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At NORML, A Sharp Focus on the Marijuana Initiatives [FEATURE]

The 41st National NORML conference took place at a downtown Los Angeles hotel over the weekend under the theme of "The Final Days of Prohibition." With marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in three states and medical marijuana on the ballot in two others, the several hundred attendees could almost smell the scent of victory come election day -- or at least a historic first win for legalization.

Rick Steves, Keith Stroup, Ethan Nadelmann, Brian Vicente for OR Amendment 64, Roy Kaufman for OR Measure 80 (
"This is a great movement, not because it's about marijuana, but because it's a movement about truth and freedom, the freedom to live our private lives as we wish," NORML board chairman Paul Kuhn told the crowd in his conference-opening remarks. "A White House that serves liquor, a president who smoked a lot of marijuana, and a speaker of the house who is addicted to nicotine -- they have no business demonizing us because we prefer a substance less dangerous than liquor or alcohol."

For Kuhn, as for many others at the conference, supporting the legalization initiatives was front and center. (While grumbling and gnashing of teeth was heard among some attendees, particularly over the Washington initiative's drugged driving provision, no initiative opponents were seen on any of the panels or presentations.)

"We're beyond the concept of legalization. Now, we're supporting real laws, and no law will satisfy everybody in this movement," Kuhn continued, implicitly acknowledging the dissension around the Washington initiative. "We have our differences, sometimes heated, and this is healthy and necessary if we are to evolve and craft the best laws and regulations, the best form of legalization. All of us in this movement are allies, we're friends, we share the same goals of truth and freedom and legal marijuana. We have worked too hard for too many years to let our opponents divide us, or worse, divide ourselves."

"These are the final days of prohibition. The data is clear," said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre, pointing not only to public opinion polls but also to the political reality of the initiatives and the progress the movement has made in Congress and the states. "We have a cannabis caucus in our Congress and in the state houses, and we helped get them elected. There are 15 or 20 members of Congress who are genuine supporters of ending prohibition, most of them are Democrats. In the states, we now have sitting governors and representatives calling us and saying 'we want your support, your endorsement, your money.'"

 With the initiatives looming, much of the conference was devoted to the minutiae and arcana of legalization, regulation, and taxation models. Thursday afternoon saw extended discussions in panels on "Cannabis Legalization and Regulation: What it Might Look Like" and "Cannabis and the 'Demo' Gap: Who Doesn't Support Legalization and What We Can Do about It."

"How do we win the hearts and minds of non-smokers?" asked Patrick Oglesby of the Center for New Revenue. "The revenue card is one we can play. That gives people something to vote for. Every state in the union legalizes and taxes alcohol and tobacco. Revenue from marijuana isn't going to fix our economic problems, but let's start with the easy stuff, let's fix this and get some revenues."

"At least one state will tip in November, and others will follow," predicted Pepperdine University researcher and Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know coauthor Angela Hawken. "Parents will wake up and realize their children didn't turn into zombies."

Parents -- and mothers in particular -- are a key demographic that must be won over if marijuana legalization is to advance, and the way to win them over is to address their fears, panelists said.

"Women are more safety conscious and they tend to believe authority," noted NORML Women's Alliance coordinator Sabrina Fendrick. "They just need to be educated. Proposition 19 failed in large part because of women and seniors. Many were concerned over the driving issue and children being on the road with stoned drivers. The way to bring support up is to educate them about the difference between use and abuse, and to make women who support legalization feel safe about coming out."

The NORML Women's Alliance is working on that, and on increasing the number of female activists in a movement that has been male-dominated from the outset.

Law enforcement is another key bastion of opposition to legalization, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) representative Steven Downing told the audience the key to swaying law enforcement was not in the rank and file, but at the pinnacle of the command structure.

"We have to influence change at the top," he said. "When that comes, the young officers on the street will do as they're told. Many of them already agree with legalizing marijuana. Don't treat the police as the enemy, but as people who can benefit from the education you can give them. Do it in a way that they're not defensive, then refer them to LEAP," the former LAPD officer suggested. "Tell them that if they support the war on drugs, they're not supporting public safety."

On Friday, longtime Seattle marijuana activist-turned-journalist Dominic Holden gave a spirited defense of Washington's I-502 initiative and ripped into its movement critics, including calling out NORML board member and Seattle defense attorney Jeff Steinborn, who has been a vocal foe of the initiative despite a unanimous board vote to support it.

"Who is opposing 502?" Holden asked. "The law enforcement opposition has been quiet and halfhearted. It's Steve Sarich, who runs CannaCare, it's cannabis doc Gil Mobley, and a whole passel of pot activists along with them. The ones opposing pot legalization right now are the ones making money hand over fist with prohibition. If they're profiting off it, I don't give a rat's ass what they think," he said.

"They don't like the DUID provision and its per se standard. They say that someone who uses marijuana regularly will test positive, but there is not a single scientific study to back them up. Their argument is fundamentally flawed because it is a lie," Holden countered, mincing no words.

"There is also concern that if we pass it, the federal government will challenge us on legalizing pot. That's the damned point!" he thundered.

"But marijuana is going to be taxed, they complain. Shut up, Teabaggers!" Holden jeered. "What planet do you live on where they're not going to tax a huge agricultural commodity?"

He pointed out that Steinborn and Sensible Washington, who are opposing I-502, had tried unsuccessfully to mount an initiative of their own.

"If you want to run a winning campaign, you need a bunch of money, credible spokespeople, campaign professionals, and the polling on your side," he said. "Part of that is compromise. You don't always get what you want, you don't always get the initiative of your dreams. What you want is a bill that can win."

"This is poll driven," said travel writer, TV host, and I-502 proponent Rick Steves. "It isn't a utopian fix. We need to win this. This doesn't feel pro-pot, but anti-prohibition."

