Civic victories

Inside the Automatic Voting Machine Corporation in New York.Inside the Automatic Voting Machine Corporation in New York.November 2 was a good day for civic marijuana initiatives, with victories at the polls in Ann Arbor, Columbia and Oakland. Only an initiative in Berkeley that would have increased allowable quantities for medical marijuana patients failed to pass.
Voters in the college towns of Ann Arbor and Columbia gave overwhelming approval to medical marijuana measures, and Columbia also passed an initiative that will make small-time pot possession a municipal instead of a state offense, thus protecting students from losing financial aid under the Higher Education Act’s anti-drug provision if they get caught with a joint or two.

In Ann Arbor, which decriminalized marijuana possession way back in the days when hippies walked the earth, residents okayed a measure that will waive fines for med-pot patients and caregivers who have the recommendation of a health professional.

In Columbia, a measure approving medical marijuana won with 69% of the vote, while the decrim measure won 61%. “We are especially cheered by these results,” said Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter head Amanda Broz, who also heads the Columbia Alliance for Patient Education, the umbrella group that led the initiative fight.

In Oakland, an initiative directing local law enforcement to make marijuana the lowest priority and directing city officials to tax and regulate marijuana sales as soon as is permitted by state and federal law cruised to victory with 64% of the vote. Oakland had been the home of Oaksterdam, a cluster of medical marijuana clubs near downtown, until the city council earlier this year moved against it by restricting the number of clubs permitted to operate.

“The citizens of Oakland voted to legalize marijuana,” said Dale Gieringer, head of the California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and one of the members of the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance, the group behind the initiative. “The L-word was on the ballot, and that didn’t scare Oakland voters. Oakland has become the first political entity anywhere to declare itself in favor of the tax and regulate model.”

Voter support for the initiative will strengthen reformers as they seek to revisit the question of Oaksterdam, said Gieringer. “Oaksterdam was shut down because of spurious and hysterical claims,” he said, “but now the decrease in economic activity is noticeable and the business has moved south into unincorporated areas of Alameda County. We need to reexamine the Oaksterdam situation. We will go to the city council and say that the voters have said they support taxed and regulated marijuana, we can do medical marijuana under state law, and the city needs to remove these unwise, unwarranted restrictions on the cannabis clubs.”

But while voters in Oakland were giving the okay to legalization, next door in Berkeley it appears that an initiative to raise quantity limits on medical marijuana has gone down to defeat. While organizers there are holding onto an ever slimmer hope that a count of absentee and provisional ballots there will take them over the top, the measure continues to trail. Sponsored by the Berkeley Patients Group, the measure would have increased the 2.5 pound per patient limit, but city officials argued that it would remove the city’s ability to regulate cannabis dispensaries.Inside the Automatic Voting Machine Corporation in New York.

? Originally published in the Drug War Chronicle: