Marijuana Legalization

RSS Feed for this category

Expect Federal Fast Talking About CO and WA to Start Soon

Every drug reformer got to go to Denver except Dave Borden :) (SSDP leaders celebrate victory -- photo by Troy Dayton)
Not a day has passed since legalization initiatives passed in two states, and ominous words have already been spoken. According to CBS, "[d]rug laws remain unchanged following passage of marijuana ballot initiatives":

"The department's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. We are reviewing the ballot initiatives and have no additional comment at this time."
 

I haven't seen the statement on the DOJ web site yet. Perhaps it's only been sent to media outlets. Colorado's governor, meanwhile, hopes to talk to US Attorney General Eric Holder as soon as this week, according to the Denver Post.

Gov. Hickenlooper and CO Atty. General John Suthers both have said they intend to respect the will of the voters. But if the feds tell them that Colorado can't do this, that would be a convenient answer for these officials who probably don't want the trouble, especially when a little time has gone by and the spotlight on them over the amendment is a little less intense. So far DOJ's statements as well as Hickenlooper's sound accurate to me, to the extent that I've studied them. But it's important to be prepared to communicate a factual understanding of how the law works, in the event that federal or even state officials attempt to obfuscate.

As a CNN legal analyst this morning commented (email or post if you know his name), federal law toward marijuana, and state law in Colorado and Washington (as well as all medical marijuana states) are different. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they "conflict." Specifically, it doesn't mean that they have a "positive conflict." If the state itself were to sell or traffic in marijuana, that would be a "positive conflict" with federal law. But Colorado and Washington have no obligation to enforce federal drug laws. The legal question as far as federal preemption is whether they can issue licenses to marijuana sellers that protect the sellers under state law.

My understanding of the law as well as that of colleagues I've spoken with is that this is not a positive conflict, as it does nothing to prevent the feds from making a drug bust if they choose to do so. It may well get tested in court. But it's worth noting that in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws, no federal prosecutor in the country has ever tried to preempt state medical marijuana laws -- they've busted dispensaries, but they have not tested the laws themselves in court. The same law is at stake with these legalization initiatives, with the difference being the scope of what they legalize and regulate.

My guess is that DOJ will face greater pressure to try to lawfully preempt one of these laws (as opposed to squashing them by force) than they have felt with state medical marijuana laws, even if they are doubtful of their chances for success. But time will tell. For us, the thing to remember -- and to point out whenever it comes up -- is that federal law and state law are "different" -- they conflict politically, but that doesn't mean they conflict legally. The feds don't have a lot of incentive to acknowledge this, and as the statement shows, they can can be factual but still leave out that important point.

More Drug-Related Election Results, Good and Bad [FEATURE]

We've covered the two-out-three victories for the statewide marijuana legalization initiatives and we've covered the medical marijuana initiative victory in Massachusetts, but there was more going on as well. Here's the rundown on other drug policy-related issues that were on the ballot Tuesday. The results were definitely a mixed bag.

California Three-Strikes Sentencing Reform Passes

California's Proposition 36 won easily, pulling 68.6% of the vote, according to semi-official results. (Final official results are due by December 7.) It will reform the state's three strikes law, which allows a life sentence for a third felony conviction and has resulted in people getting life sentences for drug possession, theft of a pizza, and similar trivial offenses.

The measure will allow life sentences only if the new felony conviction is "serious or violent," authorize re-sentencing for lifers if their third conviction is not "serious or violent" and if a judge determines their release would not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety, allow life sentences if the third conviction was for "certain non-serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses or involved firearm possession," and keep the life sentence for felons whose previous convictions were for rape, murder, or child molestation. Now, some 3,000 three strikes lifers could seek reductions.

Medical Marijuana -- Two Statewide Initiatives Lose

While Massachusetts voters made the Bay State the 18th medical marijuana state Tuesday, things didn't go as well in Arkansas and Montana.

Passage of Arkansas' Issue 5, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, would have made it the first state in the south to embrace medical marijuana, but while it came achingly close, it was not to be. According to official figures with 64 out of 75 counties reporting Wednesday morning, Issue 5 was losing, 48.5% to 51.5%.

