Washington Initiative 502

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Colorado, Washington Legalize Marijuana! [FEATURE]

Colorado voters made history Tuesday night, passing a constitutional amendment to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana and becoming the first state in the US to break with marijuana prohibition. Hours later, voters in Washington state followed suit, passing a legalization initiative there, but a similar effort in Oregon came up short.

Brian Vicente, Rob Kampia, and Steve Fox listen to Mason Tvert in Denver as Amendment 64 passes.
Even though marijuana legalization didn't achieve a trifecta, two states have now decisively rejected marijuana prohibition, sending an electrifying message to the rest of the country and the world. Tuesday's election also saw a medical marijuana initiative pass in Massachusetts, a sentencing reform initiative pass in California, and a limited legalization initiative pass in Detroit. Medical marijuana initiatives failed in Arkansas and Montana. [Editor's Note: Look for Chronicle news briefs soon on the election results we have yet to publish stories on.]

"The victories in Colorado and Washington are of historic significance not just for Americans but for all countries debating the future of marijuana prohibition in their own countries," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is now a mainstream issue, with citizens more or less divided on the issue but increasingly inclined to favor responsible regulation of marijuana over costly and ineffective prohibitionist policies."

According to the Colorado secretary of state's office, Amendment 64 was leading comfortably with 55% of the vote, compared to 45% voting "no." But an early lead was enough for Amendment 64 supporters and foes alike to call the victory. Rising excitement at Casselman's, the downtown Denver bar where campaign supporters gathered, turned to gleeful pandemonium as Colorado media began calling the result little more than two hours after the polls closed.

"Colorado voters have decided to take a more sensible approach to how we deal with marijuana in this state," said Mason Tvert, director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which had brought together state marijuana reform groups such as SAFER and Sensible Colorado with national reform organizations such as the Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Action, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition in a well-organized and well-funded winning campaign.

"Today, the people of Colorado have rejected the failed policy of marijuana prohibition," said Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente. "Thanks to their votes, we will now reap the benefits of regulation. We will create new jobs, generation million of dollars in tax revenue, and allow law enforcement to focus on serious crimes. It would certainly be a travesty if the Obama administration used its power to impose marijuana prohibition upon a state whose people have declared, through the democratic process, that they want it to end."

"I'm so happy we not only did this, we did it right," said MPP's Steve Fox, who had worked closely with Tvert, Vicente, and Yes on 64 spokesperson Betty Aldworth to bring the effort to fruition. "Now, it is legal in the state constitution to possess and grow marijuana. It can't be repealed on a whim; it is permanent. Thirty days from now, any veteran -- any person -- in this state can use marijuana."

"Colorado is the starting point, the tipping point, but it's not the end point," vowed MPP executive director Rob Kampia, who promised to take the effort to more states in the future.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), a staunch opponent of Amendment 64, conceded its victory as well Tuesday night. "The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," he said in a statement. "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or goldfish too quickly."

According to the Washington secretary of state's office , as of 9:28pm Pacific time Tuesday, Initiative 502 was holding a comfortable lead of 55% to 45%. Sponsored by New Approach Washington, the initiative had excited opposition among segments of the pot-smoker and medical marijuana communities, but created a carefully crafted and financially well-backed campaign featuring a series of establishment endorsers.

Betty Aldsworth thanks the voters of Colorado.
I-502 legalizes 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 will license marijuana cultivation and retail and wholesale sales, with restrictions on advertising. Regulation will be the remit of the state liquor control board, which will have to come up with rules by December 2013. The measure creates 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 also creates a per se driving under the influence standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

By contrast, Colorado's Amendment 64 allows adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or six marijuana plants, three of which can be mature. It will 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 also requires 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 will be dedicated to building public schools.

"Marijuana policy reform remains an issue where the people lead and the politicians follow, but Washington state shows that many politicians are beginning to catch up," said Nadelmann, noting that the Obama administration had failed to denounce the initiatives. "That bodes well, both states' prospects of implementing their new laws without undue federal interference."

In Oregon, Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), didn't fare so well. As of 11:30pm Pacific time, it was losing 45% to 55%, with 69% of the vote counted.

