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Status Report: Statewide Marijuana Legalization Initiatives [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #735)
Politics & Advocacy

As summer draws near, the election picture when it comes to statewide marijuana legalization initiatives is becoming a bit clearer. At the beginning of the year, activists in eight states undertook efforts to get initiatives on the ballot, but the field has been winnowed.

With polling this year starting to show majority support for legalization and regulation, 2012 could be the year that legalization actually wins, and voters in at least two states -- Colorado and Washington -- will have the chance to make that happen. Initiatives in those two states have already been approved for the ballot, and the election campaigns are underway.

Four separate and competing initiatives from a divided marijuana movement came up short in the past few weeks in California, while the Show Me Cannabis Regulation initiative in Missouri, long on heart but short on funds, gave up the ghost for this year earlier this month. Activists in both states are planning to return to the fray in 2014.

That leaves four states -- Michigan, Montana, Oregon and Nebraska -- where initiatives are still in the signature-gathering phase. Within a few weeks, we will know for sure whether any of them will make it to the ballot in November, but as of this week, Oregon appears best placed to join Colorado and Washington in the fall.

Here's how it's looking in the four states where initiatives are still trying to qualify for the ballot:


The Committee for a Safer Michigan is currently circulating petitions for its constitutional amendment to repeal marijuana prohibition. The committee has until July 9 to gather the 322,609 valid voter signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. So far, it has only handed in about 35,000, but organizers say many signature-bearing petitions are still out in the field.

"The number of signatures we have in hand is significantly lower than the real number," said Brandi Zink, campaign volunteer coordinator. "We have 2500 volunteers out there with petitions."

If each volunteer signature gatherer has only come up with 100 signatures so far, that would be another 250,000, putting the 306,000 valid signatures within reach.

The campaign will make a big push in the final weeks, but desperately needs money, Zink said.

"We've been reaching out to the political parties here," she said. "We have friends in the Democratic Party and Ron Paul supporters among the Republicans. We are going to be at every major festival and we're still recruiting volunteers, but we still need help and we still need donations.  Anyone who would like to give generously to our effort will be most appreciated. We certainly have the will and the boots on the ground. If we had money, we can get this on the ballot and win."

Zink called on drug reformers across the country to chip in.

"We're asking people in the reform movement to please contribute," she said. "If you're not in Michigan, this is how you can make a difference here. What we're doing in the Midwest can have an impact throughout the nation."


Montana First
, the same group of activists and supporters who last summer and fall organized the successful signature-gathering campaign to put the IR-124 medical marijuana initiative on the November 2012 ballot to undo the legislature's destruction of the state medical marijuana distribution network, is also working on a legalization initiative, Constitutional Initiative No.110 (CI-110).

It would add two sentences to the state constitution: "Adults have the right to responsibly purchase, consume, produce, and possess marijuana, subject to reasonable limitations, regulations, and taxation. Except for actions that endanger minors, children, or public safety, no criminal offense or penalty of this state shall apply to such activities."

To qualify for the ballot, campaigners need to gather some 45,000 valid voter signatures, and Montana law also requires that those signatures include 10% of voters in at least 40 of 100 of the state's electoral districts. They have until June 22, and they're less than halfway there, but still holding out hope.

"We're making a serious run, and we have one month left. We're behind on our goals, but we're accelerating rapidly, and that gives me some cause for optimism," said Montana First's John Masterson. "We have about 20,000 signatures so far and we're gearing up for primary day on June 5. If we do everything right on that day we could double what we have," he said.

"We've got a small army of signature-gatherers on the street, and we have some paid signature-gatherers, too," Masterson said. "People are coming out from under their rocks despite the federal raids, despite the radical acts of the legislature, despite their fears. They are saying they have to stand up and fight for the right of adults to use cannabis in responsible ways."


The Nebraska Prop 19 2012 Cannabis Initiative would amend the state constitution so that any law regarding the private, non-commercial cultivation and consumption of marijuana would be forbidden, with the legislature directed to enact regulations for commercial sales and cultivation. Any current laws violating the amendment, such as the current marijuana laws, are declared null and void and convictions for violations of them are set aside.


In addition to the web site above, the campaign has a Facebook petition page and has shown some signs of life, holding events in Lincoln and Omaha, but has otherwise been remarkably stealthy. While the initiative was filed by McCook attorney Frank Shoemaker, the signature-gathering campaign has reportedly been taken on by the Nebraska Cannabis Alliance.