"Regulate marijuana like alcohol is our message," said Sensible Colorado head and Amendment 80 proponent Brian Vicente. "We don't talk about legalization, but regulation. We've built support for this through two avenues, medical marijuana, where we've worked hard to make our state a model for how it can be taxed and regulated, but also through consistent earned media pushes and ballot initiatives to introduce the public to the idea that this isn’t the demon weed. We're consistently ahead five to ten points in the polls. We think this will be a damned close election."

When Vicente noted that the Colorado initiative had no drugged driving provision, he was met with loud applause. 

Drug Policy Alliance
head Ethan Nadelmann provided a primer on what major donors look for when it comes to supporting initiatives.

"We don't pick out a state in advance," he explained. "We want to know at the get-go if there is already a serious majority in favor of legalization. To think you can use a campaign to move the public is not true; the role of the ballot process is to transform majoritarian public opinion into law when the state legislature is unable or unwilling to do so. You want to go in with 57% or 58% on your side. Anything short of that, you're going to lose."

And watch out for October, he warned.

"In the final weeks, the opposition mobilizes," Nadelmann said. "You get the cops, the politicians, the feds speaking out and scaring people -- that's why these are hard to win, and that's why I'm still really nervous."

Still, the Drug Policy Alliance is deeply involved in Colorado and has put a lot of money into Washington, Nadelmann said, while noting that the Marijuana Policy Project had also put big bucks into Colorado.

"We have to win this year so we can figure out how to win a bunch more in 2016," Nadelmann said, adding that he was looking toward California. "We're going to try to put together the best and most winnable legalization initiative in California in 2016.

NORML 2012 wasn't all about the initiatives -- there were also panels on advances in medical marijuana, advances in the Northeast, and the role of women in the movement, among others, and a rousing speech from long-time anti-war activist Tom Hayden and a new-born movement star in Ann Lee, the mother of Richard Lee -- but with the marijuana legalization movement looking like it's about to step foot in the Promised Land after decades in the political wilderness, next month's elections dominated. The prospect of imminent victory really focuses the mind.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

Richard Lee's Mom Wows 'Em at NORML [FEATURE]

With a few more appearances like the one she put in at the 41st National NORML Conference this past weekend in Los Angeles, silver-haired Texas Republican Ann Lee won't be introduced as "Richard Lee's Mom" for much longer. The 84-year-old Lee wowed the crowd with her feisty appearances and her call for a Republican revolution against marijuana prohibition, threatening to become a movement star in her own right, and not merely as the mother of the man who founded Oaksterdam University and put 2010's California Proposition 19 on the ballot.

Ann Lee, 2012 NORML conference (
"Republicans believe in three things: limited government, fiscal responsibility, and less intrusion in your private life," Lee said in remarks last Thursday. "The drug war is against all the principles of the Republican Party. How about RAMP (Republicans against Marijuana Prohibition)?" she demanded to cheers of approval.

Lee explained how, like most people, she had believed her government when it told her marijuana was bad and dangerous, but that her son's advocacy for the herb after he began using it medicinally in the wake of a spinal injury helped her change her mind. And her role as an advocate for Prop 19 helped her sharpen her arguments.

"I fell hook, line, and sinker for the propaganda my government put out," she said. "I've come to question the government more than I ever did."

It isn't just pot, it's prohibition, Lee told the crowd, adding that she had read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow and considered it a masterful explanation of the racial politics hiding behind prohibition.

"We've taken freedom away from way too many young blacks and Latinos."

The down home octogenarian also drew a long round of applause when she addressed the NORML Women's Alliance panel at the end of its Saturday session, reiterating her remarks about creating RAMP and urging the panel and the crowd not to forego opportunities for creating new allies.

Lee's first appearance was on a panel about demographic groups that have not been friendly to marijuana law reform. But if the white-haired Texas Republican woman demographic is slipping away from the prohibitionists, the end may indeed be nigh.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

Tom Hayden to NORML: US Needs Peace Movement to End Drug War [FEATURE]

Harkening back to his days as a student antiwar activist in the 1960s, but also drawing heavily on the example of the contemporary Caravan for Peace (with justice and dignity to end the drug war), which emerged out of Mexico this summer to traverse the United States, Tom Hayden used the occasion of the opening of the 41st National NORML Conference to call for a social justice peace movement to end the war on drugs in the US.

Hayden, who co-founded the radical anti-war Students for a Democrat Society in 1966, was prosecuted as one of the Chicago Seven, and went on to serve as a California state assemblyman, told the opening day crowd he had been following and covering drug war events in Mexico and Central America for some time, and that he was "astonished" at how the Mexican drug war was covered in the US.

"It's estimated that 60-70,000 Mexicans have been killed in the drug war since 2007," Hayden noted. "The funding came from the US, the weapons came from the US, the advisors came from the DEA -- the whole thing is an extension of US drug and national security policy, and it was met with a terrible silence in this country."

Digging deeper, Hayden came across the Mexican movement led by poet Javier Sicilia, which he described as being something like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, "a movement whose hard core were people who thought of themselves as victims, who had experienced the disappearances of family members, their deaths, beheadings, torture." Such movements typically play into the hands of hard law and order, Hayden noted, with calls for more police, more imprisonment, more suppression.

"But in this case, it was more along the lines of saying 'enough, this war is causing more suffering than anything it seeks to suppress or prevent,'" the veteran activist continued. "These were not people calling for the legalization of drugs, but for an end to the drug war on the assumption that nothing good could come of it, and that only if were ended would it be possible and necessary to consider alternatives like legalization."