In Montana, medical marijuana advocates hoped to overturn the conservative legislature's gutting of the state's medical marijuana law with Initiative Referendum 124, which required voters to vote "yes" to endorse the legislature's changes. But according to official figures with about eight out of 10 precincts reporting Wednesday morning, the initiative won -- and medical marijuana lost -- by a margin of 56.5% to 43.5%.

Detroit Legalizes! And Other Michigan Local Initiatives Win

Michigan local initiatives ran the full spectrum of marijuana reform issues, with limited legalization on the ballot in Detroit and Flint, decriminalization on the ballot in Grand Rapids, making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority on the ballot in Ypsilanti, and medical marijuana dispensary regulation on the ballot in Kalamazoo. They all won.

Detroit's Measure M, which legalizes the possession of up to an ounce on private property, won with 65% of the vote with 100% of precincts reporting, while the Flint measure was winning with 60% of the vote. Decriminalization in Grand Rapids also pulled 60%, while Kalamazoo embraced up to three dispensaries by a ratio of two-to-one, and Ypsilanti's lowest priority initiative won with a whopping 74%.

Massachusetts Local Questions Continue Perfect Record

For more than a decade, Massachusetts activists have used the tactic of the non-binding public policy question in legislative districts to demonstrate support for marijuana law reform. The questions have ranged from medical marijuana to decriminalization to legalization, and none have ever lost. This year, in districts representing one-fifth of the electorate, all the questions were about legalization, and again, they all won.

"Shall the State Senator/Representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow the state to regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol?" -- won with 69% in the 2nd Middlesex Senate District, 71% in the Middlesex and Suffolk Senate District, and 72% in the 2nd Berkshire State Representative District.

"Shall the state Senator/Representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of a resolution calling upon Congress to repeal the federal prohibition of marijuana so that states may regulate it as they choose?" -- won with 54% in the 22nd Middlesex State Representative District, 65% in the Essex and Middlesex Senate District, and 66% in 8th Essex State Representative District.

California -- San Diego County Towns Block Dispensary Regulation

[Editor's Note: We originally got these San Diego results backward, reporting that the initiatives had won.They didn't.]

According to semi-official San Diego county results, grass roots initiatives to permit and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries were voted down. Opponents won with 56% of the vote in Del Mar, 60% in Imperial Beach and Lemon Grove, 62% in, and 63% in Solana Beach.

Colorado -- Larimer County Dispensary Battles

Last year, Fort Collins residents voted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, prompting advocates to put the issue back on the ballot this year. According to official Larimer County results, dispensaries will be back, winning 55% to 45%.

It was a different story in the town of Berthoud, where official results had the dispensary ordinance losing, 43% to 57%.

Of course, given the victory of Amendment 64, this could all be moot now.

Colorado, Washington Legalize Marijuana! [FEATURE]

Colorado voters made history Tuesday night, passing a constitutional amendment to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana and becoming the first state in the US to break with marijuana prohibition. Hours later, voters in Washington state followed suit, passing a legalization initiative there, but a similar effort in Oregon came up short.

Brian Vicente, Rob Kampia, and Steve Fox listen to Mason Tvert in Denver as Amendment 64 passes.
Even though marijuana legalization didn't achieve a trifecta, two states have now decisively rejected marijuana prohibition, sending an electrifying message to the rest of the country and the world. Tuesday's election also saw a medical marijuana initiative pass in Massachusetts, a sentencing reform initiative pass in California, and a limited legalization initiative pass in Detroit. Medical marijuana initiatives failed in Arkansas and Montana. [Editor's Note: Look for Chronicle news briefs soon on the election results we have yet to publish stories on.]

"The victories in Colorado and Washington are of historic significance not just for Americans but for all countries debating the future of marijuana prohibition in their own countries," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is now a mainstream issue, with citizens more or less divided on the issue but increasingly inclined to favor responsible regulation of marijuana over costly and ineffective prohibitionist policies."