It came late to the ballot compared to the efforts in Colorado and Washington, could not demonstrate majority support in polls, and, as a result, did not manage to attract substantial funding from outside donors, sealing its fate.

But despite the loss in Oregon, when it comes to passing groundbreaking marijuana legalization initiatives in the United States, two out of three ain't bad.

Is Marijuana Prohibition About to Get its Ass Kicked?

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/marijuanaplants.jpg

Ballot measures to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington are polling strong on the eve of the election, and for many, this is a moment as momentous or more so than the presidential race itself. I've been too focused on other projects to comment regularly this time around -- and it hasn't been easy -- but tonight I can think of nothing else. And if you're reading this, I imagine you're thinking what I'm thinking.

Whether we win, lose, or a little of both, there's no question that we've taken this fight further than a lot of people thought possible when I was a young activist (and I'm still not that old yet). I haven't forgotten the time I spent explaining to friends and family why I was doing this work and that I wasn't doing it for fun; we do this to change lives and change our country for the better. As those changes grow ever more tangible, the momentum of our movement becomes self-evident and the people who once stood in our way step slowly back into the shadows.

Where once a powerful alliance of prohibitionist power players dogged us at every turn, it feels lately as if there's no one on the field anymore except us, Kevin Sabet, and a random assortment of disoriented profiteers on both sides who'll continue to fear change until they learn not to. The polls, meanwhile, move in our favor as fast as you can count them and the myth of marijuana policy's fringe position in American politics is dying an overdue death before our eyes.

All of this is true even if we don’t move the ball as far forward tomorrow as we hope to. I'm saying it now because we have a lot to be proud of either way.  I also just wanted to say something because I've been quiet for a little too long lately. If tomorrow goes our way, you can bet I will be anything but quiet.

I-502: Too Important to Lose (Steve D'Angelo, Harborside Health Center)

The founder of the flagship medical marijuana center, Harborside Health Center in Oakland, speaks out about how important it is to pass I-502 and how damaging a "no" vote on it could be for people's lives.

If You Care About Medical Marijuana Patients (Among Others), Support I-502

Readers of StoptheDrugWar.org know that we've supported Initiative 502, a ballot measure to legalize and regulate marijuana in Washington State. I-502 has seen the strongest polling among the three legalization measures on state ballots this year, and has attracted significant mainstream support -- its chances of passing this Tuesday are good. The measure has also been the subject of controversy within the movement, particularly over a "per se" DUI provision some advocates believe will unfairly snare some users including patients. If you've followed our coverage of I-502 in Drug War Chronicle, including two of our recent features (here and here), you're familiar with all of this.

Today StoptheDrugWar.org formally endorses Initiative 502. In this post I explain why we believe the measure helps, not harms, most medical marijuana patients, and defeating it would therefore harm patients; why I believe other attacks leveled against the measure to be misguided, despite some legitimate concerns; and why we at StoptheDrugWar.org consider passage of I-502 to be critically important.

The reality facing Washington's patients today is that they may soon lose safe access to marijuana. The federal government is conducting a sustained attacked on the medical marijuana supply system in states across the nation, including Washington's, and local opponents have also stepped up their efforts. Legislation that would have authorized dispensaries, which could have provided some political cover for providers in Washington, was vetoed by the governor. Just this August the DEA sent 23 threat letters to dispensaries in Washington, only the latest of many moves against the industry. And there is no indication that DOJ under Obama or Romney will let up after the election, hope for that as we might. Washington a few years from now may have no medical marijuana supply system at all, if something doesn't change to shift the balance in our favor.

In Washington, the medical marijuana system is already a smaller one than available in some other medical marijuana states, despite courageous efforts by its leaders. Fewer patients qualify for legal protections under the list of conditions authorized under state law; it's likely that a smaller proportion of the state's residents live within easy geographic proximity to a dispensary as well. A 2011 report by See Change Strategy, prepared before the escalated federal and local crackdowns, found 11,000 dispensary customers in Washington, compared with 500,000 in California -- fewer than 1/8 as many, adjusted for the states' populations. Compared with Colorado, Washington's system -- again, before the crackdown -- served fewer than 1/14 as many people, adjusted for population.

