Live from NORML — Western States Prepare for Marijuana Legalization Votes
Colorado, Oregon and Washington voters will have their say this November about whether their states should legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. Although the Oregon proposal is not polling well, the Colorado and Washington proposals have consistently polled above 50 percent for several weeks.
At the 41st annual NORML national conference, activists working with the state campaigns shared their strategies, explained the effects on public opinion and revealed their concerns about the federal response in the event that one or more of the measures pass.
“We have to convince non-smokers that we’re never going to have this utopian, drug-free society,” says Rick Steves, co-sponsor of Washington’s Initiative 502 (and better known in some circles for his European travel shows and guidebooks). “It is never going to happen. We need to deal with reality and deal with it smartly.”
Previously reported on Lawyers.com:
Even as Oregon’s Measure 80 trails the other proposals in support, the effort’s campaign manager, Roy Kaufman, claims success in appealing to skeptical voters by comparing marijuana prohibition to the country’s failed attempt at alcohol prohibition.
“We talk to voters and let them know that prohibition doesn’t work because when you make something prohibited, you make it very sexy,” Kaufman says. “No one would have eaten the forbidden fruit if it wasn’t forbidden.”
He added that voters respond well to the argument that legalization and regulation make drug supplies easier to control, especially when it comes to keeping them out of the hands of children and teens.
“Liquor use by teens is at a record low. Tobacco use by teens is at a record low,” Kaufman says. “Marijuana use by teens is at a record high,” he said.
In Colorado, Amendment 64 Co-Chair Brian Vicente agrees that these measures must win over non-smokers and skeptics if they are to succeed.
“We allow communities to opt out,” he says. “They can’t opt out of legalized possession, but they can opt out of having stores. But this is just like alcohol regulation, where you have dry counties.”
Mainstream Colorado voters have also been enticed with plans to funnel tax revenues from marijuana sales directly into construction of new public schools.
“I believe that’s one of the key pieces that will help us win,” he says. “When we talk about this to the public, we see a lot of heads nodding.”
“Scrambling to Support Us”
As the Colorado and Washington measures gained steam, politicians in those states who were initially reluctant to support marijuana reform have started to come around.
“They’re scrambling to support us so that they can get reelected,” Steves says of Initiative 502. “It’s almost becoming counter-culture to oppose the legalization of marijuana.”
Initiative 502 has been endorsed by 15 Washington state representatives, seven state senators including Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, and a slew of judges, city council members and mayors throughout the state.
But along with the building optimism is concern among activists that the federal government or U.S. Supreme Court could take away any victories they enjoy this fall.
“There is a serious risk that this could go to the Supreme Court and that they could uphold the authority of the federal government to suppress all of this state action,” says Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Furthermore, what is the White House going to do? What are the U.S. attorneys going to do?”
After stating he would not be using federal resources to circumvent state laws on the issue of medical marijuana, President Obama and the U.S. Department of Justice have engaged in a campaign of intimidation and federal action against state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries and growers in several states. With a federal government so evidently eager to eradicate the palliative use of marijuana, many advocates expect the blowback against legalization for recreational use to be much more severe.
Regarding the difference between a second Obama term and a Romney presidency, Nadelmann says, “Our choice is between a disappointment and a disaster.”
Will you be voting in Colorado, Oregon or Washington this fall? What do you think of these state initiatives? Let us know in the comments section below.