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Feature: Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Marijuana Initiatives Face the Voters in Five Cities

Inspired by successful local initiatives making marijuana the "lowest law enforcement priority" in Seattle and Oakland, activists in three California cities -- Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica -- are busy working to ensure that similar measures pass there in November. Similar measures are also on the ballot in Missoula, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/cannabisplants.jpg
"Lowest priority initiatives are relatively cost efficient and for the most part productive," said Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), some of whose local affiliates are involved in the Arkansas effort. "They are a way to tap into the sentiments of local voters, and we have certainly seen the success of similar initiatives, especially in Seattle, where their law has some teeth and has yielded a drastic reduction in local arrests. These are not necessarily just symbolic, and they put law enforcement priorities more in line with what the taxpayers prefer," he told the Chronicle.

Such initiatives typically include language like the following from the web site of Santa Monicans for Sensible Marijuana Policy, which notes that the initiative there "makes marijuana offenses, where cannabis is intended for adult personal use, the lowest police priority" and "it frees up police resources to focus on violent and serious crime, instead of arresting and jailing nonviolent cannabis users."

In at least one California community, however, the initiative language is a bit stronger. In Santa Cruz, in addition to making marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority, the initiative sponsored by Sensible Santa Cruz would "establish a city policy supporting changes in state and federal laws that call for taxation and regulation for adult use of marijuana."

The Missoula initiative is a bit weaker. While it contains the standard lowest law enforcement priority language and calls for the creation of an oversight committee, it only recommends -- not mandates -- such a prioritization.

The Eureka Springs initiative (not available on the web) would modify the town's city ordinances to read: "When any law enforcement officer suspects any adult of possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana and/or possession of marijuana paraphernalia, that person shall not be required to post bond, suffer arrest, suffer incarceration, suffer prosecution, be taken into custody for any purpose nor detained for any reason other than the issuance of a citation. There shall be a strong presumption that the proper disposition of any such case is to suspend the imposition of sentence and/or require community service work and/or drug counseling and education." The ballot language continues by pointing out that: "The message of this ordinance is that people should not use marijuana, but should also not lose opportunities for education and employment because of such use. The limited resources of law enforcement should be directed primarily toward crimes of violence or property loss. The enforcement of laws against marijuana shall be the lowest law enforcement priority."

With the November elections now just a matter of days away, Drug War Chronicle decided to check in win initiative organizers to see how things are shaping up. In California, long-time drug reform activist Mikki Norris, a veteran of the successful Measure Z lowest priority campaign in Oakland in 2004, a member of the California Cities Campaign and an advisor to local organizers this year, told the Chronicle the Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica initiatives were all in good shape, but that Santa Monica was shaping up as the most difficult challenge.

"We are getting more and more endorsements in all three cities and we've got the Democratic Party clubs in all three cities, and that's important," said Norris. "It's going to really depend on turnout on Election Day, and we still haven't seen what the opposition will do in terms of things like last-minutes mailers."

Santa Monica's changing demographics and complicated local political environment are posing a challenge to success there, said Norris. "Santa Monica has been changing in recent years, and there is now a complex politics there with the luxury hotel lobby very influential and police department that is well-regarded and strongly opposed to the initiative," she said. "Santa Monica is going to be the toughest to win," she predicted.

"We have the most contentious of the three campaigns," agreed Nickie LaRosa, who is heading up the campaign in Santa Monica. "Santa Monica is no longer super-progressive, and people are inclined to look to community leaders and the police for direction. While we have some community leaders with us, we don't have any local elected officials on our side, and the police association is against us," she told the Chronicle.

Still, LaRosa said she was "optimistic" about the initiative's chances. "We're working to do something that will have a very positive effect on the city, and we have a strong grassroots effort. We'll be doing direct mailings when it gets close to Election Day, but for many people, this issue isn't even on the radar yet. We've been laying low -- trying not to create a platform for the police to attack us. We're flying under the radar and trusting that the direct mail campaign will motivate voters who want to see a better city with fewer unsolved crimes."

Things are a bit more relaxed in Santa Cruz, where there is no organized opposition to the local initiative, said campaign coordinator Kate Horner. "We have the support of several council members and county supervisors, and we're doing quite well in terms of community support," she said. "We are very confident the voters will turn out and support this; I think it's just a question of by how much."

Victories in all three cities will send a strong message across the state, said Norris. "That will set us up in a position to go to the state legislature and say that cities across the state are voting to decriminalize and it's time to look at reducing penalties," she said. "Possession is still a misdemeanor here, and we could bring it down to an infraction. Victories in these cities should also encourage elected representatives from those areas to vote for marijuana law reform. It is time to try an alternative to current policy, and winning in November only strengthens our hand," she said.

