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Marijuana Reform to Tap Grassroots

A bumper crop of initiatives addressing marijuana policy and enforcement will appear on various state and municipal ballots.
 
 
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Few domestic policy issues enjoy such deep-rooted public support as marijuana law reform; in particular the legalization of medicinal pot for seriously ill patients. Yet despite nationwide polls indicating that some eight in 10 Americans back reform, politicians at the state and especially federal level continue to oppose even minor changes in existing policy, as evident by Congress' refusal to hold hearings on a pair of proposed bills seeking to exempt state-authorized medical marijuana patients from federal arrest and prosecution.

As a result of this chasm between the public and their elected officials regarding pot policy, proponents of reform have in recent years taken the issue directly to the voters via statewide and local ballot initiatives – most notably, passing laws in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington exempting qualified patients from criminal prosecution for the possession and use of medicinal marijuana when such use is recommended by their physicians.

This November's presidential election will be no exception, as a bumper crop of initiatives addressing marijuana policy and enforcement will appear on various state and municipal ballots. Below is a summary of the more prominent marijuana law reform proposals.

Statewide Initiatives

Alaska – If approved, Alaska's Cannabis Decriminalization and Regulation Act would mandate that "persons 21 years or older shall not be prosecuted, be denied any right or privilege, nor be subject to criminal or civil penalties for the possession, cultivation, distribution, or consumption" of marijuana for medicinal, industrial or recreational purposes. The proposal also encourages the state legislature to establish a system to regulate pot "in a manner similar to alcohol or tobacco."

INITIATIVE STATUS: Campaigners have qualified the Cannabis Decriminalization and Regulation Act for the Nov. 2, 2004 ballot.

Montana – Like Arkansas' proposed measure, the Montana Medical Marijuana Act ( I-148), if approved, would allow qualified patients to possess and cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes under the authorization of their physician. Patients diagnosed with cancer, glaucoma and HIV/AIDS qualify for legal protection under this act, as well as individuals suffering from cachexia, severe pain, nausea, epileptic seizures, persistent muscle spasms, multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease. The proposal also establishes a confidential state-run patient registry to issue identification cards to qualifying patients.

INITIATIVE STATUS: Campaigners have qualified the Montana Medical Marijuana Act for the Nov. 2, 2004 ballot.

Nevada – If approved, the Regulation of Marijuana Amendment would remove criminal and civil penalties for "the use or possession of one ounce or less of marijuana by a person who has attained the age of 21 years," and direct the state legislature to "provide by law for a system of regulation for the cultivation, distribution, sale, and taxation of marijuana."

INITIATIVE STATUS: Campaigners failed to turn in enough valid signatures to qualify the Regulation of Marijuana Amendment for the Nov. 2, 2004 ballot. Petitioners are presently challenging the Secretary of State's vote count.

Oregon – The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (aka OMMA2) seeks to amend the state's existing medicinal marijuana law to allow qualified patients to legally possess up to ten marijuana plants at any one time and one pound of usable marijuana. The proposal would also allow state-certified nurse practitioners and naturopaths to recommend marijuana to their patients, and expand the definition of a qualifying medical condition to include "any other medical condition for which, in the determination of the attending physician, the medical use of marijuana would be beneficial." The proposal also mandates the state legislature to promulgate rules to license and regulate medical cannabis dispensaries "to ensure that medical marijuana is available to qualified patients."

INITIATIVE STATUS: Campaigners have qualified the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act for the Nov. 2, 2004 ballot.

Local Initiatives

Oakland, California – If approved, the Oakland Cannabis Regulation and Revenue Ordinance would establish new municipal guidelines directing the Oakland Police Department to make the enforcement of minor marijuana offenses by adults the city's "lowest law enforcement priority." The proposal also mandates the city of Oakland "to tax and regulate the sale of cannabis for adult use, so as to keep it off the streets and away from children and to raise revenue for the city, as soon as possible under state law."

INITIATIVE STATUS: Campaigners have qualified the Oakland Cannabis Regulation and Revenue Ordinance for the Nov. 2, 2004 ballot.

Tallahassee, Florida – The Practical Law Enforcement Amendment (aka the PLEA) seeks to amend the Tallahassee city charter to mandate Tallahassee Police Department to make the "investigation, arrest and prosecution of marijuana offenses [involving possession of under 20 grams], ... the city's lowest law enforcement priority."

INITIATIVE STATUS: Campaigners are still awaiting a final announcement from city election officials regarding whether the Practical Law Enforcement Amendment has qualified for the Nov. 2, 2004 ballot.

Ann Arbor, Michigan – If approved, the Ann Arbor Medical Marijuana Act would amend the Ann Arbor city charter to allow qualified patients to possess and cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes under the authorization of their physician. The proposal would mandate "no incarceration, probation, nor any other punitive or rehabilitative measure" for qualified patients, and establish an "affirmative defense to prosecution" when marijuana is possessed for medicinal purposes.

INITIATIVE STATUS: Campaigners have qualified the Ann Arbor Medical Marijuana Act for the Nov. 2, 2004 ballot.

Detroit, Michigan – The Detroit Medical Marijuana Act ( Proposal M) seeks to amend the Detroit city criminal code so that local criminal penalties no longer apply to any individual "possessing or using marijuana under the direction, prescription, supervision, or guidance of a physician or other licensed health professional." The proposal also eliminates criminal penalties on the use and possession of marijuana-associated paraphernalia devices by qualified patients.

INITIATIVE STATUS: Sixty percent of city residents voted Aug. 3, 2004 in favor of Proposition M, The Detroit Medical Marijuana Act.

Minneapolis, Minnesota – If approved, the Minneapolis City Charter Amendment would amend the Minneapolis city charter "to require that the City Council shall authorize, license, and regulate a reasonable number of medicinal marijuana distribution centers in the city of Minneapolis as is necessary to provide services to patients who have been recommended medicinal marijuana by a medical or osteopathic doctor licensed to practice in the state of Minnesota to the extent permitted by state and federal law."

INITIATIVE STATUS: The Minneapolis City Council has refused to place the Minneapolis City Charter Amendment on the Nov. 2, 2004 ballot – arguing that the proposal fails "to relate to the general governance of the city." Petitioners have announced plans to legally challenge the Council's decision. 

Columbia, Missouri – Columbia voters will decide on a pair of initiatives this November: the Missouri Smart Sentencing Initiative, and the Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative. If approved, the Missouri Smart Sentencing Initiative would amend the Columbia city criminal code to reduce misdemeanor penalties on the possession of marijuana and/or paraphernalia to a fine-only offense of $250. The Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative would amend the Columbia city criminal code so that "adults who obtain and use marijuana and/or marijuana paraphernalia for medical purposes pursuant to the recommendation of a physician shall not be subject to any arrest, prosecution, punishment, or sanction." Both proposals mandate that all cases involving either the misdemeanor possession of marijuana or the medicinal use of cannabis be referred only to the Municipal Prosecuting Attorney.

INITIATIVE STATUS: Campaigners have qualified the Missouri Smart Sentencing Initiative and the Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative for the Nov. 2, 2004 ballot.

Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation in Washington, DC.