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Election 2006: Initiatives Defeated in Colorado and Nevada, But Hundreds of Thousands Voted to Legalize Marijuana

A Nevada initiative (Question 7) that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and provide for its regulated sale and taxation lost with 44% of the vote, while a Colorado initiative (Measure 44) that would have legalized the possession of up to an ounce lost with 40% of the vote. Both were bitterly opposed by local law enforcement and the federal drug war bureaucracy. In both cases, organizers are vowing to come back and try again.

The Nevada result is a 5% improvement over 2002, when a similar initiative garnered 39% of the popular vote. In Colorado, where legalization had never before been on the statewide ballot, four out of ten voters were prepared to vote for it the first time around.

In both states, anti-drug activists joined forces with law enforcement to turn back the tide. In Nevada, where gambling is legal and so is prostitution in most counties, the ironically named Committee to Keep Nevada Respectable resorted to misrepresentations of the measure to insist it would prevent employers from doing drug testing, as well as arguing that allowing for the regulated sale of marijuana would somehow increase youth marijuana use. The Committee consisted of a number of community anti-drug coalitions, the Reno and Las Vegas Chambers of Commerce, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the Southern Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs, and the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association.

In Colorado, the organized opposition was headed by Gov. Bill Owens and Attorney General John Suthers, who held a late press conference denouncing the measure (and who were rudely surprised by a vigorous counter-demonstration by Measure 44 supporters during that press conference). In both states, representatives of the Office of National Drug Control Policy showed up to interfere with state ballot measures.

While initiative organizers in both states professed disappointment at the results, they have vowed to continue the fight. "Today, a record number of Nevada voters called for an end to marijuana prohibition, the highest vote ever to end prohibition," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the parent group for the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana, the Nevada-based entity that led the campaign. "The momentum is with us. Major social change never comes easily, but change in our failed marijuana laws is coming because prohibition does nothing but harm. Prohibition funds criminals and guarantees that teens have easy access to marijuana, and voters have begun to see through the drug czar's lies. We've made huge progress since our 39% to 61% loss on a similar ballot measure in Nevada four years ago. We plan to try again with another marijuana initiative in Nevada in November 2008 or 2010."

"We are not disappointed at all with the results of today's election," said SAFER Colorado campaign director Mason Tvert. "This campaign, following on the heels of our successful legalization initiative in Denver last year, was just one step in a five- to ten-year battle to make marijuana legal in Colorado. Now we see that a number of counties support changing the state law regarding adult marijuana possession so that they have the right to set their own local policies."

Without significant outside funding, SAFER Colorado managed to reach out to hundreds of thousands of Coloradans with an "alcohol vs. marijuana" campaign that clearly resonated with voters. "One low-budget initiative campaign cannot overcome 70 years of government lies and propaganda," Tvert said. "If it were possible to make marijuana legal with a $60,000 campaign in a state with nearly three million voters, it would have been done long ago. But the writing is on the wall in Colorado and we will continue to educate the public while pressuring government officials and community leaders to explain why they think adults should be punished for using a substance less harmful than alcohol."

Although lost elections are never popular, other leading drug reformers looked for the positive. "Even though they lost, hundreds of thousands of people in two states still voted to legalize marijuana," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "I think that is very respectable, especially in Nevada, where the measure was so far-reaching."

Question 7 in Nevada would not only have legalized the possession of up to an ounce by adults, it would also have established a state-sanctioned system of regulated marijuana distribution. Colorado's Measure 44, on the other hand, was a simple marijuana possession legalization initiative that would have protected adults holding up to an ounce.

"These outcomes, while disappointing, were not unexpected," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who traveled to Colorado to assist in the campaign's final days. "Despite these results, adults in Colorado and Nevada continue to live under state laws that authorize the medical use of marijuana and allow adults to possess and use small amounts of pot without the threat of incarceration or a criminal record."

That's good, but it's not enough, said SAFER Colorado's Tvert. "There will be a continuing effort in Colorado," he told Drug War Chronicle. "We were up against 70 years of marijuana prohibition, 70 years of lies and distortions about marijuana. This was the first time Colorado voters had to confront marijuana prohibition, and it won more votes than the Republican governor candidate. We got the message out and shocked the hell out of Colorado, even with no money and what some people would call a reckless campaign."

Nearly seven decades after national marijuana prohibition was enacted, no state has yet voted to end it at the state level. But the forces of reform are edging ever closer to victory. Will 2008 be the beginning of the end? Stay tuned.

Election 2006: South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers Vow to Try Again After Narrow Defeat

In an unexpectedly strong showing, an initiative that would have allowed seriously ill patients to use marijuana garnered nearly half the votes in the socially conservative Upper Midwest state of South Dakota. But it couldn't quite get over the top, losing by a margin of 48% to 52%. South Dakota thus earns the distinction of being the only state where voters have rejected medical marijuana at the ballot box.

Backers of the effort, while disappointed, are undeterred, and have already announced they will try again in 2008 or 2010. But the state will remain a tough nut to crack.