"Javier Sicilia is a poet and a man of the left, and seems to be able to channel the feelings of all these people in Mexico as a sort of therapeutic experience connected to political demands," Hayden said. "There hasn't been a strong peace movement perspective brought against the drug war here. It could be a matter of framing, but a drug war peace movement could be a strong complement to medical or legalization. We need a medical approach, not a military one."

Tom Hayden addressing the antiwar movement, 2004 (
The Caravan for Peace has attempted to plant that seed on both sides of the border, and in an historically unique fashion, Hayden argued.

"I don't remember any group of Mexicans since the mid-1800s who organized to come north over the border to protest policies in the United States," he said. "They came looking for others who have suffered violence, incarceration, repression, addiction. They came looking to build community with people all across the US."

And the timing couldn't be more critical, Hayden suggested.

"Pressure from south of the border is starting to put some muscle behind the moral pressure for legalization here," he said, citing the work of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy and, more recently, the Summit of the Americas, where the US couldn't prevent the issue of the failed drug war from rearing its head. "The drug war is now becoming a serious impediment to the US conducting its foreign policy with Latin America. An effort to mobilize a peace movement against the drug war is not only overdue, but could be decisive for your efforts."

Hayden hardly mentioned the word "marijuana," but his message was clear: For the movement to advance, it has to go beyond fighting merely for the right to get high, but instead needs to root itself in the broader cause of social justice. With the NORML conference's theme this year being The Final Days of Prohibition, Hayden certainly gave his audience something to think about.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

Initiative Watch

Just over a month out, medical marijuana and marijuana legalization initiative campaigns are heating up.


See our feature article this week on the Arkansas initiative and its prospects here.


All was quiet on the Proposition 36 three-strikes initiative front.


Last Thursday, a group of armed forces veterans came out for Amendment 64. The group, Veterans for 64, was formed after the state denied a plea to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to its list of ailments for which medical marijuana can be used. "The state's failure to act is an effective denial of this compassionate petition," said Vietnam veteran Bob Wiley. "Our only option is to support Amendment 64, which will ensure that Coloradans 21 and older who suffer from PTSD will no longer be subject to arrest and prosecution for using marijuana."

Also last Thursday, a study found that one in 20 Colorado arrests are marijuana-related. The study, conducted by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance found that police forces in the state spend about 4.7% of their budgets enforcing marijuana prohibition, the courts spend 7%, and the corrections system spends 2%. All told, the study concludes that legalizing small amounts of marijuana will save Colorado taxpayers $12 million a year in the beginning and up to $40 million a year in later years.

On Tuesday, Republican state Sen. Shawn Mitchell endorsed Amendment 64. "It's clear the war on drugs isn't working, and we need to try different approaches to this in society," said Mitchell, who has long had a libertarian-style view of drug use, based in part on his own family's experience. "Watching a brother battle addiction has made me question the worth of legal penalties," he said. He joined former US Rep. Tom Tancredo and a handful of other Republican supporters organized by the Republican Liberty Caucus at a rally at the capitol that day.

On Wednesday, the Amendment 64 campaign released a new TV ad arguing that money from marijuana sales should go to Colorado schools, not Mexican drug cartels. "We all know where the money from non-medical marijuana sales is currently going," the narrator says as dollar signs cascade down from Colorado and into Mexico. "It doesn't need to be that way. If we pass Amendment 64, Colorado businesses would profit and tax revenues would pay for public services and the reconstruction of our schools. Let's vote for the good guys and against the bad guys -- let's have marijuana tax money go to our schools rather than criminals in Mexico."


On Wednesday, opponents of Question 3 gathered in Somerville to discuss the measure. Some 20 people, including Somerville Police Chief Thomas Pasquarello, gathered for a talk by Cory Mashburn, Director of the Somerville Office of Prevention, part of the Somerville Health Department. Dispensaries will resemble "candy stores or a 7-11," he told the small crowd.


All was quiet on the I-124 front.


Last Thursday, the Yes on 80 campaign criticized a raid on a major medical marijuana provider. The campaign addressed that day's raid on the Human Collective in Tigard, saying "prohibition is the problem, regulation is the solution."

On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported on money problems for Measure 80. The campaign had only $1,800 in the bank, the AP reported, citing potential large donors' doubts about the measure's ability to win and skepticism about the measure's main backer, Paul Stanford. The measure is trailing in the polls.


On Sunday, the Columbian (Vancouver, WA) endorsed I-502.

As of Monday, the I-502 campaign had raised $4 million, including $670,000 donated last week by Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis, who has now thrown in a total of $1.55 million. The campaign used some of that money for a $700,000 TV ad buy for use in the final week before the election.

Also on Monday, the campaign won the endorsement of King County Sheriff Steve Strachan, who is running for re-election. "I think the current situation is bad for the rule of law, bad for the criminal justice system and and it sends a bad message to our kids," he said. Strachan's opponent, longtime Sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart, previously endorsed I-502.

On Tuesday, the Spokane Spokesman-Review endorsed I-502.

On Wednesday, Republican US Senate hopeful Michael Baumgartner endorsed I-502, giving the campaign one of its highest-profile Republican supporters yet. He is running a long-shot bid to defeat Democratic US Sen. Maria Cantwell. I-502 is "taking a different approach to a very expensive drug war, and potentially a better approach," Baumgartner said. "They've checked all the boxes as far as what you would want to see happen in terms of provisions to keep it away from children and limiting access in the public space. I've just been impressed with the initiative and the people running it."

(This article was published by'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.)

TONIGHT: Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Teleconference

[Please join us tonight! Updated agenda below] is pleased to announce our first teleconference, featuring the initiative campaigns in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington State to enact regulatory (legalization) systems for marijuana. Please join us by phone or Skype on Thursday, September 27, 6:00pm PST / 9:00pm EST -- call (805) 399-1200 and enter access code 135516. We will discuss what the initiatives do, what their prospects are for passage and for fueling further reform, and what people can do to get involved.

