Editorial: Support Pro-Cannabis Ballot Initiatives!

On Nov. 6, Americans will take to the polls and decide who will be the president for the next four years – but that isn’t all they will decide.  Several states will have the opportunity to determine whether to end the prohibition of cannabis, or at the very least allow it as a medical option for the sick.

Medical Marijuana Access in AR and MA

Arkansas and Massachusetts have the opportunity to right a wrong that has gone on too far, and bring those states in line with broader public opinion on medical marijuana access.  Regardless of how people feel about legalization, making cannabis a medical option should be barely even controversial at this point.

The facts speak for themselves.

Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative, (Question 3) and The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, also known as (Issue 5) would give relief from over 250 known ailments, including pain, nausea, arthritis, asthma, depression, epilepsy, glaucoma, weight loss and cancer.

Question 3 is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance and the Committee for Compassionate Medicine.  Issue 5 is backed by Arkansas for Compassionate Care.

The initiative in Massachusetts looks to be a clear winner in the polls, which is not surprising, since voters in the Commonwealth supported decriminalization at the ballot box several years ago. Arkansas polling hasn’t been as positive, but we can hope citizens there will become enlightened on this issue by election day.

Voters don’t need to be active in pro-cannabis groups, and don’t even need to be cannabis smoker to see it is a necessity for people who need it.  In fact, prolonging prohibition from patients would be behind the times, and inappropriate based on the numerous studies that back cannabis as a treatment. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now allow legal access to medicinal marijuana.

There are numerous studies suggesting legitimate medical benefits and the possible curative properties of cannabis and Cannabidiol. But even if you argue that those studies haven’t gone through rigorous, controlled scientific scrutiny as of yet, it is impossible to deny the positive effects smoking marijuana has on countless symptoms and terrible side-effects and pain faced by sick people every day.

If you believe a person suffering from agonizing pain, nausea, or extreme discomfort shouldn’t be able to legally smoke a joint if prescribed by his or her doctor, then you have serious hang-ups, or are simply cruel or clueless.

Marijuana Legalization for Recreational Use – Colorado and Oregon

Oregon and Colorado have the chance to break new ground after the Nov. 6 election, with the possibility of being the first states to go green, and allow cannabis to be legalized for consumption by adults, even those who do not have medical marijuana cards.

Yes on 80 oregon cannabis tax actOregon’s Measure 80 is intended to legalize and regulate cannabis for adults age 21 and older.  If it passes cannabis would become commercially available through state-licensed stores.

Cannabis sales would provide revenue to the state and Oregon tax dollars would no longer be wasted enforcing prohibition against a plant with no physically harmful side effects.

Recent polls show the measure is slightly trailing with voters.  Hopefully the voters who support the measure will show up to vote while people against it won’t be motivated enough to attend.

Colorado’s Amendment 64 would allow adults age 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and they would be able to grow up to six cannabis plants in their home.  It would also allow for licensed cannabis stores to sell to anyone 21 and older.

With cannabis the most prevalently used drug in the world, according to Time Magazine, assuming prohibition stops usage is naïve and closed-minded.  Even people who choose not to take in cannabis consumption should recognize that it does happen anyway, and as long as it is illegal, cannabis sales would benefit drug cartels rather than improving the legitimate economy and helping to build schools in the state.

There is also the tremendous cost of policing and controlling marijuana use. Marijuana charges account for nearly half of all drug arrests. We still imprison people on marijuana charges at tremendous cost.  It’s easy to imagine countless better uses for police resources to actually improve public safety, and budget expenses used to imprison people.

Washington State Legalization – Initiative 502

The initiative before Washington voters is more flawed than those in the other states. We struggled reviewing Initiative 502 (known as I-502), and were impressed by all of the extremely thoughtful comments and legitimate concerns from our readers.  But ultimately, this flawed bill, which would legalize possession of cannabis for age 21 and older, is better than no bill and moves the state in the right direction.

There are some legitimate questions about how police could enforce felony drug distribution laws by simple sharing of pot. And there is a new “per-se” law to enforce “driving while high” that could be interpreted very strictly, that says just having a certain amount of marijuana in the bloodstream while driving is sufficient evidence to convict.

There is also an issue Cannabis would be grown by licensed Washington farmers and sold in cannabis stores owned by private Washington businesses that are licensed and regulated by the state.  This stipulation has received criticism in that home-growing even one plant would remain illegal.  I-502 would allow possession of a small amount but gifting, sharing or passing a joint would remain illegal.

But ultimately, most of these concerns won’t go away if the initiative isn’t passed. While activists who oppose this version have plans to introduce a broader initiative with less restrictions, there is no way to know how likely that is to succeed with voters and the many Washingon politicians and police officials who support the current version. Hopefully if I-502 passes, the legalization of a small amount of cannabis would prove successful and the original opponents would be persuaded to soften the limitations even further.

Russ Belville, the Director of Media for the National Cannabis Coalition, known as “Radical Russ,” had a solid factual response to the anti 502 yet pro-legalization groups like Sensible Washington.  He reminds people that I-502 would legalize cannabis for adults over the age of 21, in limited amounts.  Cannabis would also remain a schedule 1 narcotic, considered dangerous and not medically useful, however unlike other Schedule 1 drugs, cannabis would not be violating Washington state law to possess a limited amount.  Belville also adds that while passing a joint would remain illegal, it would be just as illegal as it had been before.

Initiative 502 may be flawed and extremely limiting, but it is legitimate step towards legalization, and a clear improvement over the status quo.

 Vote Yes, and Lets Keep Working

The editors of drugpossessionlaws.com urge supporter to vote Yes on all of these pro-cannabis initiatives.

It has been a remarkable year for cannabis activists. Outright legalization has a legitimate chance in three states. Medical access continues to expand. Decriminalization is spreading. Supporting marijuana reform is no longer political poison.

The tide of public opinion continues to swing toward legalization nationwide.  2011 was the first year that marijuana legalization support topped 50% in national polling, and that trend will only get stronger.

While there are many more fights to be had, particularly with the Federal government’s backwards enforcement policies, let’s pass these initiatives, and build on them in 2013.


About David Matson

David writes about criminal justice issues.
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