A stark illustration of the political atmosphere in the state when it comes to marijuana was the fact that South Dakotans for Medical Marijuana, the initiative organizers, could only come up with two patients willing to go public about their marijuana use. But perhaps that should be no surprise in a state where "ingestion" of marijuana is a criminal offense for which people are routinely sentenced to jail time and a public acknowledgment of one's marijuana use could became the basis for a search warrant demanding a urine sample, which would then be used to file ingestion charges.

The measure won majority support in Minnehaha County (52%), where nearly a quarter of the state's voters reside, the college town environs of Brookings County (52%) and Clay County (62%), Gateway Computers' home Union County (51%), the Black Hills' Lawrence County (52%), and a handful of other sparsely populated West River counties. But in most of the state's East River farm country counties, voters rejected the measure, sometimes narrowly, but occasionally by large margins, and even Pennington County, the home of Rapid City, the state's second largest city, voted narrowly against it (51%).

While initiative supporters ran a relatively low-profile campaign -- the state's ballot was full of hot button issues, including an abortion ban and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage -- opponents led by Republican South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long rallied local law enforcement in opposition to the measure. Long also called in the big guns from Washington, DC, bringing White House Office on National Drug Control Policy Deputy Director Scott Burns to the state for a series of widely publicized press conferences denouncing the measure as a "con" and a "sham."

Drug czar John Walters himself weighed in on the state initiative with a press release the Friday before the election. "This proposal is a scam being pushed on the citizens of South Dakota by people who want to legalize drugs," Walters warned. "Marijuana is a much more harmful drug than many Americans realize. There are more teens now in treatment for marijuana dependence than for all other illegal drugs combined. It is unfortunate that people who have been trying to legalize this drug for many years are exploiting the suffering of genuinely sick people to further their political ends."

The intervention by South Dakota law enforcement and federal drug warriors was key in preventing the measure from passing, said initiative spokesperson and medical marijuana patient Valerie Hannah, a Gulf War veteran who uses the drug to ease the symptoms of neurological disorders she suffers as a result of her service. "Attorney General Long bringing in the drug czar's people really hurt us," she told Drug War Chronicle. "They said things like having a caregiver just meant somebody to get high with, which is just not the case."

For the national marijuana reform movement, the South Dakota loss -- its first at the polls -- was a tough blow, but movement leaders vowed to try again. "We knew from the early polling that this would be an uphill fight, particularly on a ballot filled with hot-button issues, and with the White House and the whole state establishment, including the attorney general, against us," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which provided support for the South Dakota effort. "The fact that we came this close against such powerful opposition is remarkable. Working with the local activists who started this effort, we plan to try again with another medical marijuana initiative in South Dakota in November 2008 or 2010," he announced.

"Every day, science continues to prove the medical value of marijuana," Kampia continued. "In just the last two months we've seen evidence of remarkable benefit against hepatitis C and even potential against Alzheimer's disease. It's tragic that brave patients like Val Hannah, who spoke out for the initiative, will continue to face arrest and jail for simply trying to preserve their health, but in the long run, science and common sense will triumph over ignorance and fear."

"South Dakota's result, while disheartening, does nothing to change the fact that according to national polls, nearly eight out of ten Americans support the physician-approved use of medicinal cannabis," said Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Sick people like Hannah remain at risk of arrest and imprisonment for using marijuana to relieve their symptoms, but she refused to be saddened by the outcome. "I'm proud of what we did. We came very close, and this means people here are waking up. The South Dakotans who supported us made a wise choice. Next time, we will be working to get the education and knowledge out to the public more efficiently so they can make a more informed decision," she said. "We can pass this in South Dakota, perhaps through another ballot initiative in 2008. I remain hopeful," she added.

Missoula OKs initiative relaxing enforcement of marijuana laws (Helena Independent Record, MT)

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.helenair.com/articles/2006/11/09/montana/a06110906_02.txt

Voters take on pot, sick pay, minimum wage and healthcare (Los Angeles Times)

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/politics/cal/la-me-state8nov08,0,6561989.story?coll=la-center-politics-cal

Nevadans: Say no to pot, raise minimum wage, restrict smoking (Las Vegas Sun)

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/nevada/2006/nov/08/110810178.html

South Dakotans defeat medical marijuana measure (Pioneer Press, MN)

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/15954962.htm

Looking Bad for the Statewide Marijuana Initiatives

It's just after 1AM Eastern time, and it looks like the Colorado, Nevada, and South Dakota marijuana initiatives are all headed for defeat. It ain't over 'til it's over, of course, but it's almost over. The South Dakota medical marijuana initiative is losing by 52% to 48% with more than two-thirds of the votes counted. The margin has been similar all night long. There's a slim chance late votes from Rapid City could switch the result, but we are rapidly approaching the point where it becomes mathematically impossible. The Nevada "tax and regulate" initiative is losing by 56% to 44%. I can't tell from the Nevada secretary of state's web page what percentage of the vote has been counted, but it is substantial, and the numbers have been in this range all night. The Colorado legalization initiative is losing by 61% to 39% with 47% of the vote counted. Both CNN and the Rocky Mountain News have called this election already. If these results hold, that's a big disappointment, although not a big surprise. There are other drug policy-related issues and candidacies to report on, and if you don't see me blogging about them here this week, look for the full breakdown in the Chronicle on Friday.
Location: 
United States