The following exciting speakers have agreed to join us:

  • Oscar Eason, Jr., NAACP Alaska/Oregon/Washington State Area Conference
  • Alison Holcomb, New Approach Washington
  • Paul Stanford, Oregon Cannabis Tax Act
  • Steve Fox, Marijuana Policy Project (coordinating Colorado efforts)
  • Tony Ryan, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

Moderated by David Borden, executive director of, and joined by Drug War Chronicle writer/editor Phillip S. Smith.

Please RVSP here on our Facebook event page or our evite, and please spread the word! We will accept questions by email, now and during the teleconference -- send them to

Please stay tuned also for announcements of additional teleconferences to discuss the upcoming state medical marijuana initiatives, prospects for reform in Congress next year, and other topics. If you are not already subscribed to the Drug War Chronicle newsletter, you can subscribe here -- follow us on Facebook and Twitter too.

Washington Marijuana Legalization Measure In Strong Position [FEATURE]


A little more than a month out from Election Day, Washington state's I-502 marijuana legalization, regulation, and taxation initiative looks to be well-positioned yet to actually win at the ballot box, with powerful supporters, lots of money, and a healthy lead in the polls. But it's not a done deal yet.

Sponsored by New Approach Washington, I-502 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over, but not allow them to grow their own. Instead, it would create a scheme of licensed, taxed, and regulated commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, and retail sales under the eye of the state liquor control board. Medical marijuana patients are exempted from its provisions.

I-502 polled at 57% support two weeks ago, up three points from a June poll. Meanwhile, opposition to the initiative is declining in those polls, from 37% in June to 34% this month.

The good numbers are due at least in part to the powerful list of endorsements, which include not only the usual drug reform suspects, but also labor, civil rights, and children's and retiree's groups, the state Democratic and Green parties, an increasing list of the state's most-read newspapers, including the Seattle Times and the Olympian, both of which endorsed the initiative within the last week. Also on board are figures are mainstream criminal justice figures like Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and former US Attorney for the Western District of Washington John McKay, the man who prosecuted Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery (who also endorses the initiative).

Money helps, too, and I-502 has it. The campaign has raised over $3 million so far, including $715,000 from the Drug Policy Action Network, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, $821,000 from Progressive Insurance founder and drug reform Daddy Warbucks Peter Lewis, and $450,000 from Seattle-based travel writer Rick Steves. That means that although it has already spent $1 million on early ad buys, it still has $2 million in the bank, and it's still fundraising.

The initiative has drawn some criticism internally within the drug reform movement, including some outright opposition, mainly for a drugged driving provision. Under I-502's language, drivers caught driving with more than 5 nanograms of the longer-acting THC metabolites in their blood can be convicted, per se, of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID). Supporters point out that the initiative excludes the long-acting THC-COOH metabolite from the reach of the DUID provision, and that police are prohibited from ordering blood tests unless there is probable cause to suspect that a driver is impaired. They also argue that language addressing driving is necessary to make the initiative palatable to those voters in the state whose summers don't revolve around Hempfest.

New Approach Washington is being cautious.

"You know it's going to be close, very close, everything seems to be going well, but we're still six weeks out," said campaign director Allison Holcomb, counseling against complacency.

"We definitely will have money to do some paid media advertising, but fundraising will go on until the last moment," said Holcomb. "We've raised $2 million from big donors, but also lots with local support. People with no connection to drug policy or marijuana policy are stepping forward. They get that we're not promoting marijuana use, but better marijuana laws. It's all starting to click."

Aside from the intramural criticisms, Holcomb said there is little organized opposition.

"There are about a half dozen law enforcement and treatment and prevention folks who make the rounds and debate with us, but in terms of organizations launching a campaign against the initiative, we're really not seeing that," she said. "We view that as a testament to the drafting and endorsements we're picking up."

And while the intra-movement opposition is loud and boisterous, there may be less to it than meets the eye, said Holcomb.

"It doesn't seem to be that much of a problem," she said, although she acknowledged it had been "upsetting" on a personal level. "When we are at events like Hempfest or the High Times Cannabis Cup and have our table, people come up and express their concerns and ask questions. There is a lot of confusion within the grassroots, but we can clear up that confusion. A lot of the concern is built around fear of the unknown, too, but if you can get off the Internet and off Facebook, you can talk to people and address their concerns."

Two of the most prominent movement opponents of the initiative told the Chronicle it was hopelessly flawed, but the campaign and a raft of national drug reform groups begged to differ.

"This isn't legalization -- in order to legalize you have to remove all the criminal penalties, but this actually adds them in the form of DUIDs," said Steve Sarich, a medical marijuana businessman and advocate who spokesman for Vote No on I-502, a movement group opposing the initiative.

One of the loudest opponents of the initiative, Seattle defense attorney and Sensible Washington co-founder Douglass Hiatt. Sensible Washington twice tried to get a more sweeping legalization initiative on the ballot, but came up short. It is already planning another try for next year. "It doesn't legalize hemp or marijuana, but instead creates a narrow exception for possession of up to an ounce by adults over 21," Hiatt claimed.

Sarich's and others' fears notwithstanding, the experience of other states that have adopted per se DUID laws does not suggest a massive wave of arrests as a result. A chart compiled by NORML looks at what has happened in 14 states that have adopted such laws, some of them "zero tolerance," some of them with specified per se levels. No data was available for four states, DUIDs declined in five of them and increased in five others. In most cases, the percentage increase was under 10%. The number of marijuana DUIDs is smaller than the actual DUID numbers by some unknown percentage because the states do not differentiate between marijuana and other drug DUIDs.

National groups such as NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition told the Chronicle the initiative represents the best chance of winning a legalization vote and they are standing strong behind it despite concerns about some of the provisions. The Drug Policy Alliance, for its part, has put its political action committee's money where its mouth is.