According to the Colorado secretary of state's office, Amendment 64 was leading comfortably with 55% of the vote, compared to 45% voting "no." But an early lead was enough for Amendment 64 supporters and foes alike to call the victory. Rising excitement at Casselman's, the downtown Denver bar where campaign supporters gathered, turned to gleeful pandemonium as Colorado media began calling the result little more than two hours after the polls closed.

"Colorado voters have decided to take a more sensible approach to how we deal with marijuana in this state," said Mason Tvert, director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which had brought together state marijuana reform groups such as SAFER and Sensible Colorado with national reform organizations such as the Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Action, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition in a well-organized and well-funded winning campaign.

"Today, the people of Colorado have rejected the failed policy of marijuana prohibition," said Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente. "Thanks to their votes, we will now reap the benefits of regulation. We will create new jobs, generation million of dollars in tax revenue, and allow law enforcement to focus on serious crimes. It would certainly be a travesty if the Obama administration used its power to impose marijuana prohibition upon a state whose people have declared, through the democratic process, that they want it to end."

"I'm so happy we not only did this, we did it right," said MPP's Steve Fox, who had worked closely with Tvert, Vicente, and Yes on 64 spokesperson Betty Aldworth to bring the effort to fruition. "Now, it is legal in the state constitution to possess and grow marijuana. It can't be repealed on a whim; it is permanent. Thirty days from now, any veteran -- any person -- in this state can use marijuana."

"Colorado is the starting point, the tipping point, but it's not the end point," vowed MPP executive director Rob Kampia, who promised to take the effort to more states in the future.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), a staunch opponent of Amendment 64, conceded its victory as well Tuesday night. "The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," he said in a statement. "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or goldfish too quickly."

According to the Washington secretary of state's office , as of 9:28pm Pacific time Tuesday, Initiative 502 was holding a comfortable lead of 55% to 45%. Sponsored by New Approach Washington, the initiative had excited opposition among segments of the pot-smoker and medical marijuana communities, but created a carefully crafted and financially well-backed campaign featuring a series of establishment endorsers.

Betty Aldsworth thanks the voters of Colorado.
I-502 legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over, but does not allow for personal cultivation, except by or for medical marijuana patients. It will license marijuana cultivation and retail and wholesale sales, with restrictions on advertising. Regulation will be the remit of the state liquor control board, which will have to come up with rules by December 2013. The measure creates a 25% excise tax on marijuana sales, with 40% of revenues dedicated to the general fund and 60% dedicated to substance abuse prevention, research, and healthcare. It also creates a per se driving under the influence standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

By contrast, Colorado's Amendment 64 allows adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or six marijuana plants, three of which can be mature. It will create a system of state-licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities and state-licensed retail stores. Local governments would have the option of regulating or prohibiting such facilities. The amendment also requires the state legislature to enact legislation governing industrial hemp cultivation, processing, and sale, and to create an excise tax on wholesale marijuana sales. The first $40 million of that annual revenue will be dedicated to building public schools.

"Marijuana policy reform remains an issue where the people lead and the politicians follow, but Washington state shows that many politicians are beginning to catch up," said Nadelmann, noting that the Obama administration had failed to denounce the initiatives. "That bodes well, both states' prospects of implementing their new laws without undue federal interference."

In Oregon, Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), didn't fare so well. As of 11:30pm Pacific time, it was losing 45% to 55%, with 69% of the vote counted.

It came late to the ballot compared to the efforts in Colorado and Washington, could not demonstrate majority support in polls, and, as a result, did not manage to attract substantial funding from outside donors, sealing its fate.

But despite the loss in Oregon, when it comes to passing groundbreaking marijuana legalization initiatives in the United States, two out of three ain't bad.

Colorado Is Ahead So Far...

As of 8:12pm mountain time, the Colorado secretary of state site shows Amendment 64 leading 671,027 to 610,202, over 52% in favor. The site says that Colorado has 3,647.082 registered voters, with 31.41% of them having had votes counted so far. Assuming Colorado doesn't get 100% voter turnout, does this mean half the vote counted so far? Very promising.

Update (8:24pm mountain time): MPP says exit polling is at 57%.

