Colorado Amendment 64

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Initiative Watch

There's less than a month to go, but some initiatives are more active than others.

Arkansas

Both the Arkansas Issue 5 campaign and the opposition were very quiet this week.

California

Proposition 36, the three-strikes sentencing initiative is finally getting some attention. The stealthy campaign was the subject of at least eight news stories in the past few days, but remains mostly under the radar.

Colorado

Last week, the National Cannabis Coalition donated $3,000 to Amendment 64 and said it had another $3,000 in matching funds from a generous donor. The Coalition has also supported the marijuana decriminalization measure in Springfield, Missouri, and the successful campaigns of Ellen Rosenblum in Oregon and Beto O’Rourke in Texas.

On Tuesday, the Amendment 64 campaign announced it had the endorsements of more than 300 doctors. The move came after the Colorado branch of the American Academy of Pediatrics came out in opposition to the initiative. The announcement came at a news conference featuring Dr. Larry Bedard, a former president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Massachusetts

On Sunday, a Boston Globe poll had Question 3, the medical marijuana initiative, cruising toward victory. The poll had support at 69%, with opposition at only 22% and 9% undecided. Even Republicans favored the initiative.

Montana

The I-124 campaign continues to try to explain why voters should vote "no" on election day
. The initiative would repeal restrictions imposed on the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program and reinstate the original program. A "yes" vote upholds the restrictions; a "no" vote would undo them.

Oregon

See our feature article on Measure 80 here.

On Wednesday, GOP state Senate candidate Cliff Hutchinson endorsed Measure 80. He is the first Oregon Republican to do so. He is also head of the libertarian-leaning Republican Liberty Caucus. “From historical figures like William F. Buckley to current Republican national voices like Jeff Flake and Tom Tancredo, to up-and-coming conservatives like Meghan McCain, more and more conservatives are supporting sensible marijuana policy because it aligns with their core values and political platforms,” said Roy Kaufmann, spokesman for the Yes on 80 campaign. “We’re proud to have Cliff’s support and look forward to adding more conservative Oregonians to our movement.”

Next Monday,.a Measure 80 women's rally will take place at the state capitol. The Oregon Women for Measure 80 rally is being held in solidarity with the national Moms for Marijuana rally on the steps of our nation’s capitol that same day.

Washington

Last Wednesday, the I-502 campaign picked up a surprising endorsement: GOP US Senate hopeful Michael Baumgartner. The endorsement gives the campaign one of its highest-profile Republican supporters yet. Baumgartner, a state senator from Spokane who is running a long-shot bid to unseat Democratic US Sen. Maria Cantwell, said drug law reform isn't typically supported by his party, but he believes I-502 is a good step toward changing what he described as a wasteful policy of marijuana prohibition. According to electful.com, Cantwell supports "modernized" drug laws and drug courts, but not legalization.

On Wednesday, New Approach Washington announced its final push media campaign. The campaign will feature two thirty-second ads that will air on broadcast and cable television throughout western Washington and Spokane. The ads will feature two former US Attorneys and a former FBI agent and will run during early morning news shows in Seattle and Spokane and on MSNBC and CNN early morning news programs in Vancouver and Longview.

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 (radicalruss.com)
"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

Initiative Watch

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

Arkansas

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

California

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

Colorado

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."

Massachusetts

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.

Montana

All was quiet on the I-124 front.

Oregon

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.

Washington

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 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.)

TONIGHT: StoptheDrugWar.org Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Teleconference

[Please join us tonight! Updated agenda below]

StoptheDrugWar.org 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 StoptheDrugWar.org, 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 borden@drcnet.org.

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.

Initiative Watch

We're a little more than a month from election day. Here's what's going on with the state-level initiatives.

California

Last Thursday, LA County DA candidates gave differing views on Proposition 36 during what is likely the final debate of their campaigns. Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson opposes the measure, which would modify the state's draconian three-strikes law, while Chief Deputy District Attorney Jackie Lacey supports it.