"We support I-502 and hope it passes," said MPP spokesman Morgan Fox. "MPP generally will stand behind any initiative that results in fewer arrests, and I-502 will mean roughly 13,000 fewer arrests for adult possession. Passage of this initiative will also be a tremendous step forward in marijuana policy reform nationally and will help to show the federal government that prohibition is no longer what the public wants."

MPP is not putting money into the campaign, but is supporting it logistically and through getting the word out to its members, Fox said. Like many other supporters, it is endorsing I-502 despite reservations about the DUID limits.

"While per se DUID limits are not supported by our current scientific knowledge and MPP would prefer not to see them included in I-502, it is necessary to include some sort of provision to address impaired driving," Fox said. "It is more than likely that the negative effects of this particularly law will be far less severe than some may fear."

"We prefer proposals that include the right to grow your own and we certainly oppose per se DUID standards, but if you're asking whether we would support an initiative that has made the ballot, those flaws become insignificant compared to the benefits for all of us should this pass," echoed NORML founder Keith Stroup. "The NORML board of directors unanimously supported this."

"We can't win just with the support of the stoners," Stroup continued. "If you had listened to the Hempfest debates, you would have been convinced the community was divided, but to win, we have to have a majority of voters, not a majority of Hempfest attendees. The campaign did extensive polling and found that if they included personal cultivation and no DUID, they couldn't win," the silver-haired reform veteran argued.

"All the surveys show you aren't likely to win the non-pot smokers unless you can satisfy them that we are not unleashing a significant number of impaired drivers on them," Stroup noted. "That may not be a rational fear, but as we saw in the Proposition 19 exit polling, one of the main reasons people opposed was the concern about impaired drivers. Of course, that presumes stoners wouldn't drive if this didn't pass, but millions are driving every day and most have no problems."

"Look," said Stroup, "I admire this campaign. They have succeeded in getting the most establishment support for any legalization proposal ever. You have the individual who was responsible for prosecuting marijuana cases in Seattle sponsoring this initiative. The reason they are able to get establishment support is that they took establishment positions. Despite the provisions we don't really like, we totally support I-502, just like we support the initiatives in Colorado and Oregon."

The issue of impaired driving is going to continue to plague legalization efforts, Stroup said, and the movement has to figure out a response.

"One way or another, we'll be dealing with DUID provisions in any legalization proposal coming down the road," he said. "We're going to have to accept some DUID provisions, but hopefully we convince people that per se is not necessary."

"Flawed as it is, I-502 represents that best chance we've seen in this country to legalize, tax, and control marijuana," said former Seattle police chief and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition member Norm Stamper. "That per se DUID provision is causing a whole lot of us some heartburn, but on the other hand, this initiative gives us the best chance to really test the federal government's clout. If it passes, it's on a collision course with the feds, and we need to pass this in a very strategic and powerful way to make them blink.

"There is no such thing as a perfect initiative," Stamper continued, but this one has a whole lot going for it. I'm campaigning for it, I'm voting for it, and I encourage everyone to do the same." Stamper also predicts "an early test case" on the DUID provision. "[U]nlike the 0.008% blood alcohol content level, the per se DUID is not established science," he said.

Stamper and other LEAP members have been hitting the hustings in support of I-502, bringing the powerful message of law enforcement support for reform to audiences across the state. "People are very impressed with LEAP," said Stamper. "There probably isn't a LEAP speaker who hasn't heard 'coming from you guys, we have to listen.' That's not so much a function of our elegance as speakers, but of the fact that we were on the front lines of the drug war for so many years, and some of us still are."

In Washington state, this movement argument over per se DUID may cost some purist pot votes on election day, but having that language in the initiative could also be the key to bringing enough worried soccer moms over to make it a winning issue. As Stroup noted, this is an issue that the movement will have to continue to confront, but it may be better to confront it from a position where the voters have already said "legalize it."

United States

Colorado's Amendment 64 Heads for the Home Stretch [FEATURE]

With only a few weeks left until election day, Colorado's Amendment 64 tax and regulate marijuana initiative is well-positioned to win on November 6, and its supporters are doing everything they can to ensure it does. Opponents are gearing up as well, and the weeks leading up to the election are going to be critical.

Amendment 64 would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in an enclosed locked space. It also allows for the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp. And it would create a state-regulated marijuana cultivation, processing, and distribution system, including retail sales.

If the state fails to regulate marijuana commerce, localities could issue licenses. Localities would also have the right to ban marijuana businesses, either through their elected officials or via citizen-initiated ballot measures.  

If Amendment 64 passes, the legislature would be charged with enacting an excise tax of up to 15% on wholesale sales, with the first $40 million of revenue raised annually directed to the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund. In keeping with the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), such a tax increase would have to be approved by voters.

Amendment 64 does not change existing medical marijuana laws, but it does exempt medical marijuana from the proposed excise tax. For current patients, passage of Amendment 64 would enhance their privacy because no registration would be required -- just ID proving adulthood.

Amendment 64 does not increase or add penalties for any current pot law violations, nor does it change existing driving while impaired laws (although a bill reintroduced this year once again seeks to impose a per se DUID standard.)

The initiative's provisions appear to be broadly popular. According to the latest poll, released Saturday by SurveyUSA for the Denver Post, Amendment 64 is leading with 51%, with 40% opposed and 8% undecided.

While in line with other recent polls, the SurveyUSA/Denver Post poll marks the first time in recent months that support for the initiative has broken 50% except for an outlier June Rasmussen poll that had support at 61%. The Talking Points Memo's PollTracker Average, which includes this latest poll, currently shows 49.7% for Amendment 64, with 39.3% opposed.