The Latest Polling on the Marijuana Legalization Initiatives

Today is the big day! Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in Washington, Oregon and Colorado. Medical marijuana is getting votes in Massachusetts, Arkansas and Montana. And California is voting on a much-needed reform to the states draconian "three strikes you're out" law -- not solely drug policy reform, but includes drug offenses within it. There are also some measures on local ballots. See Phil's report last week for an overview.

Phil and I will be posting late into the night tonight on all of the initiatives as well as candidate races of interest, here on the Speakeasy and in Drug War Chronicle. Phil is a few hours out from Denver, and so his reporting will be done live from where the Colorado action is. Check all of it out here at StoptheDrugWar.org.

In the meanwhile, what does the latest polling say? In Washington, polls conducted last month through early this month show I-502 leading by margins ranging from 4 to 19 points, with support ranging from 47 to 56 percent in favor and 36 to 44 percent opposed.

Polls in Colorado taken during the same timeframe show Amendment 64 in the lead with margins ranging from 10 points on the upper end down to just one end on the lower. Support ranges from 46 to 53 percent and opposition ranging from 40 to 45 percent.

According to the Denver Post (via Jacob Sullum), half of people who have already voted in say they voted yes on Amendment 64, but more than half of those planning to vote today plan to vote yes:

"Passage would be driven largely by the support of younger voters, who sometimes are less reliable, turnout-wise, than are older voters," the polling firm SurveyUSA, which conducted the survey for The Post, wrote in a memo explaining the results. "Older voters oppose Amendment 64, and if the amendment should go down to defeat, it will be because younger Coloradans talked the talk but did not walk the voting-booth walk."
 

No pressure or anything, young voters, says SSDP's Aaron Houston.

Only three polls have tested Oregon's Measure 80, one in late September and two in October. Support and opposition have both risen (not surprisingly, as undecided voters make up their minds), and the last one has the measure losing 49-42. Oregon reformers should still turn out to the polls, though -- margin matters, even in a defeat -- plus a poll is only a prediction -- the only poll that counts is the big one happening taken today.

See you online tonight!

Phil Smith Debates Kevin Sabet on "The Fix" Today

Our own Drug War Chronicle editor Phillip Smith debates former ONDCP senior adviser Kevin Sabet on the addiction and recovery web site The Fix today:

Should Marijuana Be Legal?
Tomorrow, three states will vote on the most profound change in US drug laws since the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933. The Fix offers two powerful opposing views on whether legalizing weed is the right thing to do.
 

By the way, Phil is on the way to Denver right now, where he will be reporting live on Amendment 64. He will then be attending the National Marijuana Business Conference, also in Denver.

I-502: Too Important to Lose (Steve D'Angelo, Harborside Health Center)

The founder of the flagship medical marijuana center, Harborside Health Center in Oakland, speaks out about how important it is to pass I-502 and how damaging a "no" vote on it could be for people's lives.

If You Care About Medical Marijuana Patients (Among Others), Support I-502

Readers of StoptheDrugWar.org know that we've supported Initiative 502, a ballot measure to legalize and regulate marijuana in Washington State. I-502 has seen the strongest polling among the three legalization measures on state ballots this year, and has attracted significant mainstream support -- its chances of passing this Tuesday are good. The measure has also been the subject of controversy within the movement, particularly over a "per se" DUI provision some advocates believe will unfairly snare some users including patients. If you've followed our coverage of I-502 in Drug War Chronicle, including two of our recent features (here and here), you're familiar with all of this.

Today StoptheDrugWar.org formally endorses Initiative 502. In this post I explain why we believe the measure helps, not harms, most medical marijuana patients, and defeating it would therefore harm patients; why I believe other attacks leveled against the measure to be misguided, despite some legitimate concerns; and why we at StoptheDrugWar.org consider passage of I-502 to be critically important.

