On the Ballot: Marijuana, Medical Marijuana, Sentencing Reform 10/29/04

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With national elections now just days away, it is time to review one last time the drug policy-related initiative measures that have managed to make it to the ballot in various states and localities. Organizers in a handful of states and cities have managed to overcome the hurdles facing grassroots efforts, and voters in those locales will have a chance to vote directly on aspects of the war on drugs.

Here are the races we will be watching:

Alaska -- Regulating Marijuana: Courts in Alaska ruled in 1975 that possession of up to four ounces of marijuana in one's own home was legal under the state constitution's privacy provisions. Although in 1990 voters approved an initiative recriminalizing home pot possession, the Alaska courts in recent rulings have upheld the original 1975 decision, making Alaska the most progressive state when it comes to marijuana policy. Now, with Ballot Measure 2, Alaska voters have the opportunity to make the state's marijuana law the most progressive in the world. The ballot measure would remove all criminal and civil penalties for any adult who grows, uses, or sells marijuana for any reason and direct state authorities to craft a regulated distribution system.

According to a recent missive from the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org), which is working closely with Alaska activists, the measure currently trails, with pollsters reporting 42% in favor, 50% opposed. But MPP sees victory as attainable, noting that support for the measure has been increasing while opposition is declining. (See http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/356/alaska.shtml for further background.)

California -- Sentencing Reform: A well-financed initiative to reform the Golden State's draconian "Three-Strikes" law (http://www.yes66.org and http://www.amend3strikes.org) appears poised for victory. Under three-strikes, persons who commit a third felony after having been convicted of two violent or "serious" felonies face sentences of 25-years-to-life and up. Though ostensibly aimed at violent criminals, three-strikes has also netted thousands of small-time crooks and drug users. Prop. 66 would limit it to violent felons.

While the Supreme Court ruled last year that sending someone to prison for 25 years for stealing golf clubs or video cassettes or possessing small quantities of drugs did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, according to recent polling, California voters are ready to overrule the justices. Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/359/strikes.shtml to read our most recent coverage.

Massachusetts -- Regulating Marijuana and Medical Marijuana: In the Bay State, the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (http://www.masscann.org) and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts (http://www.dpfma.org) are continuing the ongoing effort to show legislators that voters approve of marijuana decriminalization. Voters in two senate and five representative districts will have the opportunity to go on record as telling their representatives marijuana that possession should be a civil violation like a traffic ticket. In one senate district and three representative districts, voters will be able to signal to their representatives that they approve of medical marijuana.

This year's vote continues an effort that began in 2000, when voters approved changing marijuana policy one senate and three representative districts. In 2002, voters supported changing marijuana policy in all 19 representative districts where it was on the ballot. That is a perfect record so far.

Montana -- Medical Marijuana: The Montana Medical Marijuana Act (http://www.montanacares.org) would legalize the medical use of marijuana to relieve symptoms of certain diseases. Support for Initiative 148 is strong despite visits from top officials from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) arguing against the initiative. Two recent polls show the initiative winning with 59% and 62% of the vote. The Marijuana Policy Project is backing the effort. Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/358/mmppm.shtml for our latest coverage.

Oregon -- Medical Marijuana: In 1998, Oregon voters approved a medical marijuana initiative. Now, organizers are back with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act II (http://www.yeson33.org and http://www.voterpower.org), which would deepen and broaden the existing state medical marijuana law to create state-licensed dispensaries to distribute marijuana to qualified patients.

The measure has been opposed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Oregon district attorneys and the Oregon Medical Association. It has also drawn painful opposition from the poster child for the 1998 initiative, medical marijuana patient Stormy Ray, who worried loudly it would endanger the existing program and open the door for criminal operations. Despite a late infusion of advertising dollars from the Marijuana Policy Project, the initiative faces an uphill battle. A recent poll had it trailing 52% to 34%, with 14% undecided. See our most recent coverage at http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/358/omma2.shtml online.

In addition to the state-level initiatives, several cities will also deal with drug policy-related questions. In the college towns of Ann Arbor, MI, Berkeley, CA, and Columbia, MO, medical marijuana initiatives are on the ballot. In Columbia, the medical marijuana measure is accompanied by a second ballot measure that would make simple pot possession a city -- not a state -- offense, protecting students from the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/358/localinits.shtml). And in Oakland, a two-part initiative (http://www.yesonZ.org) gives voters the opportunity to direct city officials to make marijuana law enforcement the lowest priority and to establish a system of licensed, regulated marijuana sales in the city as soon as legally possible. While legal pot sales would have to await changes in state law and federal law, the lowest law enforcement priority provision could take immediate effect. Sponsored by a coalition of veteran activists under the banner of the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance, the measure polled heavy support early on and appears headed for success (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/325/oakland.shtml).

Alright, people, let's get to the polls.

-- END --
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Issue #360, 10/29/04 On the Ballot: Marijuana, Medical Marijuana, Sentencing Reform | Marijuana Arrests at All-Time High, Far Exceed Violent Crime Arrests | Latin American Anti-Prohibitionist Umbrella Organization Forms, Eyes UN 2008 Vienna Meeting | African American Professional Groups Move Into Drug Reform Arena | Newsbrief: Former Interpol Chief Calls Prohibition "Obsolete and Dangerous" | Newsbrief: Prohibitionist Bush Supporters "Expose and Oppose" Soros | Newsbrief: New Jersey Governor Bypasses Legislature, Okays Needle Exchange Programs By Executive Order | Newsbrief: Nader Calls on Bush to Grant Clemency to Drug War Prisoners | Newsbrief: Baltimore Cops Offer Minor Drug Suspects Freedom for Guns | Newsbrief: US-Canada Joint Border Drug Threat Assessment Says BC Bud Only Two Percent of US Marijuana Imports | Newsbrief: Fiji Islands in Grip of Reefer Madness | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | This Week in History | The DARE Generation Returns to DC: Students for Sensible Drug Policy 2004 National Conference Next Month | Apply Now to Intern at DRCNet! | Administrative Assistant: Part-Time Job Opportunity at DRCNet | The Reformer's Calendar
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