Colorado Amendment 64

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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.

Former DEA Heads Urge Holder to Oppose Marijuana Legalization Measures

Every former head of the DEA since it was created by Richard Nixon in 1973 has signed onto a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to speak out against the marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in three Western states. The former top narcs warned that silence would be seen as acquiescence.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/ericholder.jpg
Eric Holder
"We urge you to oppose publicly Amendment 64 in Colorado, Initiative 502 in Washington, and Measure 80 in Oregon," the former DEA chiefs wrote. "To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives."

Legalization at the state level would be a "direct violation of the Controlled Substance Act," they wrote. "Since these initiatives would 'tax and regulate' marijuana, there is a clear and direct conflict with federal law."

The former top narcs said they were "encouraged" by Holder's having spoken out against California's 2010 Proposition 19 and by President Obama's strong stance against legalization. They urged Holder to take a public position against the initiatives "as soon as possible."

Reuters reported that Holder's office had no comment on the letter, but former ONDCP official Kevin Sabet told the news agency he wouldn't be surprised if Holder again spoke out against legalization.

"Essentially, a state vote in favor of legalization is a moot point since federal laws would be, in (Holder's) own words (from 2010), 'vigorously enforced,'" Sabet said. "I can't imagine a scenario where the Feds would sit back and do nothing."

But marijuana legalization backers described themselves as unsurprised by the letter and were quick to strike back.

"Anyone who is objective at all knows that current marijuana policy in this country is a complete disaster, with massive arrests, wasted resources, and violence in the US and especially in Mexico," said Jill Harris, managing director of strategic initiatives for Drug Policy Action, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Similarly, Mason Tvert, co-director of the Colorado Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, told The Huffington Post Monday that he expected no less from the former top narcs, but that Holder and the Obama administration would be wise to reject their call.

"It is not surprising that these men, who have made a living off of marijuana prohibition, want their successors to continue profiting from the existence of the underground marijuana market," Tvert wrote. "They just want to keep billions of taxpayer dollars flowing to their buddies. They know that marijuana prohibition isn't really improving public safety; just as our nation's streets weren't safer when Al Capone and his cohorts controlled the alcohol trade," he added.

"For Eric Holder to act as the mouthpiece for these old school warriors of the irrational war on marijuana that is rapidly losing public support would be sending a message to tens of thousands of passionate supporters of Amendment 64 that their opinions do not matter," Tvert warned the administration. "He will be telling them that Colorado must continue to live under a system of marijuana prohibition not because it makes sense, but because the federal government demands it. Most people accept the view that drug prohibition has been a colossal failure."

What will Holder do? Time will tell.

Colorado Marijuana Legalization Initiative Maintains Nine-Point Lead

Two months out from election day, positions appear to be hardening in the battle over legalizing marijuana in Colorado. A new Public Policy Polling survey shows Amendment 64, which would legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol, maintaining the same nine-point lead it held last month.

Amendment 64 ad aims to reassure parents about teen marijuana use.
According to the poll results, both support -- at 47% -- and opposition -- at 38% -- remain unchanged. That's both good and not so good news for the legalization campaign. The good news is that the initiative remains ahead; the not so good news is that it isn't above 50%. But undecided voters would have to break 4-1 against the initiative for it to fail, if all of them vote yes or now and if the PPP numbers hold up.

PPP noted that the ballot language could be somewhat confusing, so it also asked a general question about marijuana legalization. That polled slightly higher, with 49% saying they approved and 43% saying they didn't.

That 43% who oppose marijuana legalization in general will likely represent the minimum "no" vote in November. Now, the initiative campaign must maintain the support it currently has while picking up some of those 15% of the voters who are undecided.

Drug Policy in the 2012 Elections I: The Initiatives [FEATURE]

The Labor Day weekend has passed, summer is behind us, and the November elections are just two months away. When it comes to drug policy and the 2012 elections, there is plenty on the table. This week, we're going to give you an overview all the drug-related campaigns (and we'll be counting on readers to let us know if we've missed anything), followed by some general discussion about the prospects for the fall and the state of the drug reform movement this election season.

Next week, we'll look at election races of interest, from the local races to the presidency, and In the weeks between now and election day, we will be doing in-depth reports on all the statewide initiative campaigns, as well as devoting as much attention as we can to some key local races and initiative campaigns.

