The Votes For Cannabis Law Reform

Though Prop 19 didn’t pass, progress is still being made Stateside

By M. Allister Greene

In Nov. 2010, many voters went to their polls across the United States of America locking their arms with the somewhat faithful call for change. This was no different for many Cannabis supporters who wished to see reform in the laws and policies in their states. Both legalization and medical uses of cannabis were major reasons to make it to the polls on Nov. 2, as questions were added for citizens in many states in the form of ballot initiative, Voter Referendums, and others with Non-Binding ballot questions.

The U.S., unfortunately, does not have a constitutional right or amendment that allows for federal change of laws, for the U.S. as a whole, by act of voting initiatives. Currently only 26 states have some sort of bal- lot measure form declared as a right in the state constitution or as an amendment that was added to allow voters of the state to affect state law where they claim citizenship. For some voters, even though ballot initiatives are not a right granted in their state, still have non-binding ballot questions/referendums that allow them to state public support or non-support for laws they wish to pass or remove.

The initiative process allowed in 26 states, begins with voting citizens starting a petition to create a new law. Each state has a set number of registered voting adults from the state needed to get an initiative on the ballot. One of the highest anticipated ones this past year was California’s Proposition 19—the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010. This initiative was set to pass a legal market for all adults over the age of 21 and would have given Cali- fornia citizens the right to cannabis, as it would have became a lawful act. In the end, 5,333,359, or 53.5 percent, of Californians voted against and 4,643,751, 46.5 percent, voted in favour of legalization, and the measure failed. The fall of this initiative has hurt many hard-working spirits, but it has created a new and more powerful network of cannabis activists who refuse to give in and have the spirit to win.

This last year, the only pro-cannabis initiative that was absolutely binding was the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, Proposi- tion 203, which passed with 841,348 (50.1 percent) in favour, and the no votes com- ing in at 837,008 (49.9 percent), mean- ing the yes voices were only a little louder then the no voices. This is the second time Arizona passed a medical cannabis act. In 1996, Arizona’s Proposition 200 was approved by the voters passing on the ballot by 65.4 percent. The wording was the reason the law was brought down, due to the word prescription and not using recommendation. Cannabis is a schedule 1 substance and therefore can not be prescribed by a doctor and would have removed many medical licenses according to the states court system when the law was challenged before enacted.

The passing of Arizona’s Medical Mari- juana Act should absolutely be celebrated but shows a disturbing trend. Both 2010 and 1996 props passed, but the support levels went down. This could have been because some people want medical and did not like the bill, or the public support in Arizona for medical cannabis is dropping either because people want to see full legalization, or they are afraid of the so-called abuse in other states. This occurs on both sides as people question if some states are allowing fake patients, and how the federal and local governments refuse to agree to respect laws passed by voters. At this point, though some aspects of Proposition 203 are still being decided, the act is progressing nicely into law as Arizona becomes the fifteenth state to pass medical cannabis laws.

The Arizona act protects medical cannabis users from discrimination, particu- larly jobs being taken away or employment refused due to their card holding status. Under the new law, the employer has to prove that the patient can not do their job safely and effectively. It also gave students the legal right to use off school grounds if they have a doctors recommendation. Prop 203 also prohibits discrimination, as it pro- tects the rights of cannabis patient’s rental rights, right to organ transplants, and custody and/or visitation of parents over children. The biggest conflict to those that sup- port the law, is the right to grow at home is taken away if you live within 25 miles of a dispensary. Many also feel that the 2.5 oz limit for every two weeks is inadequate. This amount was also brought up by the opposition who were claiming 200 to 250 joints from this amount which would honestly be very small if people really rolled .28 gram joints. These would be very ineffective to use as medication, or even for recreational use, unless one was to smoke many of these together or back to back, reducing health benefits.

The Initiative Measure 13, known as South Dakota Medical Marijuana Act, was also voted on in Nov. This initiative was out voted by a horrible 199,552 which was 63.31 percent of the voters. This failure compared to the 2006 measure which did not pass, but by 52.3 percent, also had over 15,000 more voters and better support. The biggest mistake was running this ballot initiative when the majority of the rest of the election for offices in South Dakota were uncontested Republican politicians who are mostly anti-cannabis, and only need- ed a majority vote of yes to stay in offices where they had no one running against them. This poor choice to run the ballot might cost the passing of any cannabis act anytime soon, in a ditch that’s muddy and filled with broken glass. A defeat that is due to poor judgment, such as Measure 13, seemed to be poorly supported due to not being in the public eye with no media at- tention. It became a disabling blow to the movement, as medical cannabis legislation in South Dakota is now stuck in the mud with a few flat tires.

In states that have Initiatives to create new laws, they often have referendums that basically affect other laws by either adding new laws or overturning laws. Some states allow referendums to be started by the legislatures and/or citizens, and need a petition with a set number of votes to put it on the ballot. This last year in Oregon, voters had a chance to pass laws allowing a regulated dispensary system and to legalize a business that some say currently exist already in a gray area of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (Measure 67 from 1998). Now last year’s vote which did not pass and had 790,978 no votes (55.79 percent), and 626,749 votes yes (44.21 percent), on the Oregon Regulated Medical Marijuana Supply System Act, Measure 74. This act was tiled more as an initiative, but actually functioned more like a referendum. It had a large amount of public support, and it was more of a shock that it did not pass. It was most likely brought down by some complaints made by newspapers opposing its passing because it left a lot open to local municipalities to control, interpret, and create from, if it passed.

In almost all states, some form of non- binding questions or referendums can appear on the ballot. Depending on the state, they may be brought forth by citizen petition or legislative acts for voters to voice their opinion on public policy or civil rights, as also seen federally. They are non-binding, though, but they can affect a politician’s chance of being elected again if they go against the majority opinion. They are not legally obligated to vote for, pass, or fail a bill due to the results. Some non- binding ballot questions can be directed to a state or municipality, or toward public officials directly named. This year, Massachusetts had 18 municipalities vote on non-binding question and referendums, all of which passed in favor of cannabis legalization, medical, or decimalization in some of the highest populated areas of the state.

All forms of initiatives, ballot questions, and referendums (binding or not) are ex- amples of the U.S. direct democracy in action. Now as important as these are, as they can directly make public policy, the driving force in most laws come from those we elect as public officials, which is indirect democracy. Recently, Vermont elected a pro-legalization governor, and California elected Kamala Harris who is a lesser evil than Steve Cooley. It is important to always make sure votes for delegates count towards either someone who represents personal view of rights, or who is less likely to try to see you in cage. We can not allow candidates who have even a slight chance of taking away any of our freedoms, and not towards the reform that the world needs, to be elected.