Medical Marijuana and Drug Reform Measures
Approved Overwhelmingly on Election Day
On November 3rd, voters in 5 states -- Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington -- and in Washington, D.C., overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana and other drug reform initiatives. In Colorado, the vote won't count. In Washington, D.C., the vote has not been released, but an exit poll reported 69% of voters approved Initiative 59, and it is generally agreed it was approved by a majority (James Brooke, "5 States Vote Medical Use Of Marijuana," New York Times, November 5, 1998, p. B10; Kim Murphy, "Preferences, Law Against Pot Lose Out in Some States," Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1998, p. A11; William Booth, "Initiatives Bypass Traditional Lawmaking," Washington Post, November 5, 1998, p. A33).ALASKA: Medical Marijuana Approved by 58%
Medical marijuana initiatives passed in spite of strong opposition to the measures led by "drug czar" Gen. Barry McCaffrey, enlisting law enforcement leaders and numerous other officials and public figures. Shortly before the November 3 election, three former Presidents -- Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush -- wrote a "Dear Fellow Citizens" letter that called on voters to reject medical marijuana initiatives (B. Drummond Ayres Jr., "Aiming the Big Guns At Drug Initiatives," New York Times, October 30, 1998, p. A25).
In 1996, voters approved medical marijuana initiatives in Arizona (Proposition 200) and California (Proposition 215). The group which led the Proposition 215 campaign in 1996, Americans for Medical Rights (AMR), also led the medical marijuana campaigns in Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon this year. "We won every ballot initiative this year, we won every vote last time. Voters want doctors to make these choices, not General McCaffrey or police officers," said Bill Zimmerman, Ph.D., Executive Director of AMR. In Arizona and Washington state, AMR's role was not primary (Americans for Medical Rights, press release, November 4, 1998).
At a press conference in Washington, D.C., on November 4, Zimmerman explained that in the states where initiatives passed this year, the federal government will not be able to sue medical marijuana dispensaries, such as the "cannabis clubs" in California, but will have to resort to suing state governments and officials to block their implementation. Zimmerman predicted that in November 1999 Maine will have a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot. He added that, if the federal government attempts to interfere with the recently approved initiatives, then AMR will attempt to qualify medical marijuana initiatives for the ballot in November 2000 in additional states, including Florida, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Ohio.
At the press conference, Ethan Nadelmann, J.D., Ph.D., director of the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy reform organization in New York City, said that politicians and police who privately want drug policy reform but are afraid to express their desires publicly will feel less afraid given the landslide voter approval of this drug policy reform.
In response to the strong majority votes for drug policy reform, federal officials tamed down the language they used to respond to voter approval of Propositions 200 in Arizona and 215 in California in 1996. At that time, federal officials announced they would revoke the DEA registration of doctors who recommended marijuana. In response to this year's passage of medical marijuana initiatives, Jim McDonough, strategy director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said, "It is virtually impossible for me to give you the coordinated `This is what the federal government is going to do'" (Naftali Bendavid, "Federal officials react more mildly than in past to passage of medical marijuana initiatives," Chicago Tribune, November 4, 1998).
In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times wrote in response to the voter approval of medical marijuana : "It's time for Congress and the Food and Drug Administration to reconsider the use of marijuana for medical purposes, under the same careful restrictions that apply to prescribing other risky and often addictive substances" (Editorial, "Medical Suffering Is the Issue," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), November 5, 1998, p. A24).
ARIZONA: Provisions of 1996's Proposition 200 Restored; Voters Approve Measure Curbing Legislative Dismantling of Future Initiatives
Voters in Alaska approved Ballot Measure 8, a medical marijuana initiative, by 58 to 42%. Ballot Measure 8 allows patients to use marijuana if they have written approval by a physician, and it establishes a confidential registry of patients who use medical marijuana and an identification card system (see, "Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies For November Ballot in Alaska," NewsBriefs, May-June 1997, p. 11).
COLORADO: Medical Marijuana Ruled Off The Ballot, But Voters Approve It By 57%
In Arizona, a majority of "no" votes on Proposition 300 and Proposition 301 restored medical marijuana and treatment-over-incarceration provisions of Proposition 200, the drug reform initiative that Arizona voters approved 2-to-1 in 1996. Proposition 200 was dismantled by the state legislature after its passage (see "Arizona Lawmakers Dismantle Proposition 200," NewsBriefs, May-June 1997, p. 13).
Proposition 300 was defeated 43-57%. This restores the provision of Proposition 200 that permits prescription use of marijuana and other Schedule I drugs. The measure was rejected despite the fact that the legislature wrote the description of the measure on the ballot, which said that a "no" vote will result in "allowing doctors to prescribe Schedule I drugs, including heroin, LSD, marijuana and analogs of PCP. . ." Proposition 301 was defeated 48-52%. This restores the provision of Proposition 200 that mandates probation and treatment instead of prison for first and second time drug offenders.