We have no reliable reports of far the campaign has progressed, but it needs just under 50,000 signatures to make the November ballot and has until July to do so.


In Oregon, two separate initiatives appear poised to make the ballot with six weeks left to gather signatures. The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA) initiative, which would allow for the legal cultivation and sale of marijuana, needs 87,213 valid signatures to make the ballot. The Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative constitutional amendment, which would give adult Oregonians the constitutional right to possess marijuana, has to reach a higher threshold of 116,284.

Both measures have until July 6 to turn in signatures, but also face a Friday deadline for turning in enough signatures to qualify for early verification by the secretary of state's office. The early verification allows campaigns to know whether they have come up short because of invalid signatures and gives them six weeks to make up the difference. Both initiatives appear well-placed to do so.

"As of Sunday, we had 109,000 signatures in hand," said Paul Stanford, the primary force behind OCTA. "That's 127% of the total. Assuming an invalidation rate of 30% to 35%, we need to turn in 132,000 to 136,000. We're getting about 10,000 a week, and we have six and a half weeks left," he said.

Stanford has largely funded the OCTA campaign through his multi-state chain of medical marijuana clinics -- not dispensaries -- and said he had pumped $60,000 of his money into the campaign this month.

"We need 116,300 signatures turned in for early approval, and we currently have 132,000," said Robert Wolfe, proponent for OMPI. "We are going to make the ballot, no question about it. The secretary of state will disqualify some percentage, so we're aiming for 185,000 and we'll be collecting up until the deadline."

Both men said that in the event both measures made the ballot, they would complement -- not contradict -- each other.

"The OMPI is a constitutional amendment that requires that the state regulate cannabis, and our OCTA initiative would fulfill that regulatory requirement and save the legislature from contentious debate," said Stanford.

While Wolfe agreed that the two measures could complement each other, he also expressed concerns about mixed messaging.

"There is a difference in the messaging," he said. "We've been careful to frame this as an issue of social justice and wasted resources, while a lot of the OCTA supporters have a more strident marijuana lifestyle message. Those aren't the voters we're trying to attract. We can't win an election with hardcore cannabis supporters alone; we have to appeal to mainstream voters by talking about things they think are important."

Still, having two marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot is the kind of problem activists in other states wish they had.

What happened to California?

While the failure of the Missouri initiative to make the ballot was not a huge surprise -- it faced big obstacles in the south-central state -- the failure of an initiative to make the ballot in California was a surprise and a disappointment to many reformers, especially after the state came so close with Proposition 19 in 2010.

But the failure of Prop 19, along with the conflicts over medical marijuana, may have sealed the fate of initiative efforts in the Golden State this year, said long-time California scene-watcher and CANORML head Dale Gieringer.

"We just voted on this, and people didn't quite buy it," he said, referring to the Prop 19 defeat. "And the polling hadn't moved. We have a fair amount of chaos in our medical marijuana system, and as long as California voters don't have the confidence we can regulate medical marijuana well, I think they're reluctant to open the doors to further chaos with legalization."

The ongoing federal crackdown on medical marijuana wasn't helping, either, he added.

The failure in 2010 also scared off big money funders, said Gieringer, who estimated it would cost a million dollars just to make the ballot.

"There wasn't the money to do it. We tried in 2010, and it's hard to come back two elections in a row," he said. "Since the polls hadn't moved, the funders weren't terribly interested and thought they could get better bang for their buck in Colorado and Washington and maybe Oregon."

Although there were four separate initiatives, he said, "You add up all the funding for all the initiatives, and it's just not very much. Even if there had been only one initiative, it wouldn't have had a chance."

California led the way with medical marijuana in 1996 and with Proposition 19 in 2010, but if activists in Colorado, Washington, and maybe Oregon, Montana, Michigan, or Nebraska have their way, it will not be the first state to legalize marijuana.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


codger (not verified)

I have been a supporter of legalization in our state since the 70s I could not locate a petition to sign anywhere!  even my local dispensaries didnt have access to them before the county closed them. If we are ever going to get this to happen we have to have access to the petitions so we can get the initiatives on the ballot! Every time i saw people with petitions outside stores I would ask no one had any Marijuana petitions or had heard of anyone who did. I would have volinteered to help get them signed if I could have found one. I am extremely disapointed by the movement in this state. I dont hang with smokers im a medical patient for many years and try to stay up on whats going on If I cant find a petition how are less interested parties going to lend support to the movement? Its a Sad situation in the golden state. 

