citizens don't want adults who use marijuana responsibly to face arrest or jail, and they do not want their tax dollars spent on policies that prioritize targeting and prosecuting marijuana offenders."