For the national media, the
big story coming out of California's Tuesday primary elections was the
stunning defeat of Richard Riordan, the Bush administration's choice to
face incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in November general elections,
by conservative Republican newcomer Bill Simon. While California
marijuana advocates hailed Riordan's loss -- he had told reporters when
asked about medical marijuana that he supported the federal law -- the
real story for drug reformers lies in the results of some local races.
For years, drug reformers have talked about making politicians "pay a price"
for supporting the drug war. Now it appears to be beginning to happen,
at least in Northern California.
According to a list made
available to DRCNet by California NORML director Dale Gieringer, "medical
marijuana supporters scored significant victories in several key races."
Gieringer highlighted the following:
"Now we have friendly DAs for
the entire Emerald Coast, from Sonoma to Humboldt," said Gieringer.
"That's a first. And we got Sheriff Lewis up in Humboldt, he's been
a real bete noire of the medical marijuana movement," he told DRCNet.
"Lewis has been a pain for a long time and while the defeated DA, Terry
Farmer, was slightly more reasonable, between him and the narcs, it was
pretty repressive up there. The new sheriff is an unknown quantity,
but anything is an improvement over Lewis."
San Francisco Supervisor Mark
Leno, author of the city's medical marijuana sanctuary resolution, won
out over Harry Britt for the Democratic nomination for the 13th District
Assembly seat. Britt actually ran to the left of Leno in the famously
left-leaning city, said Gieringer, but never emphasized marijuana issues,
while Leno did.
A double whammy for heavy-handed
law enforcement in Humboldt County: Sheriff Dennis Lewis, an avowed
foe of marijuana most notorious for running to the federal courts when
ordered to return confiscated medical marijuana in the state courts, was
defeated by challenger Gary Philp, while District Attorney Terry Farmer,
a 20-year veteran of the post, was upset by attorney Paul Gallegos, who
appealed to medical marijuana supporters during the campaign.
Sonoma County District Attorney
Mike Mullins, a follower of a cautious, law enforcement-oriented line lost
to challenger Steve Passalaqua. Although praised by activists last
year for working with them to set reasonable medical marijuana possession
limits, Mullins had earlier drawn their scorn with the failed prosecution
of medical marijuana growers and been mentioned as part of a wave of possible
recall actions against recalcitrant state officials.
Butte County Sheriff Scott Mackenzie,
known as a marijuana hardliner who bragged about his record pot seizures,
was defeated by Perry Reniff. During the campaign, Reniff criticized
Mackenzie for his enforcement priorities, arguing that methamphetamine
was a much graver menace.
In Mendocino County, Libertarian
District Attorney Norm Roman won a majority in a three-way race, thus freeing
him from the necessity of running in the November general election.
Gieringer is not ready for
the medical marijuana movement to take credit for the defeats, though,
but says the movement can take partial credit at best. A perusal
of press accounts of some of the campaigns shows that drug policy was not
a driving force in the races, and Gieringer agreed. "Medical marijuana
and drug enforcement were not defining issues in any of these campaigns,"
he said, "but they did influence certain voters."
The medical marijuana issue
certainly influenced voters in Humboldt County, said Marie Mills of the
Civil Liberties Monitoring Project (http://www.civilliberties.org),
a grassroots nonprofit set up to confront police injustices whose origins
lie in complaints from citizens about helicopter harassment from the annual
Campaign Against Marijuana Production, the harvest-time mass raids by Northern
California law enforcement. "It had a big part in the change," she
told DRCNet. "The DA and the sheriff were refusing to enforce the
medical marijuana laws, and not only did that influence the election, in
southern Humboldt it brought out more people to vote."
Sheriff Lewis generated popular
resentment with his stand on marijuana, said Mills. "This is the
guy who turned in Dr. Tod Mikuriya to the medical board. This is
the guy who said he didn't want doctors coming to the area to recommend
medical marijuana. This is the guy who ran to the DEA when the judge
told him he had to give back somebody's medicine," said Mills. "This
is the guy who just got voted out of office."
"There has long been a feeling
that law enforcement up north has not been as liberal as the people who
live there," said Gieringer.
That situation is changing
and medical marijuana and drug law enforcement in general is now helping
to generate that change. Being "tough on drugs" has long seemed like
a winner for vote-hungry politicians, but these results from California
suggest that the drug war no longer is a sure bet and that, yes, drug warriors
can be brought down for their misdeeds. To what degree repressive
positions on drug policy contributed to defeats for the candidates mentioned
here is difficult to determine and probably relatively small, but the electoral
power of the drug reform movement is beginning to bite.
-- END --
Issue #227, 3/8/02
Editorial: History's Dustbin | Swarthmore to Replace Student Aid Lost to HEA Anti-Drug Provision | Alert: Tell Congress to Repeal the HEA Drug Provision in Full | Breaking: Ninth Circuit Court Blocks DEA Hemp Rule | US Drug Warriors Waging Backroom Campaign to Put Their Man Serrano in UN Drug Czar Post | Drug Reform Groups and Paid Advertising: What Are They Getting for Their Money? | Marijuana Foes Fall in California Elections | Hawaii "Treatment Not Jail" Bill Stalled as Key Legislator Unveils Plan for Popular Referendum on Issue | Scotland Ends Drug War, Sort Of | ENCOD Letter to UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Annual Meeting | Alerts: HEA, Bolivia, DEA Hemp Ban, SuperBowl Ad, Ecstasy Legislation, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, Virginia | The Reformer's Calendar
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