My Best Guess on Outcomes of Marijuana Initiatives


DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  This column is being written a couple of days prior to the November 4th election, and will be published on Monday, Nov. 3, election eve. So it only seems appropriate to offer my prognosis on the four statewide marijuana-related voter initiatives, as well as a number of municipal voter initiatives in Michigan and Maine.

Our Opponents Claim the Sky Is Falling

Before setting out on this dangerous endeavor of projecting election results, I should acknowledge the emergence of a seemingly re-energized gang of drug warriors, still willing to exploit fear and misinformation to justify the continued criminal prohibition of marijuana, and to protect their jobs. Our opponents were clearly caught somewhat off-guard by the legalization victories in 2012 in Colorado and Washington, despite their opposition. These smug law-enforcement and drug counseling industry reps had grown accustomed to their ability to shape the public debate over marijuana policy, and to paint anyone who favored the option of legalizing and regulating marijuana as being out of the political mainstream.

Over the last several months, we have seen Kevin Sabet with Project Sam, the principal remaining anti-marijuana zealots supporting prohibition, making outrageous claims about the experience with legalization in these first two states, claiming all sorts of unintended consequences. One vocal opponent of the Florida initiative recently  referred to the overwhelmingly favorable experience in Colorado as the “Colorado calamity.” The Brookings Institution, in fact, did a comprehensive report on the first six-months of legalization in CO, and found the roll-out of the new law had been overwhelmingly successful. But no one needs to worry Sabet and his ilk with the facts.

One of our opponents in Oregon recently claimed at a public debate that five children in Colorado had died from overdosing on edibles, only to be embarrassed into apologizing and retracting the statement when confronted with demands for the evidence (which, of course, did not exist, since it is impossible to die from an overdose of marijuana, either edible or smoked). While the number of these ideologues making new claims of “reefer madness” is small, they continue to get national media attention with their allegations, and to confuse and dumb-down the public debate.

The Secrets Behind The Midterms

There’s a hidden history to the nasty midterm election campaign that will, mercifully, end on Nov. 4. What’s not being widely talked about is as important as what’s in the news.
Under appreciated fact No. 1: The number of Democratic seats that are not in play this year.In planning their effort to take control of the Senate, Republicans shrewdly launched challenges to Democrats in states that would not automatically be on a GOP target list. “Broadening the map” is wise when you’re in a strong position.

Two of the states on that extended list, Colorado and Iowa, have paid off for Republicans. It’s still far from certain that they will defeat Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado or Rep. Bruce Braley in Iowa, who is trying to hold retiring senator Tom Harkin’s seat. Republicans have a clear shot at both, and this has strengthened their chances of taking the majority.

Just as striking is how many Democrats seem to have nailed down races the Republicans had once hoped to make competitive. This has narrowed the GOP’s path to a majority. Among them: Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Gary Peters of Michigan, who is likely to retain Sen. Carl Levin’s seat. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is also polling well, though he was always favored against former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire is in a tougher race with former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, but she has led most of the way.

Panhandle Politicians Separated By Pot Policies

TEXAS: In the race for State Senate District 31, which covers 37 counties from the Texas Panhandle to the Permian Basin, Republican Sen. Kel Seliger and Libertarian Steven Gibson of Midland fall on the same side of many issues.

Traditionally conservative emphasis on keeping taxes low, maintaining the second amendment and securing the Texas-Mexico border all are high priorities for the pair, but marijuana legalization might be their biggest contrast.

Gibson, a petroleum land man, stands against the War on Drugs when it comes to marijuana and hemp, which he thinks should be legal.

“It’s a failure, just as prohibition was a failure, and we ought to treat marijuana just like alcohol,” he said.

“Especially medical marijuana needs to be legalized, because it’s the only thing that helps people with some diseases. We could save money on that and bring in more revenue.”

Meet The Money Men Behind Medical Marijuana

FLORIDA: Spurred by deeply personal connections to drug use, two wealthy men have emerged as the biggest players in the debate over medical marijuana in Florida.

