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November 17, 2006 - Austin Chronicle (TX)

Reefer Madness: Election Roundup

By Jordan Smith

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

While election night saw voters call for sweeping changes in Congress, drug-law reformers were handed a more mixed bag: Three statewide marijuana-law reform initiatives tanked at the polls, while local initiatives in 10 cities across the country sailed through to passage. Notably, in Eureka Springs, Ark.; Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica, Calif.; and Missoula, Mont., voters approved municipal initiatives to decriminalize and/or classify minor pot possession and use by adults as the lowest priority for local police.

The Eureka Springs "Low Priority" initiative, which pulled in 64% of the vote, was the first-ever marijuana-law reform measure to appear on an Arkansas ballot.

On the statewide ballots, however, marijuana reform went -- forgive me -- up in smoke.

In Nevada, voters rejected ballot Question 7 -- the boldest of marijuana initiatives -- which would have legalized the use and possession of up to 1 oz. of marijuana by adults, created a tax-and-regulate scheme with state-licensed pot shops, earmarked a portion of revenue to fund rehab facilities, and stiffened penalties for providing pot to a minor and for driving under the influence.

Bold, yes, but also fairly logical if, indeed, the goal of drug control is to reduce easy access and to end the black market for the substance. That's the goal embraced by many Q7 backers -- including a network of state religious leaders, who came out in favor of the initiative, and by the state's largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, whose editorial board endorsed the measure.

But in the always bizarre and seemingly disconnected world of the federal drug-prohibition whores in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, any drug-law reform -- except in the direction of the even more draconian -- is baaaad, even when the law in question, like Q7, contemplates a way to more strictly control drug use. Indeed, during a television appearance on a local Las Vegas morning program, ONDCP head drug czar John Walters turned the point of Q7 on its ear, claiming instead that the measure was nothing more than a "Drug Dealer Protection Act."

Now, exactly how that would work is completely unclear; the law would only allow adults over 21 to purchase, at most, an ounce of dope at a time from a state-regulated store -- in other words, how any self-respecting drug dealer could possibly hope to stay in business one state-regulated ounce at a time is a complete mystery, especially when buyers could mosey their own butts down to the pot store and do the same. Undaunted by logic, Walters plowed on, telling his TV hostess that under the Q7 tax-and-regulate proposal, an adult dealer could buy an ounce of dope and, without fear of arrest, walk around town with "60 to 80" joints in his pocket, looking to sell 'em -- undoubtedly to kids!

Aside from his apparent affinity for hysterical flights of fancy, there's at least one thing Walters' TV appearance made painfully clear: He's never rolled a joint -- at least, by his 60-to-80-per-ounce rule, not a decent one. In the end, however, just 44% voted for Q7; although backers note that's up six points from 2002, when a similar initiative was on the ballot. As such, it's a safe bet this one will make an encore appearance on a future ballot.

In Colorado, statewide Amendment 44, which sought to "equalize" penalties associated with pot and alcohol, earned just 40% of the vote. As in Nevada, A44 backers, the grassroots group Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, faced a good dose of drug-warrior "What about the children!" rhetoric, apparently encouraged by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Back in September, the Boulder Daily Camera got hold of a letter sent to politicos by local DEA agent Michael Moore, from his DEA e-mail address, seeking to hire a campaign manager for an A44 opposition group, reporting that there was $10K available to spend on the effort.

The e-mail prompted SAFER Colorado campaign director Mason Tvert to cry foul, arguing that the DEA was overstepping its bounds, possibly in violation of federal law. At first, Denver DEA Special Agent in Charge Jeff Sweetin said the $10K came from private donations, before later proclaiming there was no money, at least not that he'd "ever heard of." Later the DEA tried to scrub the story altogether, saying a private individual sent out the letter using Moore's address without his permission. Sure. Whatever.

Finally, voters in South Dakota narrowly defeated the election season's only medi-pot initiative (officially, Initiated Measure 4), by a 52%-48% margin.

While the ballot box defeats were surely disappointing to pot-law reformers, there is, perhaps, hope alive with the changing of the congressional guard in D.C. In a letter to supporters, Marijuana Policy Project Director Rob Kampia noted that the change in leadership will obviously mean the ouster of certain reform foes from key committees and, perhaps, the rise to power of more open-minded legislators -- including California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive first female speaker of the House, who favors protecting the rights of medi-pot patients. Indeed, the long languished federal medi-pot patient protection bill may rise again.

Get "Reefer" online: In order to keep you up-to-date on the insanity of the war on drugs, "Weed Watch" -- your source for drug war and drug policy news has a new name -- "Reefer Madness" -- and an expanded online presence. Be sure to check out the continually updated reefer blog on the Chronicle Web site at

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