The war against the war on drugs is gaining ground in the United States, where stunning pro-marijuana victories in the November elections have shaken the anti-drug narcocracy.
Medical marijuana, marijuana decriminalization and other cannabis-related issues were on the ballots in six states and the nation’s capitol, Washington, DC. In every venue where marijuana was voted on, voters decided to reduce or erase penalties for marijuana use.
Success and struggles
In Minnesota, young voters turned out in droves to elect Jesse “Body-Mind” Ventura, a professional wrestler and talk show host, as governor. Ventura ran on a Libertarian platform that endorsed legalization of hemp, marijuana and prostitution. Some pundits credit a Ventura profile written by Dan Skye in the November issue of High Times for the victory, noting that the article apparently energized a potent, new voting bloc: pot smokers!
Voters in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state overwhelmingly supported medical marijuana initiatives placed before them by citizen activists. In Colorado and Washington DC, exit polls confirmed that a majority of voters there also supported medical marijuana ballot proposals, but anti-democratic political hooliganism rendered the voice of the people at least temporarily silent, pending legal battles which will almost certainly be decided in favour of marijuana supporters.
In Colorado, anti-marijuana state election officials (such as Republican secretary of state Vikki Buckley) and judges colluded to prevent a vote count on the state’s Amendment 19, a medical marijuana initiative.
Officials claimed that the initiative’s backers had provided too few valid signatures to qualify it for the ballot. This alleged deficiency was contrived at the last minute, too late to remove Amendment 19 from the ballot.
According to polls, Coloradans voted heavily in favor of 19. Its supporters now have to spend lots of money in court battles attempting to force election officials to re- validate the signatures and officially count the vote. The process could take years.
In the meantime, Colorado medical pot supporters vow to qualify another initiative for the year 2000 ballot. This time, they say, the signature issue will be moot.
Fascism also reared its ugly head in Washington, DC. Because America’s capitol is a “district” partially administered by the US Congress, it lacks some of the sovereignty enjoyed by states and other official entities.
That’s why Georgia Republican Representative Bob Barr, a right-wing conservative pit-bull, was able to author and pass an amendment to DC’s appropriations bill which barred the district from counting votes on its medical marijuana proposal.
Barr’s amendment is almost certainly unconstitutional, and the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have filed lawsuits to overturn it.
Political hacks and hypocrites conspired to prevent initiatives from even reaching the voters. Former presidents Carter, Bush and Ford sent a letter to media outlets, saying that medical pot initiatives were “not based on best available science.” It’s ironic that Carter recommended as president in 1978 that marijuana be decriminalized. Perhaps he’s eaten too many peanuts since then.
In Nevada, law enforcement officials, politicians, church groups, and drug-testing profiteers worked to disqualify ballot signatures. In Arizona, schoolchildren were forced to participate in anti-marijuana rallies.
The so-called Christian Coalition sponsored an Oregon ballot measure that echoed a previous move by the legislature to recriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Voters defeated the measure, thus ending the recrim law.
“The anti-freedom forces even sent old Barbara Bush out to campaign against medical marijuana,” quipped Steve Kubby, California’s Libertarian candidate for governor who helped ensure passage of that state’s medical marijuana law in 1996. “And General McCaffrey, who has no training in medicine or public health, was arguing that approval of medical marijuana would ruin our ability to evaluate prescription drugs. What a bunch of idiots.”
Organization & marketing
How did marijuana supporters overcome the propaganda machine?
According to Dr Rob Killian, the Washington state family physician who helped put Proposition 692 on the ballot, the key to success is mainstreaming the issue so that it appeals to all age groups and political persuasions.
“We built bridges to all sides of the political landscape,” he said, “making this a compassion and a doctor-patient issue instead of a marijuana issue.”
Proponents also won by arguing the merits of medical marijuana. Although the government claims that marijuana is an ineffective medicine with dangerous side-effects, cannabis has long been used as medicine the world over. Its side-effects are benign, especially when compared to the prescription drugs it replaces.
Credible research substantiates its medicinal use for a variety of aliments. And, in an ideal world where people are free to plant whatever seeds nature provides, marijuana is an inexpensive medicine that people can cultivate and modify to treat their own specific problems.