Here's what we've got going for November 2012:

Marijuana Legalization Initiatives

Colorado -- 
Amendment 64 would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or six marijuana plants, three of which could be mature. It would create a system of state-licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities and state-licensed retail stores. Local governments would have the option of regulating or prohibiting such facilities. The amendment would also require the state legislature to enact legislation governing industrial hemp cultivation, processing, and sale, and to create an excise tax on wholesale marijuana sales. The first $40 million of that annual revenue would be dedicated to building public schools.

Oregon -- Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), would create an Oregon Cannabis Commission to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana, but not industrial hemp, which would be allowed, but not regulated by the commission. The commission would grant licenses to cultivate marijuana for sale to it by "all qualified applicants" and would sell marijuana at state retail stores at prices it determines. Medical marijuana patients would have their medicine provided at cost. The OCTA would supersede all state and local laws regarding marijuana, except for impaired driving laws, leaving personal possession and cultivation by adults unregulated.

Washington -- Initiative 502 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over, but does not allow for personal cultivation, except by or for medical marijuana patients. It would license marijuana cultivation and retail and wholesale sales, with restrictions on advertising. Regulation would be the remit of the state liquor control board, which would have to come up with rules by December 2013. The measure would create a 25% excise tax on marijuana sales, with 40% of revenues dedicated to the general fund and 60% dedicated to substance abuse prevention, research, and healthcare. It would create a per se driving under the influence standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

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.

Massachusetts -- Question 3, would allow people suffering from a debilitating medical condition to use medical marijuana upon the recommendation of a doctor with whom they have a bona fide relationship. Patients could possess up to a 60-day supply -- what constitutes that supply will be determined by the Department of Health. The initiative would also set up a system of nonprofit medical marijuana cultivation and distribution centers.

Montana -- Initiative Referendum 124 would undo the gutting of the state's medical marijuana program through the passage last year of Senate Bill 423. That bill replaced the voter-approved medical marijuana program, which allowed for dispensary sales, with a new scheme that limited providers to serving only three patients, prohibited providers from accepting anything of value in exchange for products or services, granted local governments the power to regulate providers, tightened standards for demonstrating chronic pain, and demanded reviews of doctors who certified more than 25 patients in a one-year period.

North Dakota -- the medical marijuana initiative is not yet a done deal as we go to press. [Update: North Dakota officials announced Thursday that the measure has failed to make the ballot after several university student signature gatherers were caught faking signatures.] Proponents needed 13,500 valid signatures and handed in more than 20,000 on August 7. State officials had 30 days from then to validate signatures. Patients could possess up to 2 ½ ounces of usable marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in an enclosed space. Caregivers could grow for one or more patients, provided they grew no more than 30 plants. The state would regulate medical dispensaries and the marijuana cultivated for them.

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.

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.

Washington -- Voters in six cities -- Bellingham, Bremerton, Everett, Kent, Olympia, and Spokane -- will vote on initiatives to make marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority and prohibit local officials from cooperating with federal marijuana law enforcement activities.

The lineup of state and local initiatives has some drug reform movement spokespeople feeling pretty good.

"I think at least one state will make marijuana legal for adults this election cycle," said Marijuana Policy Project communications director Morgan Fox. "The fact that we're discussing so many initiatives is a sign of progress. As things progress and people get increasingly sick of marijuana prohibition, we will see more and more states considering this every election cycle, and it will become more of an issue for candidates," he added.

"Politicians are starting to realize they can use this to their advantage and ignore at their peril," said Fox. "Many of them, though, don't realize how much of an effect it can have on their elections -- just ask the former US Attorney in Oregon, Dwight Holton. He didn't think his stance against medical marijuana would cost him the primary, but it did."

"I sincerely hope that one of these passes and raises the debate to whole new level, and maybe takes some of the heat off of California," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "These are states when you can have a good campaign for a reasonable amount of money that the drug reform movement can put up. A million dollars or two doesn't get you very far in California."

But at least one of those legalization initiatives needs to win this year, he said. "If pot gets wiped out in the elections, it's going to be tougher to win down the road."