For John Morgan, an Orlando trial attorney who has spent $4.7 million on the pro-pot campaign, the motivation comes from a younger brother who has been paralyzed for decades. Illegal marijuana eases his pain when prescription drugs can’t, Morgan said.

“If he took the pills they prescribed, he would just be in a trance,” Morgan said. “He’s able to take one or two hits, and instantaneously the pain goes away.”

For Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas billionaire who gave $2.5 million to anti-pot efforts, inspiration comes from the death of a son by drug overdose. Adelson couldn’t be reached for comment.

If voters approve Amendment 2, an initiative to allow patients with cancer and other ailments to use cannabis with the permission of a doctor, Florida would join California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan and New York on the growing list of states to legalize medical marijuana. But there’s a catch: Unlike other states, where convincing half of voters to say yes to pot proved an easy task, Florida requires ballot initiatives to win 60 percent of the vote.

The Importance Of Getting Stoners To Vote On Nov. 4

by Keith Stroup

Legalization Initiatives on the 2014 Ballot

As we approach the midterm elections this November 4th, it is important that everyone understand the right to vote is both a privilege and a responsibility of citizenship that should not be overlooked. Not only do we have federal, state and local candidates on the ballot, but even more important for marijuana smokers, we will have full legalization proposals on the ballot in Alaska and Oregon; a more complete version of decriminalization on the ballot in the District of Columbia; a medical use proposal on the ballot in Florida (the first southern state to vote on medical use); and a number of municipal proposals on the ballot in several cities in Michigan and Maine.

This is a wonderful opportunity to move legalization forward, to continue to build our political momentum, and to win back a measure of personal freedom in our lives. If you smoke marijuana, but do not vote, then don’t complain down the road when you are busted, lose your job or otherwise become a victim of marijuana prohibition.

I fully appreciate and share the disillusionment many people feel towards politics in general, and Congress in particular. For several years, Congress has been largely dysfunctional, unable to overcome partisan politics and pass even the most basic proposals needed to move the country forward, to stimulate the economy, to create more good-paying jobs, or to take the difficult steps needed to reform Social Security and Medicare. And many state legislatures are only marginally more functional.

But despite the disappointment we all feel toward most of our political leaders, we must not allow that disappointment to cause us to sit home on election-day and miss this immediate opportunity to move legalization forward, and to take another huge bite out of marijuana prohibition.

Voters More Supportive than Elected Officials

We all know the voters in this country are far more supportive of legalization than are our elected officials, both at the state and federal level. Elected officials almost always have one overriding goal, and that is to get themselves re-elected; and they have learned over the years that the safest way to do that is to support the status quo, and to avoid all potentially contentious issues. So while 58% of the public nationwide now support the full legalization of marijuana, and even larger majorities support legalizing medical use, most state legislatures, and most individual elected officials, still duck these issues, or outright oppose them.

Which underscores the importance of using the voter initiative process in the states that offer that alternative to go-around the balky state legislatures. Roughly half the states offer the voter initiative, while the other half, and the federal government, have no similar provisions. In those states, and in Congress, we have no choice but to continue to build support one elected official at a time, until we finally have sufficient support to move a legalization bill through the legislature. My best guess is we might have the political support necessary to start passing a few state legislative proposals within four or five years, and once we have 20 or so states adopting legalization, Congress should finally be willing to change federal law and permit the states to adopt whatever marijuana laws they wish, without federal interference.

But we are not there yet, which is why it is so terribly important that we get our supporters to the polls this November. We know we currently enjoy sufficient public support in the three states in play this year (AK, OR, and FL), and in the District of Columbia, that we can and will win these four initiatives if we can energize our supporters. But we also know that young voters especially tend to sit-out these so-called “off-year” elections, and we must all work to be sure they realize precisely what is at stake in these elections. To fail to vote is to be part of the problem.

If we win these four initiatives, the national and international attention currently focused on marijuana legalization will continue, and the momentum from these victories will assure that several additional states move forward with legalization proposals in 2016. With each new victory comes added credibility and a willingness of additional states to take a serious look at legalization as a policy alternative to prohibition.