The reality facing Washington's patients today is that they may soon lose safe access to marijuana. The federal government is conducting a sustained attacked on the medical marijuana supply system in states across the nation, including Washington's, and local opponents have also stepped up their efforts. Legislation that would have authorized dispensaries, which could have provided some political cover for providers in Washington, was vetoed by the governor. Just this August the DEA sent 23 threat letters to dispensaries in Washington, only the latest of many moves against the industry. And there is no indication that DOJ under Obama or Romney will let up after the election, hope for that as we might. Washington a few years from now may have no medical marijuana supply system at all, if something doesn't change to shift the balance in our favor.

In Washington, the medical marijuana system is already a smaller one than available in some other medical marijuana states, despite courageous efforts by its leaders. Fewer patients qualify for legal protections under the list of conditions authorized under state law; it's likely that a smaller proportion of the state's residents live within easy geographic proximity to a dispensary as well. A 2011 report by See Change Strategy, prepared before the escalated federal and local crackdowns, found 11,000 dispensary customers in Washington, compared with 500,000 in California -- fewer than 1/8 as many, adjusted for the states' populations. Compared with Colorado, Washington's system -- again, before the crackdown -- served fewer than 1/14 as many people, adjusted for population.

But even those numbers understate the true depth of harm done to patients by the current system. All of us know people who suffer from conditions that could well be treatable using marijuana, but who may never find that out -- because they won't try it while it's illegal, or because their physicians aren't comfortable recommending marijuana without being able to guarantee the quality of the supply. Along with the current patients whose current safe access to marijuana may be slipping away, this other, possibly much larger group of potential patients, are also being badly harmed by the current situation -- by prohibition.

In the face of the federal onslaught, we believe a victory is needed at the ballot in order to shift the political dynamics in our favor. While some have suggested this could be accomplished in 2014, with a different initiative, that seems poorly thought out. Along with that meaning two more years and all that can happen in that time, 2014 is an off year election. That means that election turnout demographics will work against any such initiative, because off years favor the conservative voting base that leans against marijuana reform, over the liberal base that leans toward it. Funders witnessing a loss this year by a carefully regulated initiative, will in turn be unlikely to bet on a more loosely written one passing the next time. Progress of this scale -- enactment by a state's voters of actual legalization, not just medical marijuana or decriminalization, a historic first -- will probably be out of reach again until 2016. Public support for legalization in principle continues to grow and is now around 50% nationally. But while we believe support for legalization is likely to continue to grow, we don't know that it will and we can't take that for granted, especially if we don't win something. Legalization needs a victory this year.

We also believe that more people than just the currently recognized patients need the protections that legalization of possession -- and of legal sales, if I-502's state-licensed stores survive the likely federal opposition -- will provide for them. Washington had between 12,000 and 15,000 arrests per year between 2006 and 2010 -- 240,000 total marijuana arrests from 1986 to 2010. Those include minors who will still face age limit laws under I-502. But half or more of these arrests would clearly stop under the new law. A marijuana arrest is a big deal; in Washington it includes a fine and mandatory jail time in most cases. Defendants spend money on legal fees; they face restricted access to housing and college aid; they become disadvantaged in the job market.

I-502 won't undo all of this harm, but it will undo a lot of it. The characterizations opponents have made of the initiative as providing only "limited" or "modest" benefit are bogus. Even more strained is the claim some opponents have made that I-502 is not even legalization. But I-502 legalizes possession and sale of marijuana, albeit within a particular framework -- of course it's legalization. Some forms of legalization do more of what we want than other forms. Advocates make compromises, if they are effective, because they understand that that is what's needed to change things.

A final argument opponents have made is that I-502 is not legalization because federal law will preempt the state licensing system and could endanger other parts of the law. But while preemption is a risk, it's not a given -- no federal prosecutor has even tried to legally preempt a state's medical marijuana law, for example, in 16 years of them. And the same line of reasoning would say that any legalization bill passed by a state would really not be legalization, because federal prohibition is still in place. Which of course makes no sense -- and which would mean that initiatives some critics of I-502 have attempted to place on the ballot were not legalization either. Obviously our goal is to change both federal and state law.