Of course, money is the mother’s milk of politics, and marijuana advocates were graciously assisted by billionaire George Soros and other wealthy donors who financed advertising, signature collection and legal challenges necessary to bring medical marijuana to voters’ attention.
Professional, politically-astute organizations like Americans for Medical Rights were also an integral component of the election victories. AMR and other groups brought much-needed media savvy and innovative tactics to a grassroots movement which is often long on enthusiasm but short on organization and marketing ideas.
The state of the law
In all the hoopla, however, it is interesting to note what the initiatives did and did not do. Although all the proposals removed criminal penalties for physician-recommended medical pot use by patients with “severe” medical conditions, the proposals were far from identical. Alaska, Oregon and Nevada will require official registration of medical pot patients. Alaska and Oregon will issue identification cards to patients to help them avoid being arrested.
Oregon’s law prevents cops from destroying plants seized from defendants who intend to offer a medical defense, and insulates doctors from persecution. Alaska’s law also shields doctors.
Nevada’s constitutional amendment, which does not take effect until a second yes vote in the year 2000, partially addresses the problem of getting marijuana and protects users against asset forfeiture. But it also stipulates that pot cannot be used in a public place, and allows insurance companies to avoid reimbursing patients for the cost of medical marijuana.
In Arizona, where voters rejected a proposal to require federal government approval of marijuana before it could be recommended by a doctor, this latest vote is simply a reaffirmation of one cast in 1996. That year, Arizonans voted approval of Prop. 200, a pro-medical pot proposal which was quickly gutted by the state’s governor and legislature.
Now, voters have told lawmakers for a second time that they want medical pot and other alternative medicines legally available. Arizona voters also voted against another proposition (301), thereby endorsing drug treatment instead of prison for drug possession defendants.
Some marijuana advocates grumbled that none of the measures legalized cultivation, however. Thus, the problem of how to obtain medical marijuana ? which continues to dog implementation of California’s Prop. 215- was only partially dealt with by some of the proposals which passed in November.
Drug warriors are notorious for ignoring the will of the people, and some of them still don’t get it. Arizona’s Pima County District Attorney Bill Dickinson said he will work to ensure that Arizona doctors who recommend marijuana are sanctioned by federal authorities. Nevada Attorney General Sue Del Papa said she won?t enforce the medical marijuana law even if it passes again in the year 2000.
General McCaffrey, the American anti-drug czar who used underlings and Bushes in pre-election anti-pot campaigning because polls showed that wherever he went voters decided to support marijuana even more, was unrepentant. A McCaffrey peon reacted to the election by saying that no matter what anybody in any state decided, marijuana was still against federal law and federal piglets still intended to prosecute relentlessly.
A body-slam for freedom
Medical pot proponents celebrated their victories, noting that a fifth of the US population has now voted for medical marijuana, but also acknowledged the work ahead of them. They hope to qualify ballot measures for the 2000 elections in Maine, Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan. Marijuana activists in Florida and Maine almost qualified initiatives this year, but found themselves blocked by the same kind of underhanded tactics employed by Colorado officials.
Proponents know that in the non-democracy of America, voting is only the first step in a long process of social change. They remember what happened to Prop. 215 in California: the state’s attorney general Dan Lungren, a pot-hating born-again Catholic who made a career persecuting pot advocate Dennis Peron and Peron’s allies, worked with federal officials to dismantle 215. Oakland’s highly-respected medical cannabis club was recently closed by a federal order, and medical users, growers and suppliers are still being arrested by state officials.
At least Lungren was put out to pasture. He ran for governor this year, and was firmly repudiated by voters who elected his Democratic rival.
“Thank god we got rid of that hound from hell,” commented a jubilant Dennis Peron during an election night party. “He has been making our lives miserable forever. And we beat his hand-picked successor candidate for Attorney General. Now we have a pot-friendly attorney general and a new governor who has told us that he intends to respect the will of the people. What a glorious victory for freedom and compassion.”
If medical pot proponents find that weasel politicians and cops are trying to subvert the will of voters, they can always call on Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, who has been known to deliver a mean body slam.
Ventura unabashedly advocates legalizing pot and hemp for all uses. “Tax it and use it as a medicine, as alternative energy, as paper, as clothing, as recreation, as everything that this plant is good for,” the big guy says, a bit amazed that his insurgency campaign was so successful.
Who’s going to argue with him?