Strategy, Timing Key To States' Pot Legalization
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Strategy, Timing Key To States' Pot Legalization
Posted by CN Staff on December 02, 2012 at 17:04:17 PT
By Gene Johnson, Associated Press 
Source: Associated Press
Seattle -- In the late-1980s heyday of the anti-drug "Just Say No" campaign, a man calling himself "Jerry" appeared on a Seattle talk radio show to criticize U.S. marijuana laws.An esteemed businessman, he hid his identity because he didn't want to offend customers who — like so many in those days — viewed marijuana as a villain in the ever-raging "war on drugs."
Now, a quarter century later, "Jerry" is one of the main forces behind Washington state's successful initiative to legalize pot for adults over 21. And he no longer fears putting his name to the cause: He's Rick Steves, the travel guru known for his popular guidebooks."It's amazing where we've come," says Steves of the legalization measures Washington and Colorado voters approved last month. "It's almost counterculture to oppose us."A once-unfathomable notion, the lawful possession and private use of pot, becomes an American reality this week when this state's law goes into effect. Thursday is "Legalization Day" here, with a tote-your-own-ounce celebration scheduled beneath Seattle's Space Needle — a nod to the measure allowing adults to possess up to an ounce of pot. Colorado's law is set to take effect by Jan. 5.How did we get here? From "say no" to "yes" votes in not one but two states?The answer goes beyond society's evolving views, and growing acceptance, of marijuana as a drug of choice.In Washington — and, advocates hope, coming soon to a state near you — there was a well-funded and cleverly orchestrated campaign that took advantage of deep-pocketed backers, a tweaked pro-pot message and improbable big-name supporters.Good timing and a growing national weariness over failed drug laws didn't hurt, either."Maybe ... the dominoes fell the way they did because they were waiting for somebody to push them in that direction," says Alison Holcomb, the campaign manager for Washington's measure.Washington and Colorado, both culturally and politically, offered fertile ground for legalization advocates — Washington for its liberal politics, Colorado for its libertarian streak, and both for their Western independence.Both also have a history with marijuana law reform. More than a decade ago, they were among the first states to approve medical marijuana.Still, when it came to full legalization, activists hit a wall. Colorado's voters rejected a measure to legalize up to an ounce of marijuana in 2006. In Washington, organizers in 2010 couldn't make the ballot with a measure that would have removed criminal penalties for marijuana.Since the 1970 founding of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, reform efforts had centered on the unfairness of marijuana laws to the recreational user — hardly a sympathetic character, Holcomb notes.That began to change as some doctors extolled marijuana's ability to relieve pain, quell nausea and improve the appetites of cancer and AIDS patients. The conversation shifted in the 1990s toward medical marijuana laws. But even in some states with those laws, including Washington, truly sick people continued to be arrested.Improved data collection that began with the ramping up of the drug war in the 1980s also helped change the debate. Late last decade, with Mexico's crackdown on cartels prompting horrific bloodshed there and headlines here, activists could point to a stunning fact: In 1991, marijuana arrests made up less than one-third of all drug arrests in the U.S. Now, they make up half — about 90 percent for possession of small amounts — yet pot remains easily available."What we figured out is that your average person doesn't necessarily like marijuana, but there's sort of this untapped desire by voters to end the drug war," says Brian Vicente, a Denver lawyer who helped write Colorado's Amendment 64. "If we can focus attention on the fact we can bring in revenue, redirect law enforcement resources and raise awareness instead of focusing on pot, that's a message that works."With a potentially winning message, the activists needed something else: messengers.Steves, who lives in the north Seattle suburb of Edmonds, was a natural choice — the "believable, likeable nerd," as he calls himself. Known for his public television and radio shows, as well as his "Europe through the Back Door" guide books, he openly advocated in 2003 for a measure that made marijuana the lowest priority for Seattle police.He already knew Holcomb, who had been the drug policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state. The ACLU chapter recognized that voter education would be crucial to any future reform, especially after polling revealed that many voters didn't even know Washington had a medical marijuana law.Holcomb helped recruit Steves to star in a 2008 infomercial designed to get people talking about marijuana law reform. The video was aired on late-night television and at forums held across the state, during which experts in drug policy answered questions from audiences.In November 2009, John McKay, the former Seattle U.S. attorney, agreed to appear on one of those panels. McKay was well respected, from a prominent Republican family and had served as the Justice Department's top prosecutor in western Washington — charged with carrying out U.S. drug