Meanwhile, up in Montana, Missoula initiative organizers are gearing up for a final push to victory in the face of opposition from local law enforcement and youth substance abuse prevention groups. "We're dealing with the Reefer Madness mentality," said campaign spokesperson Angela Goodhope. "The cops and the substance abuse people make these outrageous claims that everybody is going to start smoking pot, but they don't have any evidence to back them up. We know that liberalizing drug laws in other places has not led to an increase in drug use."

Although initiative backers can easily rebut such claims, it is difficult to match the media access available to police, said Goodhope. "It's tough to combat them if the media just prints this stuff uncritically," she said. "They are also claiming -- falsely -- that if the initiative passes, they will lose federal funding."

But while there is organized opposition in Missoula, it is also the Montana county most likely to be friendly to a lowest priority initiative. Home to the University of Montana, the city has a reputation in the Big Sky state as a mecca of free-thinkers. According to Goodhope, activists across the state met last year after the successful statewide medical marijuana vote, analyzed the results, and found the strongest support in Missoula County.

But Goodhope is nervous as the days tick down. "I stay awake at night thinking about what we can do, what new tactic we can use, what it's going to take for us to win this," she said.

And down in Arkansas, activists affiliated with local NORML chapters have focused on the eccentric small town of Eureka Springs, another bastion of free-thinkers in a conservative state. "Eureka Springs is a special place," said Kelly Maddy of Joplin NORML just across the state line in Missouri. "We originally were aiming at Fayetteville, but when we saw we were coming up short, Eureka Springs was the natural fallback," he said.

Again, law enforcement is proving the biggest obstacle, with local police in Eureka Springs saying they will not enforce the local ordinance if it passes, but will continue to arrest people under state law. "They may not want to enforce the lowest priority law, but if it passes, it will be clear signal to police what the voters want," he said.

In about 10 days, we shall see how the political landscape has shifted and whether we will have five more communities that have essentially rejected marijuana prohibition.

13,000 Joints

That's what a South Dakota sheriff just told me you could get from one marijuana plant. Hmmm, if a joint is somewhere between one-half gram and one gram, that comes to somewhere between 6,500 and 13,000 grams, or 15 to 30 pounds. I would like to meet the grower who can produce such copious quantities. The indoor growers I know estimate they can get maybe one gram of usable marijuana per watt of light in a growing cycle. That means a person growing plants under a 1000 watt light will produce perhaps two pounds of smokable bud, but that typically comes from numerous plants under the light--and if the grower knows what he's doing and everything goes just right. I'm not sure where they're getting a 15 or 30 pounds from one plant. Maybe the sheriff know of some monster mutant strain indigenous to the Dakotas, but somehow I doubt it You can read more about this tomorrow in the story I'm preparing on the South Dakota medical marijuana initiative.
Localização: 
SD
United States

Bush Official Speaks Against Question 7--Pro-marijuana legalization protestors at panel discussion

Localização: 
Dayton, NV
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Nevada Appeal
URL: 
http://www.nevadaappeal.com/article/20061024/ELECTIONS/110240100&SearchID=73260941083789

Third-Party Candidacies vs. Voting for the Lesser Evil

Last week's < a href="" target=_blank_>feature article on the Zeese and Thornton campaigns (Zeese is running for US Senate in a tight race in Maryland and Thornton is running for governor of Connecticut—links in the article) included a discussion between Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance and Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation on the possible benefits and liabilities of third-party campaigns. That discussion provoked a lengthier (and continuing) exchange on a nomination-only list for leading drug policy reformers, and I think it should be a topic of serious discussion here among the unwashed masses as well. Both Thornton, running as a Green, and Zeese, running a "unity" campaign as the Green-Libertarian-Populist nominee, have clearly rejected the clarion call of the two-party system. From a pragmatic perspective, the fundamental question is whether working outside the two major parties will bring success on drug policy reform faster than attempting to bring either of the two major parties (most likely the Democrats, given the Republicans' social conservative base and penchant for the "war on" metaphor) around to a palatable position on the issue. For some reformers, defeating the Republicans is everything. What if Zeese pulls enough votes from the Democrat to throw the Maryland senate race to the Republicans and—nightmare scenario—the Republicans keep the Senate by one seat? There will be much howling and gnashing of teeth among Democratic loyalists, just as there was after the 2000 presidential elections, when much of the party faithful blamed Ralph Nader for costing Al Gore the White House. Zeese and Thornton and their supporters will undoubtedly—and fairly—respond that they are not beholden to the Democratic Party and are as entitled to seek peoples' votes as either the donkeys or the elephants. Besides, again echoing the post-2000 discussion, they will say, there's not that much difference between the two major parties. I guess that's a matter of perspective. If you look at the broad contours of drug policy, there is a broad, bipartisan consensus on the status quo. From that viewpoint, Democrats are no better than Republicans on drug policy. A particularly progressive congressional Democrat might work toward a kinder, gentler drug war, perhaps sponsoring a bill that reduces the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, for instance, but none are saying we need to do away with the peculiar institution of drug prohibition in its entirety. But coming in for a closer look, there are significant differences between the two parties when it comes to nibbling away at the edges of the drug war. The congressional votes on the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the use of federal funds to raid medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, and the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision both show Democrats much more likely to favor such reform at the margins. Is that difference enough to make independent or third-party campaigns that may weaken the Democrats a mistake? I'm not going to try to answer that question right now. Instead, I invite our readers to weigh in, and I hope that will include some of the people who have been discussing this already. Is Zeese a menace or a messiah? Is Thornton dashing after windmills or leading the way to a new politics? You tell us. (This blog post 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.)
Localização: 
United States