That 10-point lead in the polls has initiative backers pleased, but not complacent.

"There has certainly been a nice positive trend in the past few polls, but we are not letting up in our efforts to build support," said Mason Tvert of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is leading the Amendment 64 effort.

"We've got a good feeling, but at the same time, we're redoubling our efforts to push this over the end line," said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, who is part of the campaign. "We haven't seen a tax and regulate measure pass anywhere yet. It's a heavy lift, but we're confident."

"It's looking good overall, the polling is good, and we're starting to make some hay within the progressive community," said Art Way, the Colorado point man for the Drug Policy Alliance's lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action Network.

The campaign has sufficient financial backing to go the distance, although it is of course always looking for more. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the main, but not the only funding mechanism, for the campaign, has taken in nearly a million dollars so far, according to the Secretary of State's Office. Related campaign committees have raised another $50,000 or so.

"We've seen a whole lot of support from around the state and the country and to see that continuing toward the election," said Tvert. "It's looking like it will come down to the wire, so late contributions will have a bigger impact than ever before."

With only $87,000 in the bank rank now, the campaign coffers may appear relatively bare, but that's deceiving, said Vicente.

"We've placed about $800,000 worth of ads that will air in October, and we bought that space months in advance because it's cheaper," he explained. "There are ungodly sums of presidential campaign money coming in now."

The only organized opposition so far, Smart Colorado, by contrast has raised only about $162,000, the bulk of it from long-time drug war zealot Mel Sembler of the Drug-Free America Foundation. And it has limited itself to the occasional press release and responses to reporters' queries. Still, it has more money than it had in 2006, when a similar initiative lost with 41% of the vote.

"I've never seen the opposition have so much money," said Tvert. "In 2006, they came up with maybe $50,000. Regardless, the fact is that our opponents will rely on scare tactics and fear-mongering and will partner with law enforcement and the drug treatment industry, who benefit from maintaining the prohibition status quo."

But other opposition is emerging, with a battle for supporters raging on both sides. The opposition has picked up the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), as well as the endorsements of numerous sheriffs, prosecutors, and elected officials.

Still, Amendment 64 has been impressive on this count too, picking up endorsements from the state Democratic, Green, and Libertarian parties, the NAACP, local elected officials, the ACLU of Colorado, as well as the Gary Johnson campaign and the drug reform movement, among others.

"Government officials have been standing in the way of marijuana policy reform for more than 80 years, and the public has come to realize their opposition is not based on evidence so much as politics and the fear of change," Tvert said. "We've seen public support grow significantly in the past 15 years despite the fact that we still largely see elected officials opposed, and now we're seeing things like Gov. Hickenlooper being ripped into by newspaper editorials after he came out against. There was a time when papers like the Denver Post would have paid him kudos for standing up against this, but now, they criticize him for being hypocritical."

One area where the campaign doesn't have to worry too much is the marijuana and medical marijuana community. While there has been some grumbling in the ranks from those in search of the perfect initiative, unlike the "Stoners Against Prop 19" movement in California in 2010 or the internecine warfare in Washington state this year, the friendly fire in Colorado has been fairly muted.

"We occasionally hear people complaining, but the back and forth has been focused almost entirely between us and the no campaign," Tvert said. "By and large, the people who support ending marijuana prohibition in Colorado have come together to support this initiative."

"We're not worried about losing the base," agreed Vicente. "We went to great efforts to involve lots of stakeholders, including lots of dispensary owners and activists, when drafting the language and formulating the campaign plans. People feel bought in win our initiative; it appeals to all Coloradans, but to our base as well."

Another reason Colorado hasn't seen the circular firing squad that is taking place this year in Washington is that Amendment 64 doesn't include some of the controversial provisions included in the Washington initiative, said Vicente.

"There are some key differences with Washington," he pointed out. "We allow adults to home grow and we don't dictate a DUID level. By steering clear of those issues, we help maintain our more traditional base."

If the base appears secure, another key demographic is definitely in play, and it's an uphill struggle for the campaign. The polling throughout suggest that parents with children at home and especially mothers remain a weak spot. The campaign is acutely aware of that and has created another campaign organization, Moms and Dads for Marijuana Regulation, to address it.

"One of the most powerful ways that parents are becoming educated about the benefits of the tax and regulate system is conversation with other parents," said Betty Aldworth of Moms and Dads. "Moms and dads are starting to recognize that taking it out of unregulated market and putting it behind the counter where we can tax and regulate it is a better model. We're encouraging moms and dads to talk to other moms and dads. We've tapped a lot of parents to be spokespeople and will be continuing to educate about why marijuana is safer."

Parents who are open to the conversation can be brought along, Aldsworth said.

"Marijuana is universally available," she said, explaining what she tells concerned parents. "And our options here are to place it behind the counter where a responsible businessperson is checking ID or to leave it in the hand of criminals. When you talk to parents about that specific scenario, which is the reality of marijuana in the world today, they understand that we can do the same thing with marijuana that we did with alcohol, only now we have the advantage of having programs to start rapidly reducing youth access."

"We knew 18 months ago that the soccer moms would be a crucial demographic, and we still have an issue with that area," said Way. "That's why Betty Aldworth is working on that, but we're also making inroads with Women for Medical Marijuana, and the League of Women Voters will be having an event. We're making inroads, but it's not showing up in the polling so far."

"We find that people's fallback position is 'How will it affect my kids?' and we've been trying to engage in a public discussion about how regulating and moving it off the streets is a more effective way to reduce teen use than the failed policy of prohibition," said Vicente. "We've been doing billboards and some TV, as well as the face-to-face," he said.