It's possible we might have reached a different conclusion about I-502, if we were persuaded that DUI busts because of I-502 could happen commonly. But the critics have ignored key facts about the issue in order to make that case. The provision excludes the inactive but long-lingering marijuana metabolite, THC-COOH, from the reach of the law, counting only the shorter acting THC metabolite. It leaves in place the "probable cause" requirement on police of impairment being demonstrated before they can lawfully stop a driver and order a drug test. Police still need to spend time and money taking a driver to the station for a full drug test -- they can't just write a ticket and drop the drugs off for testing later.

Perhaps for these reasons, the 13 states that already have similar provisions have not seen perceptible increases in DUI busts. Yet movement opponents of I-502 scarcely acknowledge any of these points; a recent editorial by Sensible Washington treasurer Anthony Martinelli is a good example. Leaving them out skews the issue very badly. Conversely, however, one should admit that some marijuana users in Washington may get stuck with a DUI charge that they don't deserve -- and if you're one of those few people, it won't necessarily help you that there are only a few. There is a legitimate issue at stake with the DUI provision and it's a legitimate discussion to have. But it's a very different scenario than the doomsayers have presented.

It has been charged that movement opposition to I-502 is driven by the financial motivations of people profiting from medical marijuana under the current system. But while this is doubtless one thing that is going on, some of the critics of I-502 are respected advocates, including personal friends, who have never had a financial motivation for their activism. With all due respect to them, we believe they have badly misjudged the I-502 question, in at least the following ways: They have misidentified the primary threats facing medical marijuana patients. They have dramatically overestimated the realistic impact of the DUI provision -- ignoring relevant facts in order to do so. And they have underplayed the scope and significance that passage of I-502 will have, both legally and politically.

StoptheDrugWar.org endorses Initiative 502, a major step forward for the legalization movement, and a necessary step to help secure the rights of many thousands of marijuana users, including patients, and others.

[Washington's I-502 is one of three initiatives on state ballots to regulate rather than prohibit marijuana. We encourage all supportive parties, as we have before, to make phone calls to likely supportive voters in Colorado and Oregon -- for which a "phonebanking" web site has been provided by our allies -- for those in Washington to contact the campaign to volunteer in person. Links to the campaigns and to a "phonebanking" web site provided by our allies are linked to from our election resources web page at http://stopthedrugwar.org/election2012.]

British Columbia Public Supports Marijuana Legalization

Support for marijuana legalization in British Columbia has reached a whopping 75%, according to a new Angus Reid poll commissioned by Stop the Violence BC, a coalition of law enforcement officials, legal experts, medical and public health officials and academic experts concerned about the links between cannabis prohibition in British Columbia and the growth of organized crime and related violence in the province.

The poll surveyed 799 respondents in British Columbia. The results have a margin of error of +/-  3.5%.

The number supporting legalization is up six points over last year's Angus Reid poll, where 69% supported it. Meanwhile, opposition to legalization has declined from 24% last year to 21% this year.

The new poll also suggested a broad social acceptance of marijuana in Canada's westernmost province, which has been a hotbed of marijuana cultivation and culture for several decades now. Only 14% of those polled believe possession of a joint should lead to a criminal record, down six points from last year, and 74% would be comfortable living in a society where adult cannabis consumption was taxed and legally regulated under a public health framework, an increase of four percentage points from last year.

Strikingly, support for full legalization was higher than support for the half-measure of decriminalization. While 75% supported legalization, only 62% wanted decriminalization.

"From a scientific and public safety, making cannabis illegal has clearly been an expensive and harmful failure," said Dr. Evan Wood, founder of Stop the Violence BC and Canada Research Chair in Inner City Medicine at the University of British Columbia. "With 75% of British Columbians supporting change, and the status quo contributing to increasing harms in BC communities, it is absolutely time for politicians to catch up with the public."

Stop the Violence BC has been pushing for the legalization and regulation of marijuana. Its members include four former BC attorneys general, four former Vancouver mayors, including Larry Campbell, and former West Vancouver police chief and Liberal member of the provincial legislature Kash Heed.

The campaign is picking up steam. In September, the Union of BC Municipalities passed a resolution called for marijuana regulation, and last month, the Public Health Association of BC (PHABC) endorsed regulation.