Colorado

Last Friday, the Amendment 64 campaign demanded an apology from opponents for smearing a retired veteran Denver police officer as a "rent a cop." The description came from Roger Sherman, head of the No on 64 campaign, and was in response to a series of endorsements of Amendment 64 by law enforcement personnel and organizations. It was aimed at retired Lt. Tony Ryan, a Denver Police Medal of Honor recipient and Purple Heart holder. Sherman has yet to respond to the invitation to apologize.

Also last Friday, conservative former congressman Tom Tancredo endorsed Amendment 64. He sent a letter to some Republican state lawmakers outlining his support. "I have decided that it presents a responsible, effective and much-needed solution to a misguided policy," he said in the letter. "Eighty years ago, Colorado voters concerned about the health and safety of their families and communities approved a ballot initiative to repeal alcohol prohibition prior to it being done by the federal government. This November, we have the opportunity to end the equally problematic and ineffective policy of marijuana prohibition."

Massachusetts

On Monday, US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D) said she supported medical marijuana. "You know, I held my father's hand while he died of cancer, and it's really painful when you do something like that up close and personal," she said in an interview. "My mother was already gone and I was very very close to my father. And it puts me in a position of saying, if there's something a physician can prescribe that can help someone who is suffering, I'm in favor of that. Now, I want to make sure they've got the right restrictions. It should be like any other prescription drug. That there's careful control over it. But I think it's really hard to watch somebody suffer that you love." That wasn't a direct endorsement of the initiative, Question 3, but pretty darned close.

Montana

A poll released last week showed I-124, the initiative to undo the legislature's gutting of the state's 2004 voter-approved medical marijuana law, at under 50%. That's a good thing, because a "yes" vote endorses the legislative gutting. Only 44% of those polled said they would vote "yes," but with 31% saying they would vote "no," that still leaves a large uncommitted bloc.

Oregon

Last Wednesday, former Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradley endorsed Measure 80. "Our nation's war on drugs has really been, for decades now, a war on Americans of color and our poorest, most vulnerable citizens, and the ban on agricultural hemp has been the collateral damage" said Bradbury. "I urge my fellow Oregonians to vote yes on Measure 80, which is an historic opportunity to show our fellow Americans a way to end the failed drug war, begin a new, sensible approach to marijuana, and restore hemp to our farmers and hi-tech entrepreneurs for biofuel, textiles, and advanced manufacturing."

Washington

See our feature article this week on the state of play for Washington's I-502 initiative here.

Initiative Watch

Three marijuana legalization initiatives, two medical marijuana initiatives, and one sentencing reform initiative are on state ballots this year. We'll be running a feature story on one of them each week between now and election day, but we've created this short-term feature to keep up with all of them. Here's what's happening:

Arkansas

Last Wednesday, supporters and foes of the medical marijuana initiative sparred in court over ballot summary language. Opponents are attempting to knock the initiative off the ballot by challenging the language, but supporters say it is fair and want the state Supreme Court to block the move. If it stays on the ballot and passes, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act would be the first such initiative passed in the South.

Colorado

Last Wednesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper came out in opposition to Amendment 64, the tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. He said that making marijuana legal would send the wrong message about drug use. "Colorado is known for many great things -- marijuana should not be one of them," Hickenlooper wrote.

That provoked an immediate, tart response from Mason Tvert of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Governor Hickenlooper's statement today ranks as one of the most hypocritical statements in the history of politics," said Tvert. "After building a personal fortune by selling alcohol to Coloradans, he is now basing his opposition to this measure on concerns about the health of his citizens and the message being sent to children. We certainly hope he is aware that alcohol actually kills people. Marijuana use does not. The public health costs of alcohol use overall are approximately eight times greater per person than those associated with marijuana. And alcohol use is associated with violent crime. Marijuana use is not."

Also last Wednesday, a Denver district judge allowed a state-issued voters' guide to proceed even though the Campaign had challenged it as grossly imbalanced after a legislative committee edited the wording. The voters' guide now contains 366 words opposing the measure and only 208 supporting it.

Also last Wednesday, the Colorado University Board of Regents formally opposed Amendment 64. "We are expressing to parents and future students that we oppose Amendment No. 64 because it's against state laws and federal laws and we're law abiding regents," regent Tillie Bishop explained. Following the vote, Bishop offered an open invitation to his fellow regents to attend the 21st annual Colorado Mountain Winefest, which began last Thursday in Palisade.

Last Saturday, the latest poll had Amendment 64 leading 51% to 40%, with 8% undecided. The average of all polls so far has Amendment 64 leading by 49.7% to 39.3%.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Education Association opposed Amendment 64, this after campaign organizers had included language directing funds to public school construction in a bid to at least have the group stay neutral.

"We're sorry to hear the Colorado Education Association has been convinced to embrace a position counter to the interests of students and parents," Mason Tvert responded. "In fact, it was CEA that suggested tax revenue raised through the initiative should benefit public school construction in Colorado. We agreed it would be a good use of new revenue, and we are proud to say that Amendment 64 would direct tens of millions of dollars per year toward improving Colorado schools. It's odd that our opponents are criticizing the idea of Amendment 64 directing new revenue toward public school construction, as it was embraced by the CEA when it contributed that very idea during the drafting process. In fact, when we consulted with CEA during the drafting of the initiative they indicated they would be remaining neutral on the issue, but that's politics for you. It's understandable that an organization like CEA would want to toe the line of the powers that be, but it's unfortunate that they are playing politics when the future of Colorado schools -- and the health and safety of our children -- are at stake."

Also on Wednesday, the campaign announced pending endorsements from national law enforcement groups and former law enforcement officials. The endorsing groups are the National Latino Officers Association and Blacks in Law Enforcement in America. They will hold a press conference Thursday.

Massachusetts

Last Tuesday, Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis announced he had given $465,000 to the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, the ballot committee behind Question 3, the medical marijuana initiative. The brings the total raised by the committee to $512,860, compared to $600 raised by the opposition Vote No on Question 3 committee.

Last Thursday, a spoof site ridiculing medical marijuana opponents grabbed the Vote No on Question 3 domain name, even though the opposition group had listed it on the state voters' guide. (They forgot to register it.) Now the address is home to a web page warning that medical marijuana is a gateway to "Twinkie addiction."

On Monday, the latest polling had Question 3 winning with 59% of the vote. The opposition was at 35%, with 6% undecided. The yes vote was a slight increase over the previous poll.

North Dakota

On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court ruled that the medical marijuana initiative will not be on the ballot. The secretary of state had blocked the initiative, saying there was ample evidence that University of North Dakota football players hired as signature gatherers had committed fraud by forging signatures. Proponents of the measure sought to get the court to overturn the secretary of state's decision, to no avail.

Oregon

On Monday, state Rep. Peter Buckley endorsed Measure 80, the state's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. "Overall, legalization would take the black market out of Oregon," said Buckley (D-Ashland) who has served as co-chairman of the Legislature's Ways and Means Committee for the past two sessions.

On Monday, a new political action committee was formed to raise funds for Measure 80. Oregonians for Law Reform co-director Sam Chapman said, "Ending prohibition is an idea whose time has come, again. We will urge voters to rally behind Measure 80, not get bogged down in the typical pro and con rhetoric around the details of an initiative. We must show our support for this measure to help build momentum for victory, either in November or some time soon."

On Tuesday, a new poll had Measure 80 trailing 41% to 37%, with 22% undecided.

Washington

Last Monday, the Children's Alliance endorsed Initiative 502, the state's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. The Children's Alliance is a Seattle-based advocacy group with more than 100 social-service agencies as members. "The status quo is not working for children, particularly children of color," said deputy director Don Gould. "Public policy ought to move us further toward racial equity and justice, and Initiative 502 is one step forward to that."

Last Wednesday, a new poll had I-502 winning with 57% of the vote and only 34% opposed. Support is up 3% over a June poll.

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.

CO
United States

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. (regulatemarijuana.org)
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%.

CO
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 (wikimedia.org)
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 (mittromney.com)
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 (garyjohnson2012.com)
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 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.)

StoptheDrugWar.org Teleconference on the Marijuana Legalization Initiatives

StoptheDrugWar.org 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
  • Brian Vicente, Sensible Colorado

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 borden@drcnet.org.

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.

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