"The sheer number of initiatives that are on the ballot and viable this cycle shows the momentum that the movement toward legalizing marijuana has," said Tamar Todd, assistant director for national policy at the Drug Policy Alliance. "That momentum is also reflected in other ways -- in terms of the dialog we're hearing, the high support for legalization across the board, the rejection of the drug war polices of the past," she said.

"When you look in certain areas, such as the Northeast and the West, the numbers are even higher," Todd continued. "In 2010, we had a legalization initiative in California; this year we have them in three states, plus three or four medical marijuana initiatives. The number and their viability represent a real shift taking place in public opinion.  The end result, no matter what happens this election cycle, is that in two years and every two years, the number and viability will continue to increase until there is actually sufficient change happening at the state level to start pushing the federal government to change its policies."

The initiatives are on the ballot. Now, they need to win.

NAACP Regional Chapters Endorse CO, OR, WA Marijuana Initiatives

All three marijuana legalization initiatives on state ballots this year have won the endorsement of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) regional organizations this week. Last Wednesday, the Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming conference of the NAACP endorsed the Colorado initiative, and last Friday, the Alaska, Washington, and Oregon conference of the NAACP endorsed the Washington initiative. That same conference endorsed the Oregon initiative earlier this month.

The Colorado initiative, Amendment 64, has already won the support of a growing list of organizations, including the Democratic and Libertarian Parties of Colorado, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. Similarly, the Washington initiative, I-502, also has a growing list of endorsers, including the King County (Seattle) Bar Association, the Washington State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, the Green Party, the state Democratic Party, and numerous county and local Democratic Party groups. Likewise, the Oregon initiative, Measure 80, is busily picking up endorsements as well, including that of the Libertarian Party presidential ticket.

"In ending the prohibition against adult use of marijuana, we might affect mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on African-Americans and other people of color," said Rocky Mountain states regional NAACP president Rosemary Harris-Lytle.

"Treating marijuana use as a crime has not only failed, it has perpetuated racial inequities through unequal enforcement," said Pacific Northwest regional president Oscar Eason, Jr.  "African Americans are no more likely than whites to use marijuana, but we are much more likely to be arrested for it."

Every endorsement counts in what will be a nail-biter of a campaign in both states. According to recent polls, the Colorado and Washington initiatives are leading, but are only hovering around the 50% support level. It takes 50% plus one to win, and veteran initiative watchers say initiatives should be polling at least 60% as the campaigns head into the home stretch because some support is soft and likely to be peeled off by last minute opposition campaigning.

In Colorado, an early August Public Policy Polling survey of likely voters had Amendment 64 leading 49% to 40% and trending upward from an earlier PPP poll that had it leading 46% to 42%, but still not over 50%. In Washington, a July Public Policy Polling survey had I-502 leading 50% to 37% and trending upward over an earlier PPP poll that had it leading 47% to 39%, but still not over 50%. The battle looks to be a little tougher in Oregon, where a July Public Policy Polling survey asking a generic question about whether marijuana should be legalized had 43% saying yes and 46% saying no.

Look for in-depth reporting on these three marijuana legalization initiatives and their prospects after the Labor Day holiday.

Marijuana Legalization Breaks 60% in Colorado Poll

Amendment 64 billboard (regulatemarijuana.org)
In November, voters in Colorado will decide whether to approve Amendment 64, a state-wide ballot initiative to end marijuana prohibition and regulate marijuana like alcohol. A new Rasmussen poll released Monday suggests the initiative could be well on the way to victory.

In its June 6 survey of likely voters, Rasmussen found support for marijuana legalization at 61%. More strikingly, only 27% opposed legalization, with 12% undecided. Respondents were asked whether they supported "legalizing marijuana and regulating it in a way similar to the way alcohol and tobacco cigarettes are regulated today."

The conventional wisdom among initiative watchers is that initiatives need to be polling at 60% or above at the beginning of the campaign to have a chance of winning. Veteran observers note that opponents of an initiative are always able to peel away some support with negative campaigning late in the game.

But in Colorado, not only is support for pot legalization strong, it is trending upward. A December 2011 Public Policy Polling survey had support at 49%, with 40% saying it should remain illegal.

Marijuana legalization also had more support than either major party presidential candidate. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney garnered 45% support. How the politics of marijuana in Colorado will affect the presidential race there remains to be seen.

Rasmussen conducted phone interviews with 500 likely Colorado voters. The poll's margin of error is +/-4.5%.