The Amendment 64 campaign is poised, practiced, and ready to roll to victory in November. It has identified weak spots in its support and is working to bolster them. It's up nine or 10 points a little more than six weeks out, but knowing how previous initiative campaigns have played out, expect that margin to shrink as election day draws near. Victory is within reach, but this is going to be a nailbiter.

United States

Oregon Marijuana Initiative Trailing Slightly in Poll

The campaign behind an initiative that would legalize marijuana in Oregon has an uphill battle ahead, according to a new SurveyUSA poll. That poll has the initiative, known as Measure 80 on the ballot, trailing by a margin of 41% to 37%.

But SurveyUSA reported a margin of error on the poll of +/-4%, meaning that the contest is a virtual dead heat and, as Portland's KATU-TV, which paid for the poll, put it, "it could go either way."

Campaign supporters can also take some solace in the high number of undecided voters. More than one out of five (22%) of those surveyed had yet to make up their minds, meaning the Amendment 80 campaign still has time to attempt to bring them over to its side.

Paralleling polling date from the other 2012 marijuana legalization initiative states, the poll found a significant gap in support between men (42%) and women (33%). Likewise, among age groups, support was strongest among the 18-to-34 group (47%), followed by 50-to-64 (39%), 35-to-49 (36%), and then those over 65 (24%).

As in the other initiative states, the data appears to suggest that parents -- and especially mothers -- with children at home will be a crucial demographic to be won over if the initiative is to succeed. Compared with its brethren in Colorado and Washington, the Oregon campaign has been a low-budget affair, but these polling numbers suggest a healthy cash injection could be critical, especially in swaying the large undecided vote.

Colorado Marijuana Legalization Measure Polls 51%

The latest poll, released Saturday by SurveyUSA for the Denver Post, has Colorado's marijuana legalization initiative at 51%, with 40% opposed and 8% undecided. The initiative, Amendment 64, would legalize the possession of up to an ounce and six plants by adults 21 and over and allow for state-regulated commercial cultivation and sales.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is targeting its message toward wary parents. (
While in line with other recent polls, the SurveyUSA/Denver Post poll marks the first time in recent months that support for the initiative has broken 50% except for an outlier June Rasmussen poll that had support at 61%. The Talking Points Memo's PollTracker Average, which includes this latest poll, currently shows 49.7% for Amendment 64, with 39.3% opposed.

The poll found stronger support among men (53%) than women (49%), with 12% of women saying they were still undecided compared to 5% of men.

When it came to support by age group, support was highest among the 18-to-34 group (61%), followed by the 50-to-64 group (58%). But support declined below 50% for the 35-to-49 group (44%) and those 65 and older (37%).

The numbers suggest that parents with young children and especially mothers remain a weak spot for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. In its early advertising, the campaign has been targeting that demographic.

While the poll numbers are good, they also suggest this will be a very close contest. In 2010, California's Proposition 19 was polling at 52% three months before the election, but it ended up losing with only 46% of the vote.

A similar measure was on the ballot in Colorado in 2006, but it lost 59% to 41%.

The SurveyUSA/Denver Post poll was conducted between September 9 and 12 and relied on automated calls. It has a margin of error of +/- 4%.

United States

Drug Policy in the 2012 Elections II: The Parties and the Presidential Race [FEATURE]

As the 2012 election campaign enters its final weeks, all eyes are turning to the top of the ticket. While, according to the latest polls and electoral college projections, President Obama appears well-positioned to win reelection, the race is by no means a done deal, and there's a chance that marijuana policy could play a role -- especially in one key swing state, Colorado, where the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is running a popular and well-funded campaign to pass Amendment 64.

President Obama (
But other than that, marijuana policy in particular and drug policy in general do not appear likely to be big issues, at least between Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. That's because both candidates hold similar positions:

Both oppose marijuana legalization, which will also be on the ballot in Oregon, and Washington. Obama, while at least paying lip service to patient access to medical marijuana, which will be on the ballot in Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Montana, has presided over a Justice Department crackdown on medical marijuana distribution, while Romney appears irritated and uncomfortable even discussing the issue.

"With Obama, we've all been disappointed with the backtracking, although he also needs credit for the original Ogden memo and opening the gates to a wider proliferation of medical marijuana around the country," said Drug Policy Action head Ethan Nadelmann. "For the people most disappointed with that, the paradox is that Romney offers very little of promise."

That was illustrated by GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan's brief flirtation with medical marijuana. Last Friday, Ryan said medical marijuana was a states' rights issue. The comments came in Colorado, where the issue is hot.

"My personal positions on this issue have been let the states decide what to do with these things," he said in an interview with a local TV reporter. "This is something that is not a high priority of ours as to whether or not we go down the road on this issue. What I've always believed is the states should decideI personally don't agree with it, but this is something Coloradans have to decide for themselves."

But Ryan, who has a previous voting record opposing states rights to medical marijuana, did half a backtrack the next day, when one of his spokesmen explained that Ryan "agrees with Mitt Romney that marijuana should never be legalized."

Obama as president has supported increased drug war funding to Mexico and Central America, and Romney as candidate supports it as well. But his views are malleable. When running for the nomination in 2008, Romney suggested that spending on interdiction was a waste, and the money would be better spent on prevention here at home. Again, that is not so different from the Obama position which, rhetorically if not budgetarily, emphasizes treatment and prevention over interdiction and law enforcement.

The relative quiet around drug policy in the two campaigns is reflected in the Democratic platform and the Republican platform. There are only a handful of mentions of drugs or drug policy in the Democratic platform -- and the word "marijuana" doesn't appear at all -- all of them having to do with either combating international organized crime or touting the Obama administration's baby steps toward a slightly more progressive drug policy.

