On November 7, US voters passed six state-level ballot propositions to reform forfeiture law and make medicinal marijuana available to those in need.
Except for the Mendocino and Alaskan initiatives, all were backed by the Campaign for New Drug Policies, a Santa Monica-based organization backed by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
CALIFORNIA voters approved Proposition 36, which requires that first- and second-time defendants convicted of being in possession of drugs can only be sentenced to treatment programs.?Those who “fail” tratement can be incarcerated. Third-time convictions will only result in 30-day jail terms, unless the defendant is sentenced to treatment and fails, at which time he can receive a one-to-three-year term.
Proposition 36 takes effect July 1. It received over 60% of the vote, and provides $120 million for treatment programs. It will prevent the incarceration of between 25,000 and 37,000 nonviolent drug users each year.
NEVADA’s Question 9 passed with 65% of the vote. It allows doctors to prescribe marijuana for severe illness and pain.?Nevada voters approved medical marijuana by 59% in 1998, but adding it to the state’s constitution required another “yes” vote this year. The initiative will not be enforced until the legislature enacts specific rules sometime in 2001.
COLORADO’s Amendment 20 allows patients to possess and grow up to two ounces of marijuana for medical purposes. 54% of Colorado voters approved the amendment.? Patients must have recommendations from a doctor and must register with a state-operated system.?However, the amendment provides no definite way for marijuana to be obtained by patients.
OREGON voters approved Measure 3, which overhauls the state’s civil forfeiture law. The measure stops local and state police from keeping seized property and cash unless the owner is actually convicted of a crime involving the property.?A 1999 report found that two-thirds of property seizures, almost all drug-related, involved no actual criminal charges. If no conviction is won, the cash or property must be returned. It also requires that 75% of the proceeds from seized property go toward drug treatment, education and prevention.
UTAH voters backed Initiative B to rewrite state forfeiture laws by a margin of 2 to 1. Owners of seized property will now get state-paid attorneys to represent them. Proceeds of seized property sales will go into the Uniform School Fund. Police complain that the change will cost them millions of dollars in assets they could seize and keep.
MENDOCINO COUNTY in California passed Measure G with a 58% margin. It denies local police funding for the arrest or prosecution of people who own up to 25 marijuana plants. It also mandates police protection for those who grow marijuana for personal use. The measure was placed onto the ballot by the local Green Party. Mendocino County Sheriff Tony Craver said that federal law overrides the local initiative, but that he doesn’t have time to make arrests for “mom-and-pop gardens” anyways.
Two other initiatives failed to pass:
MASSACHEUSSETTS voters failed to pass Question 8, which would have given judges the discretion to send first- and second-time drug offenders to treatment rather than prison, and funneled drug forfeiture money into treatment programs.
ALASKA had the most ambitious ballot initiative, as Proposition 5 would have completely legalized marijuana use and cultivation by anyone 18 and over, granted amnesty to anyone convicted on marijuana-related charges, and required a panel to consider restitution to those who have been imprisoned. Only 39% of voters backed the initiative.
* Soros Foundation Network; For more information contact the Office of Communications at the Open Society Institute, New York at (212) 548-0668 or visit their website at www.soros.org.