Election victories signal pot-policy reform

November 14, 2004

Robert Kampia , San Francisco Chronicle

 

However anyone feels about the results of the presidential race, Nov. 2 was a banner day for marijuana policy reform: nationwide, 17 of 20 initiatives won, including a huge win for medical marijuana in the state of Montana. Less noticed by the national media were the results from key legislative contests that should scare the daylights out of politicians who oppose commonsense reforms.

The bottom line: Even 'social conservative' voters are ready to make substantial changes in our marijuana laws.

California, which has led the nation in establishing sensible marijuana policies, must continue to show the way.

Montanans made their state the 10th to pass a law allowing medical marijuana, by a whopping 62 percent to 38 percent. Not only did this continue the unbroken winning streak for initiatives allowing medical use of marijuana, it was the biggest margin of victory in any first-time vote on a statewide medical-marijuana measure anywhere.

Indeed, many voters who supported Montana's ban on same-sex marriage (which passed with 67 percent of the vote) also supported protecting medical- marijuana patients. Clearly, a lot of conservative voters believe it is wrong to send patients to jail for using medical marijuana.

In Alaska, although an initiative to replace marijuana prohibition with a system of regulation failed, the 43 percent support that measure received was the highest vote percentage ever recorded for a statewide marijuana regulation or 'legalization' initiative. There have been only four other such initiatives in the history of the country -- in Alaska, California, Nevada and Oregon --

and the previous record-holder was Alaska's 59 percent to 41 percent loss in 2000. None of the others even broke 40 percent.

In Oakland, voters put the city on record in support of taxation and regulation of marijuana and made enforcement of laws against possession of small amounts of marijuana the lowest priority for local police, by an overwhelming 65 percent to 35 percent. Around the country, 17 local marijuana- reform initiatives appeared on city or legislative district ballots, and 16 passed. These included a medical-marijuana proposal in Ann Arbor, Mich., and two measures in Columbia, Mo.: One to permit medical use and another to end the threat of arrest and jail for any misdemeanor marijuana possession charge.

All racked up overwhelming margins, with the Ann Arbor measure passing by 3 to 1.

Perhaps the most telling results of all came from Vermont, where medical- marijuana advocates ousted three openly hostile state representatives and protected all three supportive incumbents who were in tight races. The opponents had nearly blocked passage of Vermont's medical-marijuana law last spring and led efforts to weaken it. Their defeat flipped the Vermont House of Representatives from Republican to Democratic control, sending a strong message to politicians in Vermont and elsewhere that opposing medical- marijuana legislation is bad for their political health.

Of course, there were disappointments. Besides the Alaska loss, Oregon voters defeated an initiative to strengthen and expand the state's existing medical-marijuana law by 58 percent to 42 percent. White House Drug Czar John Walters visited the state to campaign against the initiative, calling it a 'fraud.' His scare tactics undoubtedly contributed to the initiative's defeat.

Nevertheless, Nov. 2 was a good day for anyone who supports marijuana laws based on reason, science and compassion. We hope President Bush is paying close attention to the numerous victories -- especially in Montana, where Bush won 59 percent of the vote but medical marijuana won 62 percent.

The president's strongest supporters also support protecting medical- marijuana patients, and they don't want the federal government telling their doctors how to practice medicine. It's time for the president finally to keep his 2000 campaign pledge to let states decide the medical-marijuana issue 'as they so choose,' without fear of federal agents arresting the seriously ill.

Politicians nationwide should finally realize that the public is ready for a serious re-examination of marijuana laws that are too often based on ignorance and superstition. California voters and elected officials can help. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a medical-marijuana supporter, should use his considerable clout within the GOP to tell Bush administration officials to keep their hands -- and handcuffs -- off California patients. The state's congressional delegation -- particularly re-elected Sen. Barbara Boxer, who's been missing in action on this issue -- should push to stop federal attacks on the sick and to bring sanity to federal marijuana laws.

If they don't, voters should follow Vermont's lead and send them packing.



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