"From a public health perspective, we urgently need to research alternatives to our current approach to cannabis which has clearly failed to protect public health and has actually resulted in substantial individual and community harms," PHABC president Dr. Marjorie MacDonald said in a statement.

BC
Canada

November 6: An Election to Stop the Drug War [FEATURE]

We are now only five days away from Election Day, and it's starting to look very much like at least one state will vote to legalize marijuana, possibly two, and, if the gods are really smiling down, three. It's also looking like there will soon be at least one more medical marijuana state, and like California will finally reform its three strikes sentencing law.

Amendment 64 billboard (regulatemarijuana.org)
There are also local initiatives on the ballot in California, Massachusetts, and Michigan, including a Detroit initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce at home by adults. And there are races for elected office that merit watching, the most interesting of which is probably former El Paso city councilmember and legalization supporter Beto O'Rourke, who is running for Congress. O'Rourke already knocked off Democratic incumbent drug warrior Sylvestre Reyes in the primary and appears ready to cruise to victory Tuesday.

The Chronicle will be in Denver election night for what we hope is the making of history. On Tuesday night and into the wee hours Wednesday morning, we will be posting relevant election results as fast as we can get our hands on them. In the meantime, here's what we'll be watching:

Marijuana Legalization Initiatives

Colorado -- Amendment 64 would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or six marijuana plants, three of which could be mature. It would create a system of state-licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities and state-licensed retail stores. Local governments would have the option of regulating or prohibiting such facilities. The amendment would also require the state legislature to enact legislation governing industrial hemp cultivation, processing, and sale, and to create an excise tax on wholesale marijuana sales. The first $40 million of that annual revenue would be dedicated to building public schools.

Amendment 64 has been hovering right around 50% in recent polls, but was at 53% with only 5% undecided in the most recent poll. The final push is on. The Chronicle will be reporting from Denver Tuesday night.

Oregon -- Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), would create an Oregon Cannabis Commission to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana, but not industrial hemp, which would be allowed, but not regulated by the commission. The commission would grant licenses to cultivate marijuana for sale to it by "all qualified applicants" and would sell marijuana at state retail stores at prices it determines. Medical marijuana patients would have their medicine provided at cost. OCTA would supersede all state and local laws regarding marijuana, except for impaired driving laws, leaving personal possession and cultivation by adults unregulated.

Measure 80, which came late to the ballot and which has been chronically underfunded since making the ballot, has trailed consistently in the polls. The most recent poll had it losing 42% to 49%, but the campaign bravely says the polls are undercounting supporter and it can still win.

Washington -- Initiative 502 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over, but does not allow for personal cultivation, except by or for medical marijuana patients. It would license marijuana cultivation and retail and wholesale sales, with restrictions on advertising. Regulation would be the remit of the state liquor control board, which would have to come up with rules by December 2013. The measure would create a 25% excise tax on marijuana sales, with 40% of revenues dedicated to the general fund and 60% dedicated to substance abuse prevention, research, and healthcare. It would create a per se driving under the influence standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

The I-502 campaign has raised more than $5 million and assembled an all-star cast of establishment law enforcement and political endorsers. Polling almost universally at more than 50%, this looks like an even better shot for legalization to pass than Colorado.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas -- The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act would allow patients suffering from specified diseases or medical conditions to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. It envisions a system of state-licensed nonprofit dispensaries, and would allow patients or their caregivers to grow their own only if they are not within five miles of a dispensary. In that case, patients could grow up to six flowering plants. Patients could possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana.

Known as Issue 5 on the ballot, the Arkansas initiative is the first one in the South, and if it wins, it would be the first southern state to embrace medical marijuana. But the most recent polls have rising opposition. Issue 5 was in a virtual dead heat with a 47% to 46% lead in late July, but last week, the same pollster had it trailing 38% to 54%.

Massachusetts -- Question 3 would allow people suffering from a debilitating medical condition to use medical marijuana upon the recommendation of a doctor with whom they have a bona fide relationship. Patients could possess up to a 60-day supply -- what constitutes that supply will be determined by the Department of Health. The initiative would also set up a system of nonprofit medical marijuana cultivation and distribution centers.