Of course, the flip side is that any defeat of these initiatives will be perceived by the media, and by many elected officials, as evidence that the legalization movement has peaked, and our opponents will be emboldened to continue their misguided support for prohibition, hoping to find a way to hold back the inevitable sands of change, or at least slow the process.

Early Voting

As part of your outreach to supporters to assure they exercise their power to impact public policy, either directly via voter initiative, or indirectly by voting for elected officials more supportive of legalization, please keep in mind that most states (33) have a method for any eligible voter to cast a ballot before election day, either during an early voting period, or by requesting an absentee ballot.

In the three states and the District of Columbia, where versions of legalization will appear on the ballot this year, Alaska, Florida and DC permit early voting and absentee voting, without any reason required; and Oregon has an all mail voting system. So it should not be difficult for our supporters to cast their pro-pot votes on November 4 or earlier. It has taken us decades to get to this point where we can vote for full legalization; now its time for the stoners of America to come out of the closet and into the voting booth.

MJNN Exclusive: Bush’s Drug War At 25, Part IV

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part four of a four part series that Mr. Hirschburg has written for MJ News Network, as part of our Cannabis Elections 2014 coverage.

By Bailey Hirschburg

Part IV: “…nothing but a handful of useless chemicals…” Following the addresses, Bush received a small bump in public approval, but it dissipated in the following weeks as conflicts with Congress drained his ability to follow though on his “no new taxes” pledge. Crime and drug legislation contributed to Bush reneging and agreeing to new revenue in 1991. Violent crime, economic stagnation, and drug use continued to spike throughout the remainder of his time in office. His only significant crime legislation would be for weapons of mass destruction in 1992.

So what can we learn from the model drug warrior riding the high of a drug war scare? Even adjusted for inflation, the Obama administration’s drug war budget today is larger than Bush’s first national strategy. In the following decades crime has seen a remarkable decline, more thanks to DNA and computer advancements than prohibition. Over the past quarter century drug use fluctuated independently of the national strategy.

Bush’s speech remains a high water mark for prohibition politics. Strict drug laws were becoming uniform nationwide, public support for action remained high despite overall skepticism of big government, casual use was stigmatized, and sweeping expansions of enforcement powers and equipment made the drug war a unifying and lucrative force for law enforcement.

Seeing the drug war through an inherited prism, the president promised contradictory goals, greater freedom through mandatory compliance, bringing prohibition’s fight to the user, while refusing more spending to do so. In trying to inspire more community outrage towards drugs, the president betrayed the reason the war couldn’t continue indefinitely. Black market drugs are more empowered by laws astray are by the casual user. Prevention efforts failed to explain the difference between alcohol and illegal drugs created by prohibiting one but not the other.

As he was concluding his speech before the nation, President Bush assured Americans, “But if we face this evil as a nation united, this will be nothing but a handful of useless chemicals. Victory — victory over drugs — is our cause, a just cause.”

But of course Americans are just now starting to understand what Bush failed to say that night. Drugs ARE useless chemicals, it’s the laws and abuse of them that gives them power.

As we look to the next 25 years, the public today feels that the deadly bacteria eating our nation’s soul is in fact, drug war politics. We’re moving from a golden age of the drug war, to an age of reform. Low level drug arrests are widely criticized, random drug testing is viewed as needlessly invasive. Marijuana legalization is increasingly popular, as are sentencing, prison, and police reforms. 

The Obama administration took over an ONDCP little different then the one Bush left in 1993. Joe Biden, moving from the Senate to the Vice Presidency personifies the change, became a champion of cocaine sentencing reforms along the way. In 2009, Obama’s first drug czar, Gil Kerlikowski, promised a police group “Legalization is not in the president’s vocabulary, and it’s not in mine,” Within four years, the Obama administration would lay out guidelines for Washington and Colorado to move forward with their legal marijuana systems. In that way, when it comes to prohibition, President Bush was right. This scourge will stop.


MJNN Exclusive: Bush’s Drug War At 25, Part III

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part three of a four part series that Mr. Hirschburg has written for MJ News Network, as part of our Cannabis Elections 2014 coverage.