But even those numbers understate the true depth of harm done to patients by the current system. All of us know people who suffer from conditions that could well be treatable using marijuana, but who may never find that out -- because they won't try it while it's illegal, or because their physicians aren't comfortable recommending marijuana without being able to guarantee the quality of the supply. Along with the current patients whose current safe access to marijuana may be slipping away, this other, possibly much larger group of potential patients, are also being badly harmed by the current situation -- by prohibition.

In the face of the federal onslaught, we believe a victory is needed at the ballot in order to shift the political dynamics in our favor. While some have suggested this could be accomplished in 2014, with a different initiative, that seems poorly thought out. Along with that meaning two more years and all that can happen in that time, 2014 is an off year election. That means that election turnout demographics will work against any such initiative, because off years favor the conservative voting base that leans against marijuana reform, over the liberal base that leans toward it. Funders witnessing a loss this year by a carefully regulated initiative, will in turn be unlikely to bet on a more loosely written one passing the next time. Progress of this scale -- enactment by a state's voters of actual legalization, not just medical marijuana or decriminalization, a historic first -- will probably be out of reach again until 2016. Public support for legalization in principle continues to grow and is now around 50% nationally. But while we believe support for legalization is likely to continue to grow, we don't know that it will and we can't take that for granted, especially if we don't win something. Legalization needs a victory this year.

We also believe that more people than just the currently recognized patients need the protections that legalization of possession -- and of legal sales, if I-502's state-licensed stores survive the likely federal opposition -- will provide for them. Washington had between 12,000 and 15,000 arrests per year between 2006 and 2010 -- 240,000 total marijuana arrests from 1986 to 2010. Those include minors who will still face age limit laws under I-502. But half or more of these arrests would clearly stop under the new law. A marijuana arrest is a big deal; in Washington it includes a fine and mandatory jail time in most cases. Defendants spend money on legal fees; they face restricted access to housing and college aid; they become disadvantaged in the job market.

I-502 won't undo all of this harm, but it will undo a lot of it. The characterizations opponents have made of the initiative as providing only "limited" or "modest" benefit are bogus. Even more strained is the claim some opponents have made that I-502 is not even legalization. But I-502 legalizes possession and sale of marijuana, albeit within a particular framework -- of course it's legalization. Some forms of legalization do more of what we want than other forms. Advocates make compromises, if they are effective, because they understand that that is what's needed to change things.

A final argument opponents have made is that I-502 is not legalization because federal law will preempt the state licensing system and could endanger other parts of the law. But while preemption is a risk, it's not a given -- no federal prosecutor has even tried to legally preempt a state's medical marijuana law, for example, in 16 years of them. And the same line of reasoning would say that any legalization bill passed by a state would really not be legalization, because federal prohibition is still in place. Which of course makes no sense -- and which would mean that initiatives some critics of I-502 have attempted to place on the ballot were not legalization either. Obviously our goal is to change both federal and state law.

It's possible we might have reached a different conclusion about I-502, if we were persuaded that DUI busts because of I-502 could happen commonly. But the critics have ignored key facts about the issue in order to make that case. The provision excludes the inactive but long-lingering marijuana metabolite, THC-COOH, from the reach of the law, counting only the shorter acting THC metabolite. It leaves in place the "probable cause" requirement on police of impairment being demonstrated before they can lawfully stop a driver and order a drug test. Police still need to spend time and money taking a driver to the station for a full drug test -- they can't just write a ticket and drop the drugs off for testing later.

Perhaps for these reasons, the 13 states that already have similar provisions have not seen perceptible increases in DUI busts. Yet movement opponents of I-502 scarcely acknowledge any of these points; a recent editorial by Sensible Washington treasurer Anthony Martinelli is a good example. Leaving them out skews the issue very badly. Conversely, however, one should admit that some marijuana users in Washington may get stuck with a DUI charge that they don't deserve -- and if you're one of those few people, it won't necessarily help you that there are only a few. There is a legitimate issue at stake with the DUI provision and it's a legitimate discussion to have. But it's a very different scenario than the doomsayers have presented.

