The Labor Day weekend has passed, summer is behind us, and the November elections are just two months away. When it comes to drug policy and the 2012 elections, there is plenty on the table. This week, we're going to give you an overview all the drug-related campaigns (and we'll be counting on readers to let us know if we've missed anything), followed by some general discussion about the prospects for the fall and the state of the drug reform movement this election season.
Here's what we've got going for November 2012:
Marijuana Legalization Initiatives
Colorado -- Amendment 64 would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or six marijuana plants, three of which could be mature. It would create a system of state-licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities and state-licensed retail stores. Local governments would have the option of regulating or prohibiting such facilities. The amendment would also require the state legislature to enact legislation governing industrial hemp cultivation, processing, and sale, and to create an excise tax on wholesale marijuana sales. The first $40 million of that annual revenue would be dedicated to building public schools.
Oregon -- Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), would create an Oregon Cannabis Commission to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana, but not industrial hemp, which would be allowed, but not regulated by the commission. The commission would grant licenses to cultivate marijuana for sale to it by "all qualified applicants" and would sell marijuana at state retail stores at prices it determines. Medical marijuana patients would have their medicine provided at cost. The OCTA would supersede all state and local laws regarding marijuana, except for impaired driving laws, leaving personal possession and cultivation by adults unregulated.
Washington -- Initiative 502 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over, but does not allow for personal cultivation, except by or for medical marijuana patients. It would license marijuana cultivation and retail and wholesale sales, with restrictions on advertising. Regulation would be the remit of the state liquor control board, which would have to come up with rules by December 2013. The measure would create a 25% excise tax on marijuana sales, with 40% of revenues dedicated to the general fund and 60% dedicated to substance abuse prevention, research, and healthcare. It would create a per se driving under the influence standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.
Arkansas -- The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act would allow patients suffering from specified diseases or medical conditions to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. It envisions a system of state-licensed nonprofit dispensaries, and would allow patients or their caregivers to grow their own only if they are not within five miles of a dispensary. In that case, patients could grow up to six flowering plants. Patients could possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana.
Massachusetts -- Question 3, would allow people suffering from a debilitating medical condition to use medical marijuana upon the recommendation of a doctor with whom they have a bona fide relationship. Patients could possess up to a 60-day supply -- what constitutes that supply will be determined by the Department of Health. The initiative would also set up a system of nonprofit medical marijuana cultivation and distribution centers.
Montana -- Initiative Referendum 124 would undo the gutting of the state's medical marijuana program through the passage last year of Senate Bill 423. That bill replaced the voter-approved medical marijuana program, which allowed for dispensary sales, with a new scheme that limited providers to serving only three patients, prohibited providers from accepting anything of value in exchange for products or services, granted local governments the power to regulate providers, tightened standards for demonstrating chronic pain, and demanded reviews of doctors who certified more than 25 patients in a one-year period.
North Dakota -- the medical marijuana initiative is not yet a done deal as we go to press. [Update: North Dakota officials announced Thursday that the measure has failed to make the ballot after several university student signature gatherers were caught faking signatures.] Proponents needed 13,500 valid signatures and handed in more than 20,000 on August 7. State officials had 30 days from then to validate signatures. Patients could possess up to 2 ½ ounces of usable marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in an enclosed space. Caregivers could grow for one or more patients, provided they grew no more than 30 plants. The state would regulate medical dispensaries and the marijuana cultivated for them.
California -- Proposition 36 would reform the state's three strikes law, which allows a life sentence for a third felony conviction. The measure would allow life sentences only if the new felony conviction is "serious or violent," authorize re-sentencing for lifers if their third conviction was not "serious or violent" and if a judge determines their release would not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety, allow life sentences if the third conviction was for "certain non-serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses or involved firearm possession," and keep the life sentence for felons whose previous convictions were for rape, murder, or child molestation. If approved by voters, some 3,000 three strikes lifers could seek reductions.
California -- A number of towns, mostly in the San Diego area, will vote on local initiatives to allow medical marijuana dispensaries. Those include Del Mar, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, and Solana Beach, as well as Palo Alto. The town of Dunsmuir will vote on whether to loosen cultivation regulations.
Colorado -- Fort Collins will be voting on whether to overturn the ban on dispensaries voted in last November, and Berthoud will be voting on whether to allow dispensaries.
Massachusetts -- In a continuation of work done in the past six election cycles, voters in a number of legislative districts will be asked a non-binding public policy question. In the First Essex and Middlesex Senate District, the Eighth Essex House District, and the Twenty-Second Essex House District voters will be asked whether they support repeal of the "federal prohibition of marijuana, as the 21st Amendment repealed national prohibition of alcohol, so that states may regulate it as they choose?" Voters in the Second Middlesex Senate District, the Middlesex and Suffolk Senate District, and the Second Berkshire House District will answer a similar question.
Michigan -- Voters in Detroit and Flint will vote on marijuana legalization initiatives, voters in Grand Rapids will vote on decriminalization, Kalamazoo will vote on an initiative to allow dispensaries, and Ypsilanti will vote on a lowest law enforcement priority initiative.
Washington -- Voters in six cities -- Bellingham, Bremerton, Everett, Kent, Olympia, and Spokane -- will vote on initiatives to make marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority and prohibit local officials from cooperating with federal marijuana law enforcement activities.
The lineup of state and local initiatives has some drug reform movement spokespeople feeling pretty good.
"I think at least one state will make marijuana legal for adults this election cycle," said Marijuana Policy Project communications director Morgan Fox. "The fact that we're discussing so many initiatives is a sign of progress. As things progress and people get increasingly sick of marijuana prohibition, we will see more and more states considering this every election cycle, and it will become more of an issue for candidates," he added.
"Politicians are starting to realize they can use this to their advantage and ignore at their peril," said Fox. "Many of them, though, don't realize how much of an effect it can have on their elections -- just ask the former US Attorney in Oregon, Dwight Holton. He didn't think his stance against medical marijuana would cost him the primary, but it did."
"I sincerely hope that one of these passes and raises the debate to whole new level, and maybe takes some of the heat off of California," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "These are states when you can have a good campaign for a reasonable amount of money that the drug reform movement can put up. A million dollars or two doesn't get you very far in California."
But at least one of those legalization initiatives needs to win this year, he said. "If pot gets wiped out in the elections, it's going to be tougher to win down the road."
"The sheer number of initiatives that are on the ballot and viable this cycle shows the momentum that the movement toward legalizing marijuana has," said Tamar Todd, assistant director for national policy at the Drug Policy Alliance. "That momentum is also reflected in other ways -- in terms of the dialog we're hearing, the high support for legalization across the board, the rejection of the drug war polices of the past," she said.
"When you look in certain areas, such as the Northeast and the West, the numbers are even higher," Todd continued. "In 2010, we had a legalization initiative in California; this year we have them in three states, plus three or four medical marijuana initiatives. The number and their viability represent a real shift taking place in public opinion. The end result, no matter what happens this election cycle, is that in two years and every two years, the number and viability will continue to increase until there is actually sufficient change happening at the state level to start pushing the federal government to change its policies."
The initiatives are on the ballot. Now, they need to win.