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Black Tuesday for Drug Reform

Though Question 9, the Nevada marijuna decriminalization initiative, was defeated in last week's election, marijuana-related votes elsewhere were more encouraging.
 
 
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Drug reform movement leaders and funders must feel like Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt after the shellacking they took last Tuesday. The same conservative tide that delivered the Senate to the Republicans also swamped heavily funded initiatives in three closely watched states. South Dakota's low-budget initiatives suffered the same fate, as did the New York Marijuana Reform Party's shoestring effort to obtain ballot status.

Though a bad day for drug reformers overall and an occasion for strategic rethinking, Election 2002 was not a total wash, as DC, San Francisco and Massachusetts show.

Reform movement funders, leaders and bases alike are beginning the postmortems on an election that saw momentum for drug reform come up against a brick wall. The fact that millions of dollars were spent on failed electoral efforts, while grassroots groups go begging for funds, is certain to be part of an intense debate on drug reform strategy -- as well the fact that 19 out of 24 major initiative campaigns overall have passed over the last six years. What follows below is a "just the facts, ma'am" look at the election results.

Legal Pot in Nevada? Not This Year

There was no joy on Sahara Boulevard in Las Vegas Tuesday night as supporters of Nevada's high-spending marijuana legalization initiative gathered in what they hoped would be a victory party. Instead, it turned out to be a wake as Question 9, which would have enacted legal regulation instead of prohibition for possession of up to three ounces of marijuana, and which many in the drug reform movement hoped would finally break the electoral barrier, was defeated decisively. Nevada voters rejected Question 9 by 61 percent to 39 percent.

Marijuana Policy Project director Rob Kampia huddled with Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement's Billy Rogers and state representative Chris Giunchigliani (D-Las Vegas) as the voting ended, but they saw defeat staring them in the face early on. While volunteers at NRLE headquarters waited anxiously -- nobody felt like eating -- Kampia, Rogers and Giunchigliani, who had sponsored last year's successful bill to make marijuana possession no longer a felony and who signed on consult with the Question 9 campaign, tried to figure out how long to hold onto the hope of victory.

But by 8:50 pm, less than two hours after the polls closed, it was all over. Reporters, TV crews and volunteers -- some now breaking out in tears -- listened as NRLE conceded. "Change is never easy," Rogers said, comparing the drug war to the social struggles of the 1960s. "The civil rights movement took a long time to achieve success. One day down the road, we will change these bad laws. This is the first of many battles."

"This was about responsible adults using marijuana in the privacy of their own homes," said Kampia. "This was about not getting your door kicked in for doing so. But our message didn't get out."

It wasn't for lack of money. MPP and its affiliate, NRLE, spent over $2 million in the Nevada effort and waged a TV advertising campaign, as well as hiring locals such as Giunchigliani and former Nevada Council of Police and Sheriffs head Andy Anderson in an effort to rebut charges that the campaign was inflicted on the state by outside interests. But as in Ohio and Arizona, while the prohibitionist opposition may have been caught flat-footed at first, local law enforcement and anti-drunk driving groups hooked up with the federal drug war bureaucracy to wage an all-out campaign against Question 9.

Opponents used a series of widely publicized traffic fatalities linked to marijuana use to great advantage, telling Nevadans they would face a plague of stoned drivers. They also made a great deal of the three ounce provision, waving baggies full of joints at every TV camera in sight and claiming that so much pot could not possibly be for personal use.

As in Ohio, there is evidence that some opponents violated state laws by campaigning against the measure while on the state time clock. And as if fear-mongering and illegal actions weren't enough, opponents also enlisted drug czar John Walters, who was all too willing to come to the state and pronounce loudly and repeatedly against the pernicious weed. The drug czar's national anti-marijuana TV advertising campaign also saturated Nevada air waves with what amounted to free advertising for Question 9 opponents.

Rogers told DRCNet that in addition to the drug czar's campaigning and widely repeated concerns about driving while stoned, the effort also fell prey to national political currents. "That conservative wave that swept across the nation Tuesday also swept across Nevada," he said. Even normally Democratic Clark County [Las Vegas] went Republican, and that hurt us badly," he said.

Another possible factor was an anti-gay marriage state initiative that passed overwhelmingly. It is possible, though not yet verified by DRCNet, that a voter mobilization by religious cultural conservatives for that initiative brought out a large turnout of people who would also vote against the reform bill. As the evening wore on, Kampia was watching the numbers and hoping out loud that at least a record high pro-legalization vote would be reached. "Only three times has marijuana legalization been on a state ballot," he said. "It got 34 percent in California in 1972, 26 percent in Oregon in 1986, and 41 percent in Arizona in 2000. If we can get more than 41 percent, that's a record," he said.

