Will This Election Unravel Prohibition?
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We are now only 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Washington -- Voters in six cities -- Bellingham, Bremerton, Everett, Kent, Olympia, and Spokane -- will vote on initiativesto make marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority and prohibit local officials from cooperating with federal marijuana law enforcement activities.
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.)