By Bailey Hirschburg

Part III: “We need is another D-Day, not another Vietnam…” A major obstacle for President Bush at this time was the deficit. A popular pledge in his campaign speeches had been “read my lips, no new taxes.” Democrats controlled congress, and would have been happy to make him break this pledge to pay for the drug war. Though he would propose what was then the largest one year increase in drug war spending, $2.2 billion, much of it was moved from other government spending.

“Caught, prosecuted, punished.” President Bush warned drug users and sellers alike.  Joint task forces could get more federal dollars and asset forfeiture, with little oversight from Uncle Sam so long as they served warrants and made seizures and arrests. Prosecutors pushed to get convictions on even low level offenses unless the person became an informant. Mandatory sentencing took discretion from judges.

Even with rhetoric made to beat the war drum, public reaction to his address was mixed. Immediately following Bush’s speech, Delaware senator Joe Biden offered an official Democratic response. Biden explained that congressional democrats “don’t oppose the president’s plan. All we want to do is strengthen it.”

“The president says he wants to wage a war on drugs, but if that’s true, what we need is another D-Day, not another Vietnam – not a limited war fought on the cheap and destined for stalemate and human tragedy,” Biden solemnly said.

Bush’s policies were not radically different, nor were Biden’s and congressional Democrats. Still, they set a precedent that politicians of both parties would follow for years. In Drugs and Culture: Knowledge, Consumption, and Policy editors Geoffrey Hunt, Maitena Milhet, and Henri Bergeron suggest the administration codified not just prohibition, but a war-like posture for the wider culture war:

    “…the Republicans had established themselves as the party of hard drug policy and the Democrats were struggling to keep up. This explains why there were no major shifts in federal policy after the Democrats recaptured the White House in 1992.”

Perhaps the soberest review of the address came from Marshall Ingwerson at the Christian Science Monitor

“On the other hand, Mr. Bush brings the war metaphor to the anti-drug effort without having managed the full mobilization that the term conveys.”

“After discussing the speech with two dozen of his students who watched it, says Dr. [Michael Robinson, a presidential scholar at Georgetown University] surmises that the typical viewer “walked away from his television set saying, give it your best shot, George.”

Within a week of the speech, the president gave a televised re-packaging of the address for school kids. He alluded to the great challenge in what government was trying to do, mixing civic duty and police action.

How can drugs cause so much pain? How can they lead brothers to kill brothers and mothers to abandon children? And behind all of the senseless violence, the needless tragedy, what haunts me is the question: Why?

I have one answer. Drugs are still a problem because too many of us are still looking the other way. [ … ] You know — all of you in a classroom know — who’s got a problem. Today I’m not just asking you to get help. I’m asking you to find someone who needs you, and offer to help. I’ll say it again: If you’re not in trouble, help someone who is.

  [ … ] Saying no won’t make you a nerd. It won’t make you a loser. In fact, it will make you more friends than drugs ever will — real friends.

But if that’s not enough reason, there’s another side: Using illegal drugs is against the law. And if you break the law, you pay the price. Because the rules have changed. If you do drugs you will be caught, and when you’re caught you will be punished. You might lose your driver’s license — some States have started revoking users’ driving privileges. Or you might lose the college loan you wanted — because we’re not helping those who break the law. These are privileges, not rights. And if you risk doing drugs, you risk everything, even your freedom. Because you will be punished

Bush would mention “drugs” more than 25 times, cocaine and alcohol were each mentioned twice. Marijuana got no direct mention. The gap in this message was picked up by students and reported by Bernard Weinraub in the New York Times:

“The unanimity stopped, however, when the students were asked whether the speech would make a difference. Hands shot up. ”Some people do it just because people say, ‘don’t do it,’ ” said Pleasance Lowengard, a sixth grader.

Some children in the group, all 10 to 12 years old, thought the President should have included alcohol in his message. Indeed, based on the 45-minute discussion that followed the President’s speech, most of the students had seen far more evidence of alcohol abuse, in their own families or in those of their friends, than they had from cocaine, marijuana or heroin.”