laws.He called for a top-to-bottom review of the nation's drug war and endorsed regulating marijuana like alcohol.Suddenly, the legalization movement had traction.Over the next year, a voter initiative drive and legislative efforts gained steam but ultimately failed. California's Proposition 19 legalization measure also failed in 2010. But even with little money and no significant editorial endorsements, in an off-presidential election year with lower youth turnout, Prop 19 received more than 46 percent of the vote.Holcomb thought: Imagine what Washington could do in a presidential year, with an endorsement from McKay and some money.So, with the backing of the ACLU's state chapter, Holcomb formed New Approach Washington. In June 2011, the group announced Initiative 502, to legalize up to an ounce of marijuana and to create a system of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores. It was tailored to gain mainstream support: There would be no home-growing, and there would be a DUI standard designed to be comparable to the 0.08 limit for blood-alcohol content.The drug also would be taxed at every stage, from growing and processing to selling. State studies were done showing legalization could bring in half a billion dollars a year for schools, health care and substance-abuse prevention.The list of co-sponsors was unimpeachable: Steves, McKay, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, the former top public health officer for Spokane County, two past presidents of the state bar association, a top University of Washington addiction expert. The Seattle Times' editorial page offered its own endorsement.National drug-policy reform groups also were focusing on 2012. The New York-based Drug Policy Alliance saw campaigns developing in three states — Washington, Colorado and Oregon — and it had the money on-the-ground advocates so desperately needed. The alliance is funded in part by billionaire and longtime liberal political donor George Soros, who came out in favor of marijuana legalization in 2010.The organization chipped in more than $1.6 million in Washington. The Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project gave $1 million in Colorado.Then came another big donor. Peter Lewis, the founder of Progressive Insurance, had used marijuana after a leg amputation and had been a big contributor to medical marijuana campaigns. His people initially told Holcomb they didn't think I-502 would pass, but then he offered a match: If they could raise $650,000, he'd kick in $250,000. New Approach Washington met the goal, and Lewis became the campaign's biggest donor, responsible for more than $2 million of the $6 million raised.The money ensured that Washington's activists could keep their message on air, and they did so effectively.The first television ad, which aired last summer, featured a middle-aged mom saying that she didn't like marijuana, but that taxing it would bring in money for schools and health care and free up police resources. Among women aged 30 to 50, Holcomb says, support for regulating marijuana jumped about 18 percent.The next ads featured McKay, former Seattle U.S. Attorney Kate Pflaumer and Charles Mandigo, the former head of the FBI office in Seattle, urging approval of I-502.Colorado's measure didn't have the big-name endorsements that Washington's did, but the state had other things going for it. For one, it already had the most highly regulated medical marijuana market in the country. There, organizers were careful to appear before news cameras in suits and ties. Ads featured middle-aged women, or schoolchildren who could benefit from marijuana taxes.Opponents tried to fight back, mounting a $543,000 campaign in Colorado, with backing from a Florida-based anti-drug group and an evangelical Christian group.In Washington, a small group from the medical marijuana community raised $6,800 to oppose I-502. They criticized the DUI standard as arbitrarily strict and said the measure didn't go far enough because it wouldn't allow home-growing.A group of nine former heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to publicly oppose the measures, but the DOJ and the White House remained silent.Instead, Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy adviser, served as a counterpoint to the legalization campaigns. The ills of prohibition — the racial disparities in who gets busted, the lifelong consequences of a conviction for landing jobs or student loans — could be solved without legalization, which would increase the availability of marijuana for teens who are most susceptible to becoming addicted, he contended.Yet such arguments found little support."When you hammer away at that message, saying we can save education and make better use of police resources and get rid of cartels, and there's nothing to oppose that, that sounds sensible to people who aren't hearing the other side," Sabet says.On Nov. 6, I-502 passed with nearly 56 percent. Colorado's Amendment 64, which allows home-growing and does not include a drunken driving standard, passed with 55 percent.Oregon's Measure 80 ultimately failed. But even with little campaigning behind it, that proposal got nearly 47 percent of the vote.As they await word about whether the Justice Department will try to block the measures from taking effect, national drug-law reform groups are salivating over their chances in 2014 and 2016.California? Nevada? Massachusetts?"Something is happening, and it's not just