Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Michigan, Massachusetts Pass Marijuana Proposals

Voters bolster medical marijuana movement—or do they?

On November 4, both Michigan and Massachusetts passed harm reduction measures aimed at eliminating stiff penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Opponents vowed to keep fighting.

In Michigan, on a vote of 63% to 37%, voters passed Proposal 1, allowing for the physician-supervised possession and use of cannabis. However, the initiative did not go as far as allowing for licensed medical dispensaries, as California has done. Nonetheless, this was not a happy outcome for the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy and its director, John P. Walters, who campaigned strenuously against the measure, calling it an “abomination” and said it was likely to lead to marijuana shops in every neighborhood. For its part, the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care said that passage of the proposal would mean that “seriously ill Michiganders who use medical marijuana with their doctors’ recommendation will no longer face the threat of arrest and jail.”

Similar scare tactics failed to deter the electorate of Massachusetts, where 65% of voters came down in favor of Question 2, which calls for rolling back penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana to traffic-fine levels—a strategy which was adopted successfully, if briefly, by Oregon, Alaska, and other states some 35 years ago.

As in Michigan, a full-on campaign against the measure painted a picture of dire consequences for Massachusetts, such as a surge of workplace safety issues and traffic accidents. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, the state’s District Attorneys predicted an epidemic of teen marijuana use. State authorities have the ability to amend the new statute under state law.

Michigan and Massachusetts now become the 13th and 14th states to offer some protection for the medical use of marijuana. Both propositions were heavily endorsed by major newspapers in both states. The city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, as well as Hawaii County in Hawaii, passed ballot measures designed to make marijuana enforcement a low priority for local law officers.

Meanwhile, in California a proposition designed to divert greater numbers of drug offenders from jail to treatment, while decriminalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by anybody, went down to defeat. Supporters of Proposition 5 had argued that the change was necessary because of serious overcrowding in California’s state jail systems. (See Addicts, Alcoholics Overwhelm Prison System).

Here's a brief roundup of drug-related propositions on last week's ballots:
Marijuana Policy Project

Graphic Credit: Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care

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