While vocal opposition has arisen in the final weeks of the campaign, Question 3 has enjoyed a commanding lead throughout and appears well-placed to join the ranks of Northeastern medical marijuana states on Tuesday.

Montana -- Initiative Referendum 124 would undo the gutting of the state's medical marijuana program through the passage last year of Senate Bill 423. That bill replaced the voter-approved medical marijuana program, which allowed for dispensary sales, with a new scheme that limited providers to serving only three patients, prohibited providers from accepting anything of value in exchange for products or services, granted local governments the power to regulate providers, tightened standards for demonstrating chronic pain, and demanded reviews of doctors who certified more than 25 patients in a one-year period.

The campaigners behind IR-124 are in the unique position of hoping it loses. That's because a "yes" vote endorses the legislature's gutting of the state's medical marijuana law last year, while a "no" vote rejects it and restores the voter-approved 2004 law. Polling has been scarce, but one recent poll had IR-124 losing (and more access to medical marijuana winning) with 44% of the vote.

Sentencing

California -- Proposition 36 would reform the state's three strikes law, which allows a life sentence for a third felony conviction. The measure would allow life sentences only if the new felony conviction is "serious or violent," authorize re-sentencing for lifers if their third conviction was not "serious or violent" and if a judge determines their release would not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety, allow life sentences if the third conviction was for "certain non-serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses or involved firearm possession," and keep the life sentence for felons whose previous convictions were for rape, murder, or child molestation. If approved by voters, some 3,000 three strikes lifers could seek reductions.

This stealth initiative has gone almost unnoticed amidst a plethora of other state-level initiatives, but appears poised to win. Of four recent polls, three had it at 63% or higher, while the only poll in which it wasn't over 50% had it leading 44% to 22%, with a huge 34% undecided.

Local Initiatives

California -- A number of towns, mostly in the San Diego area, will vote on local initiatives to allow medical marijuana dispensaries. Those include Del Mar, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, and Solana Beach, as well as Palo Alto. The town of Dunsmuir will vote on whether to loosen cultivation regulations.

Colorado -- Fort Collins will be voting on whether to overturn the ban on dispensaries voted in last November, and Berthoud will be voting on whether to allow dispensaries.

Massachusetts -- In a continuation of work done in the past six election cycles, voters in a number of legislative districts will be asked a non-binding public policy question. In the First Essex and Middlesex Senate District, the Eighth Essex House District, and the Twenty-Second Essex House District voters will be asked whether they support repeal of the "federal prohibition of marijuana, as the 21st Amendment repealed national prohibition of alcohol, so that states may regulate it as they choose?" Voters in the Second Middlesex Senate District, the Middlesex and Suffolk Senate District, and the Second Berkshire House District will answer a similar question.

Michigan -- Voters in Detroit and Flint will vote on marijuana legalization initiatives, voters in Grand Rapids will vote on decriminalization, Kalamazoo will vote on an initiative to allow dispensaries, and Ypsilanti will vote on a lowest law enforcement priority initiative.

Drug Policy and the Presidential Election

Drug policy has pretty much been a non-issue in the presidential campaign. The one place where marijuana policy positions could influence the statewide electoral outcome is Colorado. Marijuana is a big issue in the state, not only because Amendment 64 is on the ballot, but also because of the ongoing war of attrition waged against dispensaries there by the DEA and the US Attorney. (The Colorado Patient Voters Project tracks federal activity against medical marijuana in the state, as does our own Medical Marijuana Update series, accessible with other relevant reporting in our medical marijuana archive section.)

And it's a tight race where one third party candidate in particular, Gary Johnson, is making a strong run and exploiting his popular legalization position on marijuana. While the Real Clear Politics average of Colorado polls has Obama up 48.2% to Romney's 47.7%, the race tightens up when Johnson is included in the polls, even though who he hurts more varies from poll to poll.

If Obama loses Colorado, be prepared for the argument that he did so at least in part because of his poor positions on marijuana.

(This article 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.)

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School