Alabama Candidate Campaigns on Cleavage (Loretta Nall)

Localização: 
AL
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1134AP_Candidates_Neckline.html

Pot issue's fate at polls hazy--As officials debate the merits and dangers of marijuana, a poll shows a third voters undecided last month as undecided on Amendment 44

Localização: 
CO
United States
Publication/Source: 
Denver Post
URL: 
http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_4533828

The Deputy Drug Czar Comes to South Dakota

Scott Burns, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota's largest city, on Friday. The only apparent reason for his presence was to try to defeat the medical marijuana initiative on the November 7 ballot. Burns showed up for a press conference with state and local law enforcement officials opposing the initiative.
"It's a step backwards in South Dakota and a step backwards nationally," said Burns. "Do not fall for the con." "The risk far outweighs the benefits," said Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead, who opposes the measure. "There's great concern about how easily this marijuana could fall into the wrong hands."
Burns went on to argue that marijuana was not a medicine, that legalizing medical marijuana would lead to an increase in teen drug use, and that it's just not a good idea, darn it! The press conference got play in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader and on the main Sioux Falls TV station, KELOland, but both media outlets made sure to include opposing voices. There hasn't been a lot of other coverage of the initiative, a mere handful of stories. The Argus-Leader editiorialized briefly and feebly—sorry, the link seems to have vanished—against the initiative, with its four-sentence editorial complaining that marijuana didn't come in pill form and that passing the initiative would pose problems for police. Both reasons given are lame. Yes, raw marijuana is plant material. It is not processed, standardized, subject to FDA scrutiny (for what that's worth). But that certainly does not stop patients from rapidly learning to titrate their dosage and to figure out which strains work for them. The law enforcement excuse is even sillier. The South Dakota initiative provides for a state registry of patients and caregivers. If a county sheriff believes he may have evidence of a marijuana grow, the only thing he would have to do is pick up the phone and call the Health Department. If the person is not on the registry, let the evidence be gathered and the search warrant be issued. Two weeks until election day. Will South Dakota voters be as compassionate as those in other states? We will soon see.
Localização: 
Sioux Falls, SD
United States

Pot Proposals vs. Drug Warriors

Localização: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Washington Times
URL: 
http://washingtontimes.com/commentary/20061021-104520-3660r.htm

Legalize Marijuana? Bookies Say It's Not a Safe Bet

Localização: 
CO
United States
Publication/Source: 
Aspen Times
URL: 
http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20061021/NEWS/110210053

If Use Doesn't Rise, We Must Legalize

Talkleft reports that the UK is experiencing a drop in marijuana use after reducing penalties for possession.

From The Observer:

The apparent trend is reinforced by British figures which show that the popularity of cannabis in the UK has plummeted, with 600,000 fewer people smoking or eating marijuana than three years ago.

It’s tempting to argue that reduced penalties have led to reduced consumption, but I wouldn’t go that far. The truth, as experts such as Peter Cohen have been saying for quite some time, is that drug policy just doesn’t have much effect on usage rates.

My guess is that a reduction in marijuana use in England would have happened with or without the change in policy. Of course, that being the case, it makes a lot more sense not to arrest people.

The real lesson here is that easing up on marijuana users doesn’t cause a spike in usage. It just doesn’t. This simple and increasingly obvious fact simultaneously refutes every argument against legalization.

So it’s no wonder our drug warriors are vigorously opposing any attempt to experiment with reduced marijuana penalties. If they actually believed that legalization in Colorado or Nevada would be a disaster, their best move would be to step aside and let us learn our lesson.

Localização: 
United States

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