We're getting down to the final days, and the action around drug reform initiatives is fierce. Let's get to it:
On Sunday, the Obama administration said it would be unswayed if one or more states voted for marijuana legalization. Appearing on CBS's "60 Minutes," Deputy Attorney General James Cole, author of the infamous "Cole memo" authorizing the current federal offensive against medical marijuana dispensaries, said the federal government was ready to fight any "dangers" from legalizing marijuana. He said the administration's stance on legalization would be "the same as it's always been" regardless of what voters decide. "We're going to take a look at whether or not there are dangers to the community from the sale of marijuana and we're going to go after those dangers," Cole said.
Last Thursday, a state agency head distributed talking points against Issue 5, the state's medical marijuana initiative. Jennifer Gallaher, head of the Arkansas Division of Behavioral Health Services, issued the talking points, which consistently refer to "medical" marijuana. A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services defended the propriety of the talking points, noting that "Mrs. Gallaher's office gathered factual information on the issue and shared it with her staff, which is absolutely appropriate given what that division does."
Also last Thursday, TV talk show host Montel Williams visited the state to campaign for Issue 5. He appeared at a campaign event at the state capitol along with members of Arkansans for Compassionate Care. Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has become a strong public advocate for medical marijuana. Williams and others present used to occasion to criticize as racist an anti-Issue 5 ad put out by the conservative Family Council Action Committee. The ad at one point features a scary looking black man measuring out marijuana.
Last Friday, the state's top anti-drug official and the Chamber of Commerce came out against Issue 5. State Drug Director Fran Flener said she and the groups planned to speak out against the measure. "While our group's vision of compassion does not include smoked marijuana as a medicine, it does include elements that we consider equally important measures of compassion," Flener said. She said those include "compassion for our citizens who travel our roads and our highways," ''the prevention of the establishment of crime-ridden dispensaries" and "the prevention of marijuana abuse particularly by children and teens." Also joining Flener in opposition were the Arkansas Sheriffs Association and the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police. The groups plan to air advertisements against the measure.
On Monday, the co-chair of the legislature's Joint Budget Committee endorsed Issue 5. Rep. Kathy Webb (D-Little Rock) said she had already voted for it. Early voting began Monday.
On Tuesday, GOP Congressman Tim Griffin said he opposes Issue 5. His Democratic, Green, and Libertarian challengers have all said they support it.
On Wednesday, a group of doctors said they opposed Issue 5. Led by Little Rock Dr. David Smith, the group said marijuana hasn't been scientifically proven as a treatment to relieve suffering.
On Tuesday, Grover Norquist penned an op-ed supporting Proposition 36, the Three Strikes sentencing reform initiative. Norquist, the conservative head of Americans for Tax Reform, wrote that "It is unjust and foolhardy to waste precious prison resources on nonviolent individuals who pose no criminal threat to our communities (while releasing violent criminals). These nonviolent offenders should be punished -- but conservatives should insist the punishments are fair, effective and efficient. Proposition 36 is a reform all conservatives can and should support."
Last Wednesday, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol released its second TV ad. The message of the ad is simply and direct. Marijuana is not dangerous and government resources currently wasted enforcing marijuana prohibition would be much better spent elsewhere.
Last Thursday, actress Susan Sarandon began voicing robocalls for Amendment 64, the state's marijuana legalization initiative. Sarandon is on the advisory board of the Marijuana Policy Project, which has contributed more than a million dollars to the campaign.
Last Friday, Amendment 64 supporters rallied at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson was there and told attendees "Colorado has the opportunity to change drug policy worldwide."
On Monday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock came out against Amendment 64, saying he feared it would make Denver "a marijuana capital." The Amendment 64 campaign quickly counterattacked, saying "We are disappointed that Mayor Hancock is not basing his public policy on evidence. It is well-established that the gateway effect is not an effect of marijuana itself, but rather of marijuana prohibition. When you want to buy a six pack of beer -- a substance our elected officials are happy to celebrate -- you go to the store and buy a six pack, and the cashier doesn't offer you harder drugs. The same cannot be said for the gangs and cartels, who our opponents seem to prefer be in charge of the vast non-medical marijuana market in Colorado."
On Monday, opponents and proponents of Question 3, the medical marijuana initiative, held dueling press conferences. Opponents from law enforcement and elected officials denounced it as "vague, ambitious, and open to exploitation" and warned that the path to death from drug abuse starts with "smoking that innocent little joint." But proponents of the measure, including Dr. Karen Munkacy, scoffed. "There's no property of medical marijuana that causes people to die," she said, adding that medical marijuana is a "gateway backwards," leading people off of addictive and harmful painkillers.
Also on Monday, the conservative Boston Herald came out against Question 3, warning that it was "the camel nose under the tent" for "the pro-pot lobby." Marijuana is not like other medicines, the Herald opined, because it isn't FDA approved. Worse yet, the campaign is "bankrolled by a wealthy pro-pot pooh-bah" (Peter Lewis) and "is part of a broader effort to normalize its sale and use."
See our feature article about the Montana medical marijuana initiative this week here.
Last week, phone banking for Measure 80, the state's legalization initiative, got underway. A joint project of Firedog Lake and Oregonians for Law Reform, the phone bank push allows you to call Oregon voters to encourage them to vote yes on Measure 80. Firedog Lake has been doing the same thing in Colorado for some weeks now.
Last Friday, the Portland Mercury endorsed Measure 80. The Mercury is the state's second largest alternative weekly. It joins the state's largest alternative weekly, the Willamette Week, which has also endorsed the initiative.
Also last Friday, Measure 80 was still trailing in the polls. The latest poll from SurveyUSA had it losing 36% to 43%, but with nearly one-quarter of the voters still undecided.
As of Tuesday, I-502 was maintaining a lead in the polls. A Strategies 360 poll had the marijuana legalization initiative leading 54% to 38% with 7% undecided. In two polls late last week, it was leading 55% to 36% in one and 47% to 40% in the other, which queried only likely voters.
(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)