CO
United States

Marking Mother's Day With Calls for Reform [FEATURE]

On this Mother's Day, more than 100,000 women are behind bars in American prisons, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and many of them are doing time for drug offenses. That's too many, said members of a new coalition, Moms United to End the War on Drugs, as they held events last week in the days running up to Mother's Day.

Gretchen Burns Bergman at the National Press Club (Moms United)
"The war on drugs is really a war on families," said Mom's United's Gretchen Burns Bergman. "It is time to end the stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs and move from arrest and mass incarceration to therapeutic, health-oriented strategies. Moms were the driving force in repealing alcohol prohibition and now moms will play a similar role in ending the war on drugs."

Bergman, from San Diego, is the mother of two sons who have struggled with substance abuse and incarceration and is a founder of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing). A New PATH has joined forces with other groups, including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), the NORML Women's Alliance, Families to Amend California's Three Strikes, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy to form Moms United to agitate for an end to the drug war and a turn toward sensible, evidence-based drug policies.

The week leading up to Mother's Day was a week of action under the rubric of Cops and Moms Working Together to End Prohibition. The week saw events and press conferences in Atlanta, Boston, New York City, and Washington, DC, in the East and Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland on the West Coast.

"Mother's Day was derived out of an intensely political effort to organize women on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line against the Civil War," said Sabrina Fendrick, coordinator for the NORML Women's Alliance. "The reason mothers were made the vehicle was because they were the ones whose children were dying in that war. Women were also largely responsible for ending alcohol prohibition. This is more than just a ‘greeting-card holiday,’ this is the beginning of an institutional change in our society. The government's war on drugs is unacceptable. For our children's sake, the concerned mothers of the world are being called on to demand the implementation of a rational, responsible, reality-based drug and marijuana policy."

Last Wednesday, at a San Diego press conference, the umbrella group unveiled the Moms United to End the War on Drugs Bill of Rights, a 12-point motherhood and drug reform manifesto which calls for "the right to nurture our offspring, and to advocate for their care and safety" and "the parental right to policies and practices that recognize addiction as a disease in need of treatment, rather than a willful behavior to be criminalized," as well as the right to have harm reduction and overdose prevention practices implemented, the right to be free from heavy-handed, constitution-threatening drug war policing, and the right to be free from drug war violence.

Moms United in Los Angeles (Moms United)
"If we stop arresting and incarcerating drug users, think of the number of children who would have the chance to look upon their parents as positive role models instead of having parents who are absent because they are incarcerated," the group said. "We have a moral and ethical obligation to give these children a better chance in life by allowing parents to take care of their families. These parents should have the opportunity to become the productive members of society and role models to their children that they want to be and that their children need and deserve."

The Bill of Rights has been endorsed by a number of religious, reform, and civil rights groups, and individuals can sign onto it, too. To sign on, go to the online petition.

"We are building a movement to stop the stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs or are addicted to drugs," the group said. "We urgently call for health-oriented strategies and widespread drug policy reform in order to stop the irresponsible waste of dollars and resources, and the devastating loss of lives and liberty."

It's not just Moms United who is using Mother's Day to strike a blow for drug reform. In Colorado, where Amendment 64 to legalize and regulate marijuana is on the ballot, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is running a television ad featuring a young woman writing an email to her mother in which she explains that she has found her marijuana use to be safer and healthier than the drinking she did in college.

The ad is aimed at a demographic that is both critical to and difficult for the campaign: women in their 30s and 40s, many of whom are mothers. The ad appeared Friday and again on Mother's Day.

"Our goal with the ad is to start a conversation -- and encourage others to start their own conversations -- about marijuana," Betty Aldworth, the advocacy director for the campaign.

And it's not just the United States, either. In mother-honoring Mexico, which marked Mother's Day on Thursday, hundreds of women and other family members traveled to Mexico City on the National March for Dignity to demand that the government locate their loved ones gone missing in the drug wars, according to the Frontera NorteSur news service.

"They took them alive, and alive we want them," the marchers chanted.

While the drug wars in Mexico have claimed at least 50,000 lives, including 49 people whose dismembered bodies were found on a highway outside Monterrey Sunday morning, thousands more have gone missing, either simply vanished or last seen in the hands of armed, uniformed men.