One of those progressive measures was overturning the federal ban on needle exchange funding, but the platform makes no mention or that or of the words "harm reduction." It does urge "supporting local prison-to-work programs and other initiatives to reduce recidivism, making citizens safer and saving the taxpayers money" and says the Democrats "will continue to fight inequalities in our criminal justice system," pointing to the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act as "reducing racial disparities in sentencing for drug crimes." The act actually addresses only crack cocaine sentencing.

While emphasizing their tough on crime positions, the Republican platform also takes some baby steps toward a more progressive drug policy. It calls for rehabilitation of prisoners and for drug courts, supporting state efforts to divert drug offenders to treatment, and it criticizes the federalization of criminal offenses. But the single most dramatic change in the Republican platform is that has eliminated what was in previous platforms an entire section on the war on drugs.

Just as with the candidates, the platforms give drug policy little time or space. In an election driven by the economy and the fires burning in the Middle East, the issue is going to get short shrift, especially when there is little daylight between the candidates on the platforms on the issue.

There are alternatives to the bipartisan drug policy consensus, but they remain on the margins. At least three third party candidates, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, are calling for an end to the drug war and marijuana legalization, but they are all but shut out of presidential debates and media interest.

Mitt Romney (
Since there is little substantive difference in the drug policy positions of the two front-runners and since their positions on marijuana legalization put them at odds with half the country -- 50% now support legalization, according to the most recent Gallup poll -- neither candidate has much incentive to open his mouth on the issue. And they may be able to get away with it.

"Can the campaigns get away with not talking about marijuana?" Drug Policy Action head Ethan Nadelmann asked rhetorically. "That depends. First, will the question get popped at one of the debates? I don't know how to influence that. The second possibility will be if the candidates are obliged to answer a question somewhere, but I don't know how much they're taking questions -- their handlers are trying to keep them on message. The third possibility is that they will say something at private events, but who knows what gets said there?" he mused.

"They are certainly going to try not to talk about it," said Morgan Fox, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Given Romney's anger at a reporter for bringing up the issue and Obama's reluctance to address questions about marijuana policy in public forums, one can expect them to continue this behavior until forced to answer questions by the media or the public."

That leaves voters for whom marijuana reform is an important issue hanging out to dry.

"Unless one of the candidates sees an opportunity for a large boost in support by changing his position on marijuana policy, voters will be forced to choose between either third party candidates or the major party option that they think will do the least amount of damage to reform efforts going forward," said Fox. "If we consider Obama's behavior so far and Romney's staunch anti-marijuana statements (as well as the fact that he has never used it) it becomes a really difficult choice for voters."

Nadelmann begged to differ on that point.

"Romney has been more hostile on this issue than McCain or Bush or any Democratic candidates since Bush the Elder," he said. "He is visibly uncomfortable and even hostile regarding even the most modest drug policy reforms. Romney said if you want to legalize marijuana, you should vote for the other guy. That's very telling, with over 50% of independents and even more than 30% of Republicans supporting marijuana legalization. Why would Romney say that? The Obama campaign would have a hard time running with this, but someone else could."

Still, the lack of space between the major party candidates on the issue may leave an opening for Anderson or Johnson or Stein, Fox said.

"These candidates are the only ones offering real solutions to the quagmire of marijuana prohibition, or even taking definitive stances on the issue. The more they continue to draw public attention to marijuana reform while the major players stay silent, the more we can expect voters to pay attention to them and take them seriously," he predicted. "We can also expect their vocal support for reform to draw the attention of the major candidates and possibly elicit some sort of positive response from one or both of them. Whether that response will be sincere or simply lip-service to prevent third-party candidates from siphoning votes in key elections remains to be seen. However, even the latter would be a sign that the message is getting out and that politicians are at least starting to realize where the public stands on marijuana."

The one place where marijuana policy discussion may be unavoidable and where marijuana policy positions could influence the statewide electoral outcome is Colorado. Marijuana is a big issue in the state, not only because Amendment 64 is on the ballot, but also because of the ongoing war of attrition waged against dispensaries there by the DEA and the US Attorney. (The Colorado Patient Voters Project tracks federal activity against medical marijuana in the state, as does our own Medical Marijuana Update series, accessible with other relevant reporting in our medical marijuana archive section.)

Gary Johnson (
And it's a tight race where one third party candidate in particular, Gary Johnson, is making a strong run and exploiting his popular legalization position on marijuana. While the Real Clear Politics average of Colorado polls has Obama up 48.7% to Romney's 45.3%, the race tightens up when Johnson is included in the polls.

"I think Colorado is key," said Nadelmann. "It has the initiative and it's a swing state, and there is the possibility that Gary Johnson or the Green candidate could make a difference. The polling has been split, and the question with Gary Johnson is whether he draws more from Obama or Romney."

One recent poll may hold a clue. Among the polls included in the Real Clear Politics average is a new Public Policy Polling survey, which had Obama beating Romney 49% to 46%. But when the pollsters added Johnson to the mix, he got 5%, taking three points away from Obama, but only two from Romney, and leaving Obama with only a two-point lead, 46% to 44%.

This year's election results from Colorado could mark a historic point for the marijuana reform movement, and not just because of Amendment 64, said Fox.

"This is a state where we are really going to see the power of this issue as it relates to elections," he said. "This is possibly the first time that marijuana policy could affect the outcome of a presidential election. That just goes to show how far reformers have come in just a few short years. As public opinion in support of ending prohibition continues to grow, the paradigm is going to shift from politicians avoiding the issue at all cost or being knee-jerk reactionaries who want to appear 'tough on crime' to candidates addressing marijuana policy in a rational manner as a way to build support."

We'll see in a few weeks how this all shakes out, but before then, we'll be taking an in-depth look at pot politics in Colorado in the context of Amendment 64. Stay tuned.

Please read our last week's feature, overviewing the various state ballot initiatives: Drug Policy in the 2012 Elections I: The Initiatives.

(This article was published by'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.)

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