The New York State Marijuana Reform Party (http://www.MarijuanaReform.org) has qualified for the November ballot. MRP is running candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, but its primary goal this year is to exceed 50,000 votes, which would give the party automatic ballot presence for the next four years. A similar effort in 1998 garnered only 25,000 votes for MRP gubernatorial candidate and party head Tom Leighton, but MRP spokesmen told DRCNet they think they can break the barrier this time around.
"We can poll less than 1% of all voters and still get the 50,000 votes we need to win a ballot line for the next four years," said an excited Thomas J. Hillgardner, MRP candidate for lieutenant governor. "All times for challenges to our petition have passed and the MRP awaits formal certification by the State Board of Elections later this month," said Hillgardner.
"We have a good chance to win a ballot line for the next four years," added Leighton. "I'm increasingly confident we can do it, given the dynamic we see coming together for us. One of the keys to our success is media coverage, and we have recently had the unexpected good fortune of getting coverage on rock radio stations around the state," he told DRCNet. "In two weeks this summer, we've had more radio exposure than we had during the entire campaign in '98. If people know we're on the ballot, we can get the votes."
The MRP will largely have to rely on free media coverage, interviews and the like because it is running a low-budget campaign. "We spent $4,000 getting on the ballot," said Leighton, "and we just received a single donation of about that amount, but that doesn't buy a lot of advertising," he said. "We will probably make two campaign swings around the state -- Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse -- and print up as much campaign literature as we can. We'll do some 15-second radio spots if we can raise some more funds," he said.
Drug reform funders are missing a golden opportunity, Leighton said. "New York doesn't have a ballot initiative process, so we see the MRP as a vehicle for bringing New York into the national drug reform movement. Having the MRP on the ballot gives New Yorkers a chance to cast that vote for medical marijuana or for repealing the Rockefeller laws," he said. "This is a tremendous tool for voter education at low cost, and it is all the more urgent in light of the collapse of negotiations on the Rockefeller laws."
But the MRP has gotten "zero support" from the drug reform movement, Leighton said, admitting to some level of frustration. "We have to get voters here organized to get any change," he argued. "The politicians listen to one thing, and that's votes. People are voting for drug reform across the country, and it's important to bring New York into it. It's a good investment."
MRP candidates are emphasizing three planks in the campaign, according to a party press release. Leighton and Hillgardner will call for the immediate rescheduling of marijuana to permit doctors to prescribe it, repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws, and lawful cultivation of hemp -- a moved aimed at upstate farmers. But the party also calls for decriminalization of cultivation and possession of marijuana for personal use, no pre-employment drug testing for pot and no loss of federal benefits for minor marijuana offenses.
And decrim is an important issue in New York City, where as far as police harassment of marijuana smokers is concerned, it's still Giuliani time. "NORML spent $300,000 for those ads directed at Mayor Bloomberg, but in his first six months the arrest rate remains the same as under Rudy," said Leighton. "At this rate, we'll have 43,000 marijuana arrests this year, 15% of all arrests in the city, the most frequently charged offense. For a small fraction of that $300,000 we can put the pot leaf on every New York ballot for at least the next four years."