It has been charged that movement opposition to I-502 is driven by the financial motivations of people profiting from medical marijuana under the current system. But while this is doubtless one thing that is going on, some of the critics of I-502 are respected advocates, including personal friends, who have never had a financial motivation for their activism. With all due respect to them, we believe they have badly misjudged the I-502 question, in at least the following ways: They have misidentified the primary threats facing medical marijuana patients. They have dramatically overestimated the realistic impact of the DUI provision -- ignoring relevant facts in order to do so. And they have underplayed the scope and significance that passage of I-502 will have, both legally and politically.

StoptheDrugWar.org endorses Initiative 502, a major step forward for the legalization movement, and a necessary step to help secure the rights of many thousands of marijuana users, including patients, and others.

[Washington's I-502 is one of three initiatives on state ballots to regulate rather than prohibit marijuana. We encourage all supportive parties, as we have before, to make phone calls to likely supportive voters in Colorado and Oregon -- for which a "phonebanking" web site has been provided by our allies -- for those in Washington to contact the campaign to volunteer in person. Links to the campaigns and to a "phonebanking" web site provided by our allies are linked to from our election resources web page at http://stopthedrugwar.org/election2012.]

Five Days Out, Washington Marijuana Measure at 55%

Washington state's I-502 marijuana legalization, taxation, and regulation initiative appears headed for victory with increasing support, according to the latest KCTS 9 Washington Poll, released last Thursday. The poll had support among likely voters at 55.4% in surveys conducted during the second half of October, compared to 47.1% in surveys conducted in the first half of the month.

[Editor's Note: I-502 passed with 55.44% of the vote]

Similarly, opposition to I-502 was declining, from 40.1% earlier in the month to 37.6% in the second half of the month. The figures suggest that undecided voters have been breaking in favor of the initiative.

The 55.4% support figure includes 48.7% who are "certain yes" voters, 4.3% who are "yes -- could change," and 2.8% who are "undecided -- leaning yes." The 37.6% "no" figure includes 35.5% "certain no" voters, 1.6% "no -- could change," and 0.5% who are "undecided -- leaning no." Some 6.8% of voters remained truly undecided, while 0.3% said they would not vote on I-502.

I-502 is winning majorities of every age group except seniors (44%), including nearly three out of four (74.8%) voters under 30. It is running strongly (63%) in the progressive, heavily populated Puget Sound area and among Democrats (69.1%), men (64.2%), and independents (60%). It is doing less well with women, although women supporters (48.0%) outnumber opponents (40.6).

One-third (33.4%) of those surveyed have already voted, the poll found.

Pollsters surveyed 722 registered voters between October 18 and 31. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.6%.

WA
United States

November 6: An Election to Stop the Drug War [FEATURE]

We are now only five days away from Election Day, and it's starting to look very much like at least one state will vote to legalize marijuana, possibly two, and, if the gods are really smiling down, three. It's also looking like there will soon be at least one more medical marijuana state, and like California will finally reform its three strikes sentencing law.

Amendment 64 billboard (regulatemarijuana.org)
There are also local initiatives on the ballot in California, Massachusetts, and Michigan, including a Detroit initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce at home by adults. And there are races for elected office that merit watching, the most interesting of which is probably former El Paso city councilmember and legalization supporter Beto O'Rourke, who is running for Congress. O'Rourke already knocked off Democratic incumbent drug warrior Sylvestre Reyes in the primary and appears ready to cruise to victory Tuesday.

The Chronicle will be in Denver election night for what we hope is the making of history. On Tuesday night and into the wee hours Wednesday morning, we will be posting relevant election results as fast as we can get our hands on them. In the meantime, here's what we'll be watching:

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.

Amendment 64 has been hovering right around 50% in recent polls, but was at 53% with only 5% undecided in the most recent poll. The final push is on. The Chronicle will be reporting from Denver Tuesday night.

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. OCTA would supersede all state and local laws regarding marijuana, except for impaired driving laws, leaving personal possession and cultivation by adults unregulated.