Almost but not quite. Absentee ballot counts released shortly after the polls closed (delayed until about 7:45 in some Las Vegas precincts because of long lines), showed Question 9 at 37 percent, and the absentee ballots turned out to be low but not very, with the measure maxing out at 39 percent as the ballots were counted.

Rogers, a political operative imported from Texas to run the campaign, turned to some home state imagery as he urged supporters not to get dispirited. "It may take two years or four years or ten years, but we will win," he said. "In 1836, the Texans were defeated at the Alamo, but soon after Sam Houston was president of the Republic of Texas. We lost a battle, but we haven't lost the war."

Arizona Steps Back as Decrim Initiative Loses, Anti-Reform Sentencing Initiative Wins

Arizona voters approved groundbreaking drug reform initiatives in 1996 and 1998, but balked on Tuesday at decriminalizing marijuana possession and requiring state police to distribute medical marijuana. While voters rejected Proposition 203 57 percent to 43 percent, they approved a measure allowing judges to impose jail time on drug offenders who refuse drug treatment.

Prop. 203 was spearheaded by The People Have Spoken, the same group that ran the two successful earlier initiatives and was largely funded by University of Phoenix founder John Sperling, with help from financier George Soros and Progressive Insurance magnate Peter Lewis. The multi-faceted initiative would also have effectively ended the jailing of drug offenders.

But it faltered under a counterattack by Arizona prohibitionists, with help from federal officials such as drug czar John Walters, who campaigned against the measure in the state last month. Led by Maricopa County Attorney and drug czar wannabe Rick Romley, opponents also struck back with Proposition 302, which will enhance the ability of drug court judges to punish relapses by drug offenders in treatment by sending them to jail.

"A defeat (of 203) will have national ramifications," Romley told the Arizona Republic Tuesday evening. "Every state is watching Arizona because the tide will have turned. People will say: 'Is it really about medical marijuana, or is it about drug legalization?'"

Romley also cheered the passage of Prop. 302, which will allow judges to jail first- and second-time drug offenders who fail drug treatment programs. Under current Arizona law, only third-time offenders are now subject to such treatment. "This is the hammer we needed to get some people off heroin and amphetamine," he said Tuesday.

Ohio "Treatment Not Jail" Initiative Runs Into Drug War Buzzsaw

Issue One, the proposed Ohio constitutional amendment that would have made drug treatment instead of jail stays a guaranteed option for first- and second-time drug offenders, was crushed at the polls Tuesday, losing by a two-to-one margin. The Ohio campaign marked the emergence of formidable, coordinated opposition to the wave of -- until this year -- successful drug reform initiatives funded by a quartet of wealthy individuals.

"Issue One is deader than a dodo," crowed Republican Gov. Robert Taft less than two hours after the polls closed Tuesday. Taft and his wife, Hope, led a strong campaign against the initiative -- one that may well have strayed over the line of unlawful government conduct, as Dan Forbes reported earlier this fall. State and local elected and appointed officials in several states worked with federal government officials to craft an anti-reform strategy that managed to keep initiatives off the ballot in Florida and Michigan and bring crushing defeat to the Ohio measure.

(And as Forbes reported this week, Hope Taft may have added assault to the list of offenses against drug reformers. Medical marijuana activist Dee Dee Zoretic was physically restrained from addressing the governor by Mrs. Taft at a campaign event in Cleveland. Taft responded to Zoretic's allegation with a "fine non-denial denial," Forbes reported. Visit http://www.dhttp://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=14486 for the story.)

In a major coup for the anti forces, Ohio officials crafted ballot language for the measure that put the amendment's estimated seven-year cost of $247 million right in front of voters' eyes on the ballot. The ballot language made no mention of the estimated $20 million annual net savings the measure would have garnered for Ohio taxpayers. But it wasn't merely a question of bad wording on the ballot. The anti forces crafted a statewide coalition of law enforcement, drug court judges, and treatment providers that filled op-ed pages and local television news stories with invective decrying the initiative. And, of course, drug czar John Walters came to the state to amplify the message against drug reform.

And while the initiative battle took on a partisan tinge when Democratic gubernatorial challenger Tim Hagan endorsed Issue One, other Ohio Democrats joined the Republican state establishment in foiling Issue One. Toledo's Democratic Mayor Jack Ford, for instance, was a co-chair of the anti-Issue One organization, while Democratic judges stood with their GOP brethren in defense of their sentencing prerogatives. Ford was rewarded for his efforts when Gov. Taft called him "a true profile in courage" for opposing the initiative.

Initiative opponents also hammered on the "billionaire outsiders" theme to good effect, despite the fact that two of the big funders, Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance and Richard Wolfe, have strong Ohio ties. "A few people thought their will and their money could buy an election," said Hope Taft, reprising the theme Tuesday night. "I'm here to tell them that Ohio is not for sale."

For the moment, at least, the Campaign for New Drug Policies and its Ohio affiliate are hanging tough. Even as he accepted defeat Tuesday evening, Ohio initiative campaign head Ed Orlett told the Toledo Blade the group had just begun to fight. "They've won a small skirmish in what is a great battle. It's a rather hollow victory based on a very negative campaign. I've had judges tell me that there are courtrooms where first-time offenders are sent to jail and it's a tremendous cost that we don't need to bear," he said.

No Hemp, No New Rights for Defendants in South Dakota

Two initiatives championed by South Dakota's one-man drug reform movement, Bob Newland, went down in flames on Tuesday. An industrial hemp initiative was rejected by 62 percent of the voters, and the attention-grabbing Amendment A, also known as the Common Sense Justice Amendment, was defeated even more decisively, winning only 22 percent, according to unofficial counts.

While the hemp initiative received almost no attention, the Common Sense Justice Amendment, which would have allowed defendants in criminal cases to argue the merits, applicability and validity of the law, roused national interest, including a not unsympathetic piece in the Wall Street Journal. But it also roused the state's legal establishment, with defense attorneys as well as prosecutors denouncing the measure as leading to legal chaos and anarchy. The two major party candidates for Attorney General stood together to jointly oppose Amendment A.

On the other side were Newland, a coterie of hard-working volunteers, and Amendment A poster child Matthew Duchenaux, a Lakota Indian who was arrested for smoking marijuana to ease tremors caused by Multiple Sclerosis. Duchenaux's attorney's attempt to raise a medical necessity defense was okayed by a circuit court judge, but overturned on appeal. Duchenaux was convicted earlier this fall and sentenced to probation. Newland and other Amendment A supporters argued that it would have allowed Duchenaux to tell jurors that it was silly to convict him. But South Dakotans weren't buying, despite Newland's chilling last-minute presentation of legal horror stories inflicted on South Dakotans by the criminal justice system.

DC Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Treatment Not Jail Initiative

Tuesday didn't bring all bad news. Though Ohio voters rejected a similar initiative, voters in the nation's capital issued a broad mandate for drug treatment instead of prison for nonviolent drug offenders. DC's Measure 62, organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, passed by a whopping margin of 78 percent to 22 percent. The measure had been opposed editorially by both the Washington Post and the Washington Times, but otherwise saw no significant organized opposition.

With the passage of Measure 62, District residents charged with the possession of other than Schedule I drugs will be able to opt for drug treatment in place of conviction or imprisonment for illegal drug possession. All legal proceedings against covered drug possession defendants would be dismissed upon completion of drug treatment.

Schedule I drugs -- including heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and marijuana -- are widely used in the District and their users are often arrested, but campaign organizers told DRCNet they were excluded because of fears of arousing congressional action against any measure that would effectively reduce marijuana penalties.

While the DC campaign can claim a rare victory for drug reform, the election victory is only the beginning. Measure 62 supporters will have to gain funding to implement the treatment program, and that funding will have to be approved by a GOP-controlled Congress, whether it comes from local funds or federal. The measure is set to become law on October 1 next year, and Measure 62 organizers are already calling on supporters to build a broad coalition to ensure funding and proper implementation. They have won a battle in DC, but the war continues.

Visit www.dcmeasure62.com to keep up with Measure 62.

Massachusetts Voters Tell Reps to Support Marijuana Decrim

Building on similar success in 2000, MassCann and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts won a clean sweep of marijuana decriminalization local advisory ballots in 42 Bay State towns and cities. The local advisory ballots are non-binding resolutions urging elected representatives in the districts at stake to vote in support of measures removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession or use. According to a report from DPFMA, the measures passed in every city and town they were on the ballot. In Boston, for example, the measure passed at 61 percent, while in Quincy it came in with 59 percent.

Official results have yet to be posted on the Secretary of State's web site, and the Boston Globe hasn't bothered to mention them either, so DRCNet thanks DPF Massachusetts for making this information available.

San Francisco Voters Ask City to Look At Growing Its Own

Never a city where rising conservative tides matter one whit, San Francisco Tuesday once again demonstrated that it is willing to go its own way no matter what the mood of the rest of the nation. Angered by the federal assault on medical marijuana patients and providers in California, the city's Board of Supervisors placed on the ballot a measure, Proposition S, which asked citizens to decide whether to urge the city government to grow and distribute its own medical marijuana. By a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent, San Franciscans told the city's leaders to move ahead.

In a city where 4,000 people are enrolled in a municipal medical marijuana ID card program, the supply of medical marijuana is an issue that resonates. With some providers now facing lengthy prison sentences on federal manufacture charges and some dispensaries shutting down for fear of the same, the provision of medical marijuana has become an increasingly urgent issue. Now the city has a clear signal from voters to start looking seriously at growing its own.

Supervisors who supported Proposition S wrote that the city "will do whatever it takes to protect the health and well-being of its citizens." The measure "shines a light on an outdated and scientifically unsound federal medical cannabis policy for the entire world to see," they added. "The will of the voters of California and eight other states must be respected."

The loneliest man in San Francisco disagreed. "We think it sends the wrong message to the country as a whole that the city of San Francisco will get into the business of growing marijuana," DEA San Francisco spokesman Richard Meyer told Agence France Presse -- the only news service or newspaper to file a report on the measure. "The US Congress has not rescheduled marijuana which remains a Schedule 1 substance with no acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse," said Meyer. "We will uphold these laws."

Now the city of San Francisco will ponder its next move. Actually growing medical marijuana would set the city up in a direct confrontation with the Ashcroft Justice Department -- and that's just fine with some activists. In fact, they would like to see the state of California take up the challenge and start providing medical marijuana itself.

"The state should be supporting voters and patients by taking the risks on themselves to go up against the feds, and it lays down the gauntlet for the state to do something," Hilary McQuie, campaign coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, told AFP. DC's Measure 62, organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, passed by a whopping margin of 78 percent to 22 percent. The measure had been opposed editorially by both the Washington Post and the Washington Times, but otherwise saw no significant organized opposition.

With the passage of Measure 62, District residents charged with the possession of other than Schedule I drugs will be able to opt for drug treatment in place of conviction or imprisonment for illegal drug possession. All legal proceedings against covered drug possession defendants would be dismissed upon completion of drug treatment.

Schedule I drugs -- including heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and marijuana -- are widely used in the District and their users are often arrested, but campaign organizers told DRCNet they were excluded because of fears of arousing congressional action against any measure that would effectively reduce marijuana penalties.

While the DC campaign can claim a rare victory for drug reform, the election victory is only the beginning. Measure 62 supporters will have to gain funding to implement the treatment program, and that funding will have to be approved by a GOP-controlled Congress, whether it comes from local funds or federal. The measure is set to become law on October 1 next year, and Measure 62 organizers are already calling on supporters to build a broad coalition to ensure funding and proper implementation. They have won a battle in DC, but the war continues.

Visit www.dcmeasure62.com to keep up with Measure 62.

Massachusetts Voters Tell Reps to Support Marijuana Decrim

Building on similar success in 2000, MassCann and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts won a clean sweep of marijuana decriminalization local advisory ballots in 42 Bay State towns and cities. The local advisory ballots are non-binding resolutions urging elected representatives in the districts at stake to vote in support of measures removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession or use. According to a report from DPFMA, the measures passed in every city and town they were on the ballot. In Boston, for example, the measure passed at 61 percent, while in Quincy it came in with 59 percent.

Official results have yet to be posted on the Secretary of State's web site, and the Boston Globe hasn't bothered to mention them either, so DRCNet thanks DPF Massachusetts for making this information available.

San Francisco Voters Ask City to Look At Growing Its Own

Never a city where rising conservative tides matter one whit, San Francisco Tuesday once again demonstrated that it is willing to go its own way no matter what the mood of the rest of the nation. Angered by the federal assault on medical marijuana patients and providers in California, the city's Board of Supervisors placed on the ballot a measure, Proposition S, which asked citizens to decide whether to urge the city government to grow and distribute its own medical marijuana. By a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent, San Franciscans told the city's leaders to move ahead.

In a city where 4,000 people are enrolled in a municipal medical marijuana ID card program, the supply of medical marijuana is an issue that resonates. With some providers now facing lengthy prison sentences on federal manufacture charges and some dispensaries shutting down for fear of the same, the provision of medical marijuana has become an increasingly urgent issue. Now the city has a clear signal from voters to start looking seriously at growing its own.

Supervisors who supported Proposition S wrote that the city "will do whatever it takes to protect the health and well-being of its citizens." The measure "shines a light on an outdated and scientifically unsound federal medical cannabis policy for the entire world to see," they added. "The will of the voters of California and eight other states must be respected."

The loneliest man in San Francisco disagreed. "We think it sends the wrong message to the country as a whole that the city of San Francisco will get into the business of growing marijuana," DEA San Francisco spokesman Richard Meyer told Agence France Presse -- the only news service or newspaper to file a report on the measure. "The US Congress has not rescheduled marijuana which remains a Schedule 1 substance with no acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse," said Meyer. "We will uphold these laws."

Now the city of San Francisco will ponder its next move. Actually growing medical marijuana would set the city up in a direct confrontation with the Ashcroft Justice Department -- and that's just fine with some activists. In fact, they would like to see the state of California take up the challenge and start providing medical marijuana itself. "The state should be supporting voters and patients by taking the risks on themselves to go up against the feds, and it lays down the gauntlet for the state to do something," Hilary McQuie, campaign coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, told AFP.