The Mexican government doesn't report on how many have gone missing in its campaign against the cartels, but the Inter-American Human Rights Commission counts more than 5,000 missing persons complaints filed with police -- and this in a country where many people so mistrust the police they don't bother to file official reports.

"For some it has been years, for others months or days, of walking alone, of clamoring in the desert of the hallways of indolent and irresponsible authorities, many of them directly responsible for disappearances or complicit with those who took our loved ones away," the mothers' group said.

On Mother's Day, many mothers in Mexico have "nothing to celebrate," said Norma Ledezma, cofounder of Justice for Our Daughters in Chihuahua City. "As families, we want to take this occasion to tell society not to forget that in Mexico there is home with a plate and a seat empty."

"We have walked alone in the middle of stares and stigmatizing commentaries, and we have been treated like lepers, marginalized and condemned to the worst pain a human being could live: not knowing the whereabouts of our sons and daughters," the new mother's movement declared. "But now we are not alone. We have found hundreds of mothers and we unite our clamor and our love to recover our loved ones and bring them home."

On Mother's Day, the agony of the drug war transcends borders. And the call from mothers for a more sane and human alternative continues to grow, from Chihuahua to Chicago and from Oaxaca to Washington.

Colorado Democrats Endorse Marijuana Legalization Initiative

Delegates at the Colorado Democratic Party state convention in Pueblo Saturday formally endorsed Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. Because support for the initiative was so strong at the convention, the endorsement becomes part of the party's "essential" platform.

The initiative had already won the support of Democrats in 15 counties, including eight of the 10 most populous. Those counties are Boulder, Delta, Denver, Douglas, Eagle, Elbert, El Paso, Garfield, Jefferson, La Plata, Larimer, Pitkin, Pueblo, Routt, and Weld.

"This is a mainstream issue," said Cindy Lowery-Graber, chair of the Denver Democratic Party. "Polls show that more than 60% of Democrats and a solid majority of independents believe marijuana should be treated like alcohol. A broad coalition is forming in support of Amendment 64 and I am proud to say that it now includes the Colorado Democratic Party."

It's not just Democrats and independents who are supporting the notion of marijuana regulation. Last month, the Denver County Republican Assembly approved a resolution calling for just that, although they did not explicitly endorse Amendment 64. That resolution got 56% of the vote.

"While there may be more support among Democrats and independents, this is quickly becoming a popular position," the campaign's Mason Tvert told Westword over the weekend. "Supporting an end to marijuana prohibition and regulating marijuana like alcohol is a position that spans the political and ideological spectrum."

Colorado is not the only state where marijuana legalization will be on the ballot in November. A similar measure has qualified in Washington state. Signature-gathering campaigns are ongoing in a number of other states, with Montana and Oregon appearing to have the best shot of making the ballot.

Denver, CO
United States

Billboard Goes Up for Colorado Marijuana Initiative

In the opening move of its election season effort to pass Amendment 64, a marijuana legalization and regulation initiative, the Colorado Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has put up a billboard in the heart of Denver featuring a nice, middle aged woman who says, "For many reasons, I prefer marijuana over alcohol" and asks "Does that make me a bad person?"

the first billboard in the Colorado campaign (CRMLA)
The billboard near Mile High Stadium sits above a liquor store. It went up last Thursday.

The initiative, which takes the form of a constitutional amendment, legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over. Adults would also be able to possess up to six plants -- three mature -- and the fruits of their harvest.

It also calls for the licensing of marijuana cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores. It would require the legislature to pass an excise tax on the wholesale sale of marijuana and that the first $40 million in tax revenues each year be dedicated to the state's public school capital construction assistance fund. It would give local governments the ability to regulate such facilities or prohibit them.

In the most recent polling on the issue, a December Public Policy Polling survey found that 49% supported the general notion of legalizing marijuana -- the poll did not ask specifically about Amendment 64 -- while 40% opposed it and 10% were undecided.

That shows that victory is within reach, but by no means assured. One of the key demographic groups needed to win is mothers and middle-aged women, like that nice lady on the billboard.

Colorado isn't the only state where marijuana legalization will be on the ballot. A similar effort in Washington has qualified for the ballot, while signature-gathering for initiatives continues in a number of states. Of those, efforts in Oregon and Montana now appear to have the best shot of actually qualifying for the ballot.

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