OR: First Public Meeting of the New Willamette Valley NORML chapter

The first public meeting for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws new local chapter is scheduled for Saturday, November 11, at 5 o'clock. The meeting will be held at Spencer View Family Housing Center, 2250 Patterson Street, in the Community Center The new chapter, Willamette Valley NORML, has several long-term marijuana activists already on the Board. The other organizations they belong to include The Drug Policy Forum-Oregon; Cannabis Liberation Front; Americans for Safe Access; Mercy Center-Salem; Voter Power; Media Awareness Project, Oregon Green Free; Compassion Center; as well as several long time National NORML members. The goals of NORML include changing the laws so every adult is allowed to make an intelligent choice between alcohol and the safer alternative, marijuana, for their recreational enjoyment. They all agree there should have been enough alcohol related deaths here to already prove that! The key speaker will be Anthony Johnson, J.D. Anthony graduated with both a political science ('01) and law degree ('04) from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He was a founding member and treasurer of the SSDP chapter, treasurer of the NORML chapter, and president of the law school ACLU chapter. While still in school, he was Executive Director of the Columbia Alliance for Patients and Education (CAPE) where he co-wrote initiatives that decriminalized personal amounts of marijuana and allowed for the medical use of marijuana. The decry measure passed with 61% of the vote, while the medical passed with 69% in November 2004. Due to these victories, High Times recently named the University of Missouri-Columbia the third most counterculture college in the country stating that, "The SSDP and NORML chapters at UMC have accomplished more change in their local community than any other university organization in recent history." He then moved to Oregon to work on drug law reform, passed the Oregon Bar exam, practiced criminal defense for a year and is currently the Political Director of Voter Power. Come on out and hear Anthony Johnson, J.D. and others speak about why we need a NORML Chapter here, and our plans for the future, and a whole lot more. You'll probably make some new friends there too! For more information, go to: www.willamettevalleynorml.org Dan Koozer Interim Director Willamette Valley NORML Cannabis Liberation Front PO Box 10957 Eugene, Oregon 97440-2957 "Fighting For The Re-Legalization of Cannabis" UpcomingOregon events: Oregon Medical Cannabis Awards - Dec 9, 2006 (No Legalization Signs Allowed), http://www.ornorml.org/omca/ Emerald Empire HempFest-Eugene July 20, 21 22, 2007 - Free coming soon on www.oregonhempfest.com Watch EUGENE CANNABIS TV on Cable Channel 22/29 EVERY WEEK Wed 8:30 pm, Thurs 8:30am, Monday 11:30pm and Tues 11:30am, http://eugenecannabistv.home.comcast.net Try Search Survival Kits: Fix up your home and better handle your cash with Live Search!
Date: 
Sat, 11/11/2006 - 5:00pm - 8:00pm
Location: 
United States

Medical Marijuana: First New Federal Prosecution in Three Years Underway in California

The US Justice Department had not prosecuted a California medical marijuana patient since 2003, but that changed Wednesday as the federal trial of Merced County medical marijuana patient and provider Dustin Costa got under way in Fresno. Costa, a leading medical marijuana activist, was originally arrested on state charges, but Merced County prosecutors handed his case over to the feds when it became apparent that California's Compassionate Use Act would make it impossible to convict him under California law.

The last federal medical marijuana patient and provider trial in California was the Ed Rosenthal debacle. In that case, Rosenthal was convicted on federal marijuana manufacture charges after the jury was not allowed to hear testimony relating to medical marijuana. Rosenthal was convicted, but when jurors learned the rest of the story, many of them publicly denounced the trial and the verdict, and the federal judge trying the case sentenced him to only one day in jail.

In Costa's case, the 60-year-old retired Marine who headed the Merced Patients Group, a nonprofit cultivation collective, was originally arrested by Merced County sheriff's deputies when they raided a greenhouse he was using to cultivate marijuana for patients in March 2004. But local prosecutors turned the case over to the feds, and Costa was re-arrested on federal charges in August 2005. Since then, he has been imprisoned at the Fresno County Jail. If convicted on the charges, he faces a mandatory minimum 20-year federal prison sentence.

Costa now faces federal charges of cultivation, possession with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm. As in the Rosenthal case, Costa will not be allowed to even mention medical marijuana or its legality under state law during the trial.

"Dustin Costa is a victim of the federal government's refusal to respect medical science," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, a national medical marijuana advocacy group. "He and all the others being denied a medical defense at trial are the new targets in our government's war on patients."

Costa may be the first medical marijuana patient to be tried by the feds since the Rosenthal trial, but he probably will not be the last. According to figures compiled by Americans for Safe Access, at least 91 other California patients and providers have been arrested on federal marijuana charges and are awaiting trial.

In N.Y. City, marijuana is delivered (The Buffalo News, NY)

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20061107/1069560.asp

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