As a sign that the national mood has begun to shift away from the zero tolerance, “just say No” mantra that first took root in the late ’70s, voters in three states and Washington D.C. (too late for a former mayor) vote today on measures that will decriminalize drugs or change the penalties for same:
- Purported grass-roots campaigns in Nevada, Ohio, Arizona and the District of Columbia are being run by political advocacy firms in New York and Washington, D.C., with money from financier George Soros and University of Phoenix founder John Sperling, billionaires both, and multimillionaire Peter Lewis, retired CEO of Progressive Insurance.
Opponents say their posse of soccer moms, anti-drug groups and police officials cannot raise the money to counter the proponents’ professional media campaign.
”It could be Nevada today and Anytown, USA, tomorrow,” says Sandy Heverly, director of STOP DUI, the main opposition group in Nevada. ”Their ultimate goal is to legalize drugs everywhere.”
Recent polls indicate the ballot measures, to be decided today, are a tossup in Arizona, Ohio and Nevada. In Washington, polls show voters favor the measure.
* Arizona’s ballot measure asks whether to require state police to distribute up to 2 ounces of marijuana per month to people with a registration card for medical marijuana and whether to remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 2 ounces.
* Nevada’s measure asks whether to make it legal for adults to possess as much as 3 ounces of marijuana and require a legally regulated marijuana market.
* Ohio and Washington ballot measures call for treatment instead of jail for people arrested for marijuana possession.
The ballot initiatives are part of a nationwide strategy essentially run by two groups, the Drug Policy Alliance in New York and the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, and funded by the three men. Although they have chosen local battlegrounds, the larger enemy is the federal ”war on drugs.”
”We’re trying to do this on a state level to put pressure on Congress to do something,” says Bill Zimmerman, executive director for the Campaign for New Drug Policies, which funds and advises the Ohio and Washington initiatives. ”Drug policy is not a local issue. It’s a national issue.”
I couldn’t agree more: the War on Drugs has been a failure on every level. It’s been a politically expedient issue for over 20 years now and the time has come to roll the tide back the other way with treament for addicts and greatly reduced penalties for simple possession of every kind of illegal drug. And I say balls to the wall to Nevada for the effort to decriminalize marijuana and create a state-regulated market, as they have done for prostitution and gambling.
Our initiative here in Ohio to require treatment rather than jail is a huge step in the right direction: if you really want to get people off drugs, jail sure as hell is not the place to send them.
Here is what the DPA has to say about marijuana:
- In 1937, with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act, the United States effectively banned recreational and medicinal use of cannabis.(1) Many nations followed suit and, in 1961, through the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, fifty four nations agreed to “[a]dopt such measures as may be necessary to prevent the misuse of, and illicit traffic in the leaves of the cannabis plant.”(2) Despite such restrictive control, cannabis has become the most widely used illicit drug in the western world.
Since the 1970’s pressure has been building to move away from the total prohibition of cannabis. Over the past century, numerous reports from independent, government-sponsored commissions have documented the drug’s relative harmlessness and recommended the elimination of criminal sanctions for consumption-related offenses.(3) Opinion polls show growing support for cannabis reform and scientific, medical and patient communities continually provide evidence of the drug’s therapeutic potential. As the public demands legal access to cannabis for both medicinal and other responsible uses, policy makers are being forced to consider how to regulate the drug.
Holland has led the way in cannabis reform since it amended its Opium Act in 1976 to distinguish among drugs according to levels of risk. Identifying cannabis as a “soft drug,” the Dutch government decided to treat possession and cultivation of up to 30 grams as activities “not for prosecution, detection or arrest.” This policy of tolerance paved the way for the “coffee shop system”of publicly distributing both marijuana and hashish.
More recently, in 1996 the voters of California passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, so that sick and dying patients could legally use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Cannabis buyer’s clubs, not unlike the Dutch hash coffee shops, have emerged to provide marijuana to those with legitimate medical need. Despite the federal government’s ongoing efforts to stymie Prop. 215 by shutting down the clubs, voters in Washington D.C and five states – Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon – will consider similar initiatives this coming November.
Cracks in prohibitionist cannabis control systems continually and increasingly form. These cracks take different shapes in different countries, reflecting the diversity of political, social and cultural conditions. As clinical trials get started in the United Kingdom, as more Australian states lower penalties for personal possession and use, and as more continental European countries choose not to enforce criminal sanctions for personal possession, alternative ways of regulating cannabis will continue to develop. Whether individual governments choose to play a role in the drug’s responsible regulation remains to be seen.
And this on the Drug War:
- Everyone has a stake in ending the war on drugs. Whether you’re a parent concerned about protecting children from drug-related harm, a social justice advocate worried about racially disproportionate incarceration rates, an environmentalist seeking to protect the Amazon rainforest or a fiscally conservative taxpayer you have a stake in ending the drug war. U.S. federal, state and local governments have spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to make America “drug-free.” Yet heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other illicit drugs are cheaper, purer and easier to get than ever before. Nearly half a million people are behind bars on drug charges – more than all of western Europe (with a bigger population) incarcerates for all offenses. The war on drugs has become a war on families, a war on public health and a war on our constitutional rights.
Many of the problems the drug war purports to resolve are in fact caused by the drug war itself. So-called “drug-related” crime is a direct result of drug prohibition’s distortion of immutable laws of supply and demand. Public health problems like HIV and Hepatitis C are all exacerbated by zero tolerance laws that restrict access to clean needles. The drug war is not the promoter of family values that some would have us believe. Children of inmates are at risk of educational failure, joblessness, addiction and delinquency. Drug abuse is bad, but the drug war is worse.
Here is the MPP’s Mission Statement:
In the United States, more than 70 million people have tried marijuana, and millions of adults still consume it on a regular basis. Almost everyone has a friend, relative, neighbor, or co-worker who consumes marijuana. Because of the widespread economic and criminal justice ramifications of the illicit marijuana market and of Marijuana Prohibition, the marijuana phenomenon touches nearly everyone’s life.
All drugs are potentially harmful; marijuana is no exception — and the entire range of marijuana policies, from total prohibition to total legalization, has drawbacks as well as benefits. As with alcohol and tobacco, there is no simple solution.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) understands that no one policy will solve all problems. Each potentially harmful effect of marijuana consumption and the myriad public and private marijuana control efforts must be thoroughly evaluated. Each policy option should be judged according to whether the overall harm is reduced or increased. Furthermore, public policies must be grounded in the reality that marijuana consumption is already widespread despite the present prohibition laws.
A “marijuana-free America” has been proven to be an unrealistic goal.