Measure 80, which came late to the ballot and which has been chronically underfunded since making the ballot, has trailed consistently in the polls. The most recent poll had it losing 42% to 49%, but the campaign bravely says the polls are undercounting supporter and it can still win.

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.

The I-502 campaign has raised more than $5 million and assembled an all-star cast of establishment law enforcement and political endorsers. Polling almost universally at more than 50%, this looks like an even better shot for legalization to pass than Colorado.

Medical Marijuana

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.

Known as Issue 5 on the ballot, the Arkansas initiative is the first one in the South, and if it wins, it would be the first southern state to embrace medical marijuana. But the most recent polls have rising opposition. Issue 5 was in a virtual dead heat with a 47% to 46% lead in late July, but last week, the same pollster had it trailing 38% to 54%.

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.

While vocal opposition has arisen in the final weeks of the campaign, Question 3 has enjoyed a commanding lead throughout and appears well-placed to join the ranks of Northeastern medical marijuana states on Tuesday.

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.

The campaigners behind IR-124 are in the unique position of hoping it loses. That's because a "yes" vote endorses the legislature's gutting of the state's medical marijuana law last year, while a "no" vote rejects it and restores the voter-approved 2004 law. Polling has been scarce, but one recent poll had IR-124 losing (and more access to medical marijuana winning) with 44% of the vote.

Sentencing

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.

This stealth initiative has gone almost unnoticed amidst a plethora of other state-level initiatives, but appears poised to win. Of four recent polls, three had it at 63% or higher, while the only poll in which it wasn't over 50% had it leading 44% to 22%, with a huge 34% undecided.

Local Initiatives

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.

Drug Policy and the Presidential Election

Drug policy has pretty much been a non-issue in the presidential campaign. The one place 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.)

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 48.2% to Romney's 47.7%, the race tightens up when Johnson is included in the polls, even though who he hurts more varies from poll to poll.

If Obama loses Colorado, be prepared for the argument that he did so at least in part because of his poor positions on marijuana.

(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.)

Initiative Watch

We're getting down to the final days, and the action around drug reform initiatives is fierce. Let's get to it:

National

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.

Arkansas

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.

California

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."

Colorado

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."

Massachusetts

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."

Montana

See our feature article about the Montana medical marijuana initiative this week here.

Oregon

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.

Washington

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.)

Latest Polls Show Washington Marijuana Initiative Tightening, Oregon Trailing

New polling data released in the past week shows Washington's I-502 marijuana legalization initiative still ahead, but not comfortably so, and Oregon's Measure 80 continuing to trail. The polls come as the campaign season enters its final weeks.

In Washington, a SurveyUSA/KING 5 News poll showed I-502 winning with 55% in favor and 36% opposed. Only 8% said they were still undecided. That's good news since because it suggests that for I-502 to lose, it would not only have to lose every undecided voter, but also one out of ten of the people who say they are voting for it.

But a second poll, released Thursday, is a bit more concerning. In the KCTS 9 Washington poll of registered and likely voters, I-502 led by 50.9% to 40.8% among registered voters and 47.1% to 40.1% among likely voters. That's still a seven-to-ten-point lead, but the measure polls that high only when counting not only "certain" yes voters, but also "Yes -- could change" and "Undecided -- leaning yes" voters.

Using only "certain" voters, the race gets tighter. Among registered "certain" voters, 38.4% were voting yes, while 35.0% were voting no. Among likely "certain" voters, 37.2% were voting yes, while 31.8% were voting no.

I-502 still appears favored to win, but it's white-knuckle time for those steering the campaign.

It's not looking as good in Oregon. Measure 80 continues to trail in a new SurveyUSA poll and is in fact declining slightly in popularity from a SurveyUSA poll done five weeks ago. Only 36% of respondents said they were voting for Measure 80, while 43% said they were voting against. The initiative has lost one point since the previous poll, while the opposition has gained two points.

That still leaves more than one out of five voters undecided, meaning Measure 80 could theoretically still triumph. But it would have to hold onto all of its "yes" voters and pick up two-thirds of the undecideds to do so, and that is an exceedingly tall order.

Measure 80 has majority support among only one demographic group, liberals, where it garners 60%. It has lost previous majority support among Democrats and independents and trails among all age groups. It looks like it will be back to the drawing board for Oregon activists.

Gary Johnson Supporters Robocall Colorado Democrats Over Marijuana Crackdown

Colorado is a tightly-contested swing state. According to the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls, Republican challenger Mitt Romney holds a vanishingly narrow lead over President Obama of 47.8% to 47.6%. In a national election that appears to be growing tighter in the final weeks, Colorado could end up deciding who wins.

Gary Johnson
It is also a state where there are two reasons marijuana is at play as a political issue. Most significantly, it is the site of the Amendment 64 Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol legalization campaign, which maintains a shrinking lead in recent polls, and which has generated reams of media coverage in recent weeks. But it is also one of the medical marijuana states that have seen their dispensary systems threatened by heavy-handed federal interventions, which has generated ill-feeling toward the Obama administration in some quarters.

And it is a state where Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of neighboring New Mexico, is making a strong push, with marijuana legalization and marijuana policy as one of his strongest talking points. Johnson isn't included in those polls mentioned above, but when pollsters do bother to include him, as Public Policy Polling did last month and Politico did this month, he's bringing in about 5% of the vote -- and he takes three votes away from Obama for every two he takes from Romney. [Update: The latest PPP poll, released Monday, shows Johnson taking away slightly more from Romney than Obama.]

Democrats may have been hoping that turnout by supporters of marijuana legalization would help them cruise to victory in Colorado, but Johnson is doing his best to separate those voters from the Democrats who hope to own them. Johnson has been stumping feverishly on legalization, and his campaign has smartly used all the attention paid to the initiative to generate attention for his position and his candidacy.

Now, as David Sirota points out in an excellent analysis of pot and presidential politics in Colorado in Salon, things have escalated, with pro-Johnson robo-call ads identified with the Utah-based libertarian think tank the Libertas Institute going out to Democratic voters with a message that should be chilling for Democrats:

"Hello, fellow Democrat," a friendly male voice says. "Like you I was thrilled to vote for Barack Obama in 2008. In 2008, candidate Obama promised not to use the Justice Department to prosecute medical marijuana in states where it was legal. But the real Obama did just that, more than doubling prosecutions, putting people in prisons and shutting down medical marijuana facilities in Colorado. That's not the change you wanted on health freedom. But you can still be a force for hope and change by voting for Gary Johnson."

Could Gary Johnson peel off enough voters disenchanted with the Obama administration's medical marijuana stance and motivated by a chance to vote for marijuana legalization to throw the state, and just possibly, the national election, to Romney? We will know in less than two weeks.

(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.)

CO
United States

Initiative Watch

With less than three weeks to go until election day, there is a lot of activity on the state-level initiative front- -- but not everywhere. Some campaigns are staying mighty quiet, and that's a strategy that could work for them. Let's get to it:

National

On Monday, former DEA heads and drug czars reiterated their call for the Justice Department to attack marijuana legalization initiatives. The drug warriors are attempting to pressure Attorney General Eric Holder to take a public stand against the initiatives.

"Next month in Colorado, Oregon and Washington states, voters will vote on legalizing marijuana," Peter Bensinger, the moderater of the call and former administrator of the DEA during the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations, began the call. "Federal law, the US Constitution and Supreme Court decisions say that this cannot be done because federal law preempts state law. And there is a bigger danger that touches every one of us -- legalizing marijuana threatens public health and safety. In states that have legalized medical marijuana, drug driving arrests, accidents, and drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed. Drug treatment admissions are up and the number of teens using this gateway drug is up dramatically."

That prompted a response from the Marijuana Policy Project: "These former officials are stuck in the mindset that we can arrest our way to decreased marijuana use," said Morgan Fox, the group's communications manager. "This policy has obviously failed and at great cost. We need to treat marijuana as a public health issue and stop wasting resources arresting adults for using something that is demonstrably safer than alcohol. Unfortunately, people like these former officials, who have made careers out of keeping marijuana illegal, are promoting federal interference against reform efforts. Individual states need to be free to experiment with polices that give control of the marijuana market to legitimate businesses instead of criminals and that do not include arrest or incarceration. The federal government should be encouraging states to explore alternatives to ineffective policies rather than expensively and uniformly pursuing continued failure."

Arkansas

On Monday, the Arkansas Pharmacists Association said it would oppose Issue 5, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act. The association said it opposed the measure because it does not incorporate pharmacists and would lead to conflicts with federal law. The pharmacists said they weren't taking a position on medical marijuana, only on the initiative. They said if Arkansas wants medical marijuana, it should pursue regulatory changes to get it rescheduled.

On Wednesday, the Arkansas Times endorsed Issue 5. The Little Rock alternative weekly said it has "misgivings" about legalizing medical marijuana given federal opposition, but said it was always a safe bet to line up opposite the "hateful" Arkansas Family Council, which opposes it.

California

See our feature story on the Three Strikes sentencing reform initiative, Proposition 36, this week here.

Colorado

Last Friday, musician Melissa Etheridge endorsed Amendment 64, the state's legalization initiative. She appears on a new radio ad and talks about her personal experience with marijuana, first as a cancer patient, and then as a legalization advocate.

On Sunday, a new poll had Amendment 64 still winning, but with a shrinking margin. The initiative was ahead 48% to 43%, but was seeing declines in support among women, people with a college degree, and some other demographics. A poll a week earlier had Amendment 64 at 50% with a 10-point lead.

On Monday, the United Food and Commercial Workers endorsed Amendment 64, saying it would create jobs and bolster the state and local economies. UFCW Local 7, which represents 25,000 workers in Colorado and Wyoming is the state's largest union. "Amendment 64 will foster economic growth and enhance public safety for our members across Colorado," said UFCW Local 7 president Kim Cordova. "Removing marijuana from the underground market and regulating it similarly to alcohol will create living-wage jobs and bolster our state and local economies with tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue and savings. By taking marijuana off the streets and putting it in retail stores, we can stop steering money toward gangs and drug cartels, and start directing it toward legitimate, job-producing Colorado businesses."

On Tuesday, two dozen state clergy and faith leaders endorsed Amendment 64. "How we punish people and what we punish them for are central moral questions," said the Rev. Bill Kurton. "If a punishment policy fails to meet its objectives and causes harms to humans, I believe we have a moral obligation to support change. Our laws punishing marijuana use have caused more harm than good to our society and that is why I am supporting replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of strict regulation with sensible safeguards."

Massachusetts

The buttoned-down Question 3 campaign is keeping mighty quiet as its medical marijuana initiative maintains a comfortable lead in polls.

Montana

The I-124 campaign, which seeks a "no" vote to repeal the legislature's gutting last year of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, is also staying quiet.

Oregon

Last Friday, Clear Channel Communications agreed to take down a series of billboards put up by groups tied to the Florida-based Drug Free America Foundation, operated by long-time drug warriors Mel and Betty Sembler. The communications giant acted after online protests by Women for Measure 80, the state's legalization initiative. The billboards featured a photograph of a young woman who appeared strung out on crack or meth, not marijuana. "The ads protesting marijuana are being removed because our policy is transparency of advertising campaigns and the advertisers who are sponsoring them," said a Clear Channel spokesman. "These ads include a misleading website that we believe needed to honestly represent the advertiser so the ads are being removed."

On Monday, Measure 80 supporters rallied at the state capitol. Several dozen showed up to show their support.

Washington

Last Thursday, researchers reported that there had been 240,000 marijuana possession arrests in the state in the past 25 years. Police made more than half of those marijuana arrests in just the last 10 years. Nearly four out of five arrested were under age 35, and ethnic minorities were arrested at rates disproportionate to their makeup of the population. The report was prepared by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, which has produced studies of marijuana possession arrests in New York, California, and major US cities.

Last Friday, I-502 proponent Rick Steves was heckled at the state capitol rotunda by about 20 noisy protestors, including medical marijuana advocates who bitterly oppose the initiative. Four or five of the protestors were escorted out of the building by state police, and Rep. Sam Hunt, an I-502 supporter, got into a scuffle with one of the opponents.

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