Arizona voters also approved Proposition 105, which requires that legislation that would undo provisions of ballot initiatives approved by voters must be passed by 3/4 of the state legislature. Voters rejected a similar proposal sponsored by the legislature, Proposition 104, for which the standard was lower -- only 2/3.
The People Have Spoken, Sam Vegenas - 505 W. Coolidge St., Phoenix, AZ 85013, Tel: (602) 222-6639.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Congress Subverts Medical Marijuana Vote;Exit Poll Shows D.C. Voters Overwhelming Approve Measure
Colorado's on-again, off-again medical marijuana measure, Initiative 19, was ultimately disqualified from the November 3 ballot. However, election results showed that voters voted for the measure by a 57-43% margin.
On October 16, Colorado Secretary of State Vikki Buckley ruled that Initiative 19 did not have enough valid signatures to be on the ballot. A line-by-line count of the signatures showed that petitions for the medical measure fell 2,338 signatures short of the 54,242 signatures needed to qualify the measure for the ballot (Ann Schrader, "Pot-Initiative Signatures Ruled Insufficient," Denver Post, October 17, 1998; John Sanko, "State won't count marijuana vote," Rocky Mountain News (Denver), October 17, 1998; Howard Pankratz, "Marijuana measure hits another snag," Denver Post, October 6, 1998, p. 1A).
On August 6, Buckley said a random sample of the petitions showed that the measure lacked enough signatures (see "Medical Marijuana Initiatives Update," NewsBriefs, July-August 1998, p. 26). However, Coloradans for Medical Rights (CMR), which led the initiative campaign, appealed Buckley's decision, saying that the random sample review of the petitions was flawed. On September 10, Denver District Judge Herbert Stern agreed and ordered the initiative to be placed on the ballot without the need for a line-by-line signature count (Howard Pankratz, "Pot Issue to Go on Ballot," Denver Post, September 12, 1998). Buckley appealed and the Colorado Supreme Court ruled on October 5 that Buckley should perform a line-by-line count.
On October 23, CMR asked the Colorado Supreme Court to order county clerks to count the votes on the medical marijuana measure, saying it intends to show that there were enough valid petition signatures for the measure to be on the ballot. The court rejected their request on October 30. However, the vote was reported (Howard Pankratz, "Pot Backer Not Giving Up," Denver Post, October 24, 1998; Howard Pankratz, "Justice won't OK pot vote," Denver Post, October 31, 1998).
Coloradans for Medical Rights, Luther Symons - P.O. Box 18863, Denver, CO 80218, Tel: (303) 394-0440.
The U.S. Congress subverted a vote on a medical marijuana measure (Initiative 59) in the District of Columbia by including a "rider" in the omnibus spending bill (P.L. 105-277). The rider, sponsored by Rep. Robert L. Barr (R-GA), prohibits funds in the D.C. FY 1999 appropriation from being spent on any measure seeking to "legalize or otherwise reduce penalties" associated with Schedule I substances. Ballots for Initiative 59 had already been printed, so residents were able to vote on the measure. However, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (BOE) is not reporting or certifying the results because to do so would require spending a tiny sum of D.C. FY 1999 funds (Editorial, "Initiative 59: Snuffed Out," Washington Post, October 24, 1998, p. A24).
The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics decided on election day that it would not announce the vote on Initiative 59 after the BOE director, Alice Miller, was threatened by Members of Congress with a charge of "contempt of Congress" if the BOE released the results. It is believed the measure passed because an exit poll commissioned by Americans for Medical Rights found that I-59 was approved by a margin of 69-31%, the widest margin of victory for any medical marijuana measure since San Francisco's Proposition P (Peter Slevin and Caryle Murphy, "Results of D.C. Marijuana Vote Kept Secret Pending Court Action," Washington Post, November 4, 1998, p. A36; Bill Miller, "Board Still Will Not Reveal Results of Marijuana Vote," Washington Post, November 5, 1998, p. B9; Steve Twomey, "What's Congress Smoking," Washington Post, November 5, 1998, p. B1).
Initiative 59 would allow seriously ill individuals to use marijuana for medical treatment when recommended by a licensed physician. The I-59 campaign was led by Wayne Turner, an AIDS activist in the district, and the Green Party, with strong support by the Marijuana Policy Project in the last two months (Julie Makinen Bowles, "D.C. to Decide On Marijuana Legalization," Washington Post, October 7, 1998, p. B1).
On October 30, the ACLU for the National Capital Area sued the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to certify the election, saying that obeying the Congressional action to thwart Initiative 59 violates the First Amendment freedom of speech because it is viewpoint discrimination against D.C. voters. National ACLU attorney Graham Boyd assisted in drafting the complaint. The ACLU is seeking injunctive relief, meaning that D.C. Board must certify the election result (Bill Miller, "ACLU Sues to Guard Marijuana Measure," Washington Post, October 31, 1998, p. A4).
On November 9, U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts refused to order the immediate release of the vote on Initiative 59. A hearing on the matter (Turner v. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics) is scheduled for December 18 to give the U.S. Department of Justice time to develop a position and prepare a brief on the issue. The ACLU was joined by D.C. officials in challenging the Congressional ban of the vote. "Every single moment this vote is not counted is an injury to you, to me, to everyone in this room," D.C. Corporation Counsel John M. Ferren told the judge. Ferren called the Congressional ban "silly" because Congress has power to disapprove any D.C. legislation (Bill Miller, "District, ACLU Unite Behind Marijuana Vote," Washington Post, November 7, 1998; Bill Miller, "Marijuana Vote Secret Pending Dec. 18 Hearing," Washington Post, November 10, 1998, p. D3; Steve Twomey, "Get Your Hands Off Those Ballots," Washington Post, November 12, 1998).
On November 10, a rally at the BOE demanded the release of the election results. Demonstrators included D.C. Council member-elect Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) ("Protestors Demand Marijuana Vote Tally," Washington Post, November 11, 1998, p. B3).
In an editorial, the Des Moines Register wrote: "It's hard to imagine that in the history of American elections -- or of American democracy -- there is precedent for stifling the legally expressed will of the people by denying the money necessary to count their ballots. . .Surely the nonsense won't survive. But the incident is an indication that logic and a grasp on reality seem to depart the arena when the issue is marijuana" (Editorial, "Marijuana Madness," Des Moines Register, November 9, 1998, p. 6A).
Wayne Turner, Yes on 59 Campaign - 409 H St., NW, Suite 1, Washington, DC 20002-4335, Tel: (202) 547-9404, Fax: (202) 547-9458, Initiative 59 text on-line at: <http://www.actupdc.org>.
ACLU of the National Capital Area - Mary Jane De Frank, Executive Director, 1400 20th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036, Tel: (202) 457-0800, Fax: (202) 457-1868.
NEVADA: Voters Approve Medical Marijuana by 59%; Measure Must Be Approved Again in 2000
OREGON: Medical Marijuana Approved by 55%; Marijuana Recriminalization Rejected by Two-Thirds of Voters
Voters in Nevada approved Question 9, a constitutional amendment to allow for the medical use of marijuana, by 59-41%. Voters must approve Question 9 again in 2000 for the amendment to become part of the Nevada Constitution. "This was a question about individual freedom and a question of compassion," said Dan Hart, leader of Nevadans for Medical Rights. Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, who opposed Question 9, said, "What I saw is the baby boomers are getting old and they are concerned about pain management" (Ed Vogel and Sean Whaley Donrey, "Medical Marijuana Initiative Clears Its First Hurdle," Las Vegas Review-Journal, November 4, 1998).
Nevadans for Medical Rights, Dan Geary or Dan Hart - 1412 S. Jones Blvd., Las Vegas, NV 89102, Tel: (702) 259-0300, E-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
WASHINGTON STATE: Voters Approve Revamped Medical Marijuana Measure
Oregon voters approved Measure 67, which permits medical use of marijuana, by 55-45%, the smallest margin of victory in all the medical marijuana votes.
A separate issue, Measure 57, to restore criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, failed in a vote of 33-67%. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession, in 1973. Rejection of the measure overturns recriminalization of marijuana that was approved in a 2/3 vote by the legislature last year and reluctantly signed by Governor Kitzhaber (D) (see "Oregon Recriminalizes Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana," NewsBriefs, August 1997, p. 20).
Oregonians for Medical Rights, Geoff Sugarman - 116 N. Ames, Silverton, OR 97381, Tel: (503) 371-4711.
No on 57 campaign - Tel: (503) 371-6222.
Initiative 692 (I-692), which permits the medical use of marijuana, won by a margin of 59-41% (David Schaefer, "Washington Among Five States to OK Medical Marijuana," Seattle Times, November 4, 1998).
Robert Killian, M.D., who led the I-692 campaign, said that I-692 received a majority of the votes in every county in the state. The two largest newspapers, the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and 19 of 27 newspapers in Washington endorsed it. Killian said that in Washington there were substantial campaigns opposing I-692, including efforts by Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, by billionaire Steve Forbes, and by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
I-692 is a scaled-down version of 1997's Initiative 685, which would have allowed the medical use of any Schedule I substance. Initiative 685 was defeated soundly on November 4, 1997 by 60 to 40% (see "Drug Policy Reform Measure in Washington Defeated," NewsBriefs, November-December 1997, p. 3).
Rob Killian, M.D. - P.O. Box 2346, Seattle, WA 98111, Tel: (206) 781-7716, Fax: (206) 324-3101, Web: <http://www.eventure.com/i692>.•
Candidates Sympathetic to Drug Policy Reform Win, Leading Opponents of Reform Lose Offices Across the U.S.
In California, Attorney General Dan Lungren, the state's leading opponent of the 1996 medical marijuana initiative Proposition 215, lost his bid for Governor to the Democratic candidate Gray Davis. Lungren is widely regarded as thwarting the implementation of Proposition 215 and failing to safeguard the rights that 215 gave to patients. Long viewed as Gov. Wilson's heir apparent and front runner, Lungren won only 38% of the vote (Dave Lesher, "Victorious Davis Issues Caution," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), November 5, 1998, p. A15).
Democratic State Senator Bill Lockyer has won the office of Attorney General, in what reformers see as a hopeful development for successfully implementing Prop. 215 (Dan Morain, "Lockyer to Have Leading Role in Key Issues," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), November 5, 1998, p. A15).
In Mendocino County, the newly-elected Sheriff, Toney Craver, and the new District Attorney, Norman Vroman, have both called for the decriminalization of marijuana. Craver won by 58 to 42% against Phil Pintane. Vroman, an ex-convict who served 9 months in a federal prison for tax evasion, won by 52 to 48% against Susan Massini, one of Mendocino County's longest serving district attorneys and president-elect of the California District Attorneys Association. Marijuana is reportedly the biggest cash crop in Mendocino County (Associated Press, "Ex-Felon Becomes District Attorney," Sacramento Bee, November 4, 1998; John D. Cox, "New Mendocino Sheriff, DA Downplay Pot Users," Sacramento Bee, November 5, 1998; Susan Sward, "Mendocino Sheriff, D.A. Favor Decriminalizing Pot," San Francisco Chronicle, November 7, 1998, p. A17).
In Minnesota, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, a former professional wrestler and talk show host, won the race for Governor as the Reform Party candidate. During his campaign, Ventura openly discussed the failure of the "war on drugs" and suggested legalization of marijuana and prostitution. On NBC's Meet the Press on November 8, Ventura said: ". . .I believe you've got to fight the war on drugs from the demand side, not the supply side. I mean for goodness sake, we have Stillwater State Penitentiary here and we can't keep drugs out of there, and these people are locked up 24 hours a day. . .I don't believe that government should be invading the privacy of our own homes, and I also believe that you shouldn't be legislating stupidity. If there are stupid people out there doing stupid things, it's not the government's job to try to make them be smarter." On the program, Ventura also advocated legalizing industrial hemp (Jon Jeter, "Campaign Reform Helped `The Body' Slam Rivals," Washington Post, November 5, 1998, p. A41; Pam Belluck, "A `Bad Boy' Wrestler's Unscripted Upset," New York Times, November 5, 1998, p. A1; UPI, "Ventura Wants Non-'Stupid' Drug Policy," November 8, 1998).
Jesse Ventura - Web: <http://www.jesseventura.org>.
In New York, the new Attorney General will be Democrat Eliot Spitzer, who won an extremely close race against incumbent Republican Dennis C. Vacco. Spitzer opposes the state's infamous "Rockefeller" drug laws, which are some of the stiffest mandatory minimums sentences in the U.S. (Terry Pristin, "Mail Ballots Will Dictate The Outcome Of Close Race," New York Times, November 5, 1998, p. B13; Jonathon P. Hicks, "Spitzer Widens Lead on Vacco In Latest Count," New York Times, November 17, 1998).
U.S. Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), chairman of the Senate D.C. Appropriations Subcommittee, lost his reelection bid by 52-47% to Democratic challenger John Edwards. Faircloth was a staunch opponent of medical marijuana and stated a willingness to do anything to stop the vote in D.C. on Initiative 59, the medical marijuana measure (Taylor Batten and Carol D. Leonnig, "Democrats recapture Senate seat," Charlotte Observer, November 4, 1998).
Democrat Tammy Baldwin was elected to Congress from the Second District, replacing retiring Scott Klug. Baldwin is the first woman elected to Congress from Wisconsin and is the first open lesbian elected to Congress in the U.S. She introduced medical marijuana legislation while in the Wisconsin Assembly. (Darlene Superville, "New Congress an Eclectic Group," Associated Press, November 15, 1998).•