Thu, 05/24/2012 - 11:18am Permalink
llama lady (not verified)

You mention four states, and I fully expected to see Arkansas listed as one of those.  This is not the first time Arkansas has attempted to gather enough signatures to be on the November ballot.  Each time we have more and more citizens willing to stand up for the right to manage an important part of health care.  Arkansans for Compassionate Care are very hopeful that this will be the year we reach our goal.  Please don't forget that Arkansas has been a leader in the movement as well, and we should be listed as the fifth state poised to make medical marijuana available.

Thu, 05/24/2012 - 11:41am Permalink
Onyxwolf (not verified)

In reply to by llama lady (not verified)

The listed states are for recreational (or rather whatever way you want to, as it should be) use of cannabis, not medical. I do hope everything goes good in Arkansas as Cancer patients shouldn't have to fight their cancer alone. The relief of symptoms MMJ provides is unsurpassed by anything that Pharma can produce in a lab! That doesn't even touch on MMJ's anti-tumor properties (CANNABIS KILLS CANCER!!!)!

Thu, 05/24/2012 - 4:58pm Permalink

Does govt. exist by the will of the people?

When the govt. NO LONGER represents the will of the people -

the govt. is becomes "ultra vires" b/c it is destructive  consequently the govt. MUST be closed. 

THE STATE BAR UNION MEMBERS in their "private courts" (see D & B) use a "foreign language" aka "legalese" to bewilder, confuse disingenuous "Mentally Incompetent Fact Witnesses" & Jurors to convict innocent people which is contrary to the rule, the intent, the spirit & letter of the law.

THE UNITED STATES INC & THE STATE OF ______, are falsely imprisoning millions of people w/o subject, matter, jurisdiction or the authority of law b/c there WAS NO CRIME.



Everyone has the right to demand the "Real Party of Interest" to be present & to prosecute the case -

& since legal fictions have NO STANDING there is NO BUSINESS to discuss.

I am that, I am.

Kat Up to Peace Out!

Thu, 05/24/2012 - 12:27pm Permalink
brianbbbb (not verified)

Love it. And the federal government is running out of excuses. Also Albert Einstein said the meaning of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results and he was talking about prohibition. Abraham Lincoln also praised hemp cause he called it poor man clothes they are tougher the cotton and cheaper. Also I think that parents don't know enough about drugs to even talk about it with their kids and so it is just easier to tell them just don't do it cause it is illegal. Of course I am not talking about all parents just some. But remember when the older generation keep getting older the newer generation will take over.

Thu, 05/24/2012 - 4:10pm Permalink
insaneupsdriver (not verified)

Man in Canada this is almost common knowledge. (The right wing are not to quick to listen to facts here but are in the minority) Our PM Harper, had a study done in 03 when both company's came back saying that a single joint was less harmful then a can of cola, he destroyed what he could. but not before the company's released it to the press. lol. now he's making the same mistakes that the U.S. made with mandatory punishment of 5 years. god i hate the right winger's.

Mon, 05/28/2012 - 7:50pm Permalink
Matterofliberty (not verified)

I think it's important that since its a presidential election, that the Cannabis reform community drum this up as a states rights issue as loudly as possible. Romney is supposedly a champion of states rights. Let's hear where he stands on this(specifically as a states rights issue, we already know he is against legalization in a general sense). And also Obama needs Co, Wa,and Oregon to win this election, let's see him push harder against independent voters as well as his own base. Romney could steal the election just by comming off simply as a states rights champion, it only takes a couple of states to lose.
Thu, 05/24/2012 - 10:20pm Permalink
hud (not verified)

if we got legal medical marijuana there would be alot less crimes people would feel more free. it can help people thats in pain and for cancer i been told since i was a kid that marijuana slows down the process of cancer and my family didnt even let it in there house. it would even bring more jobs in ohio to become a care giver rates of crime would go down. i always thought that marijuana was a herb and alot of religions use herbs in there faith and belief. i also know you have freedom of religion

Sun, 10/28/2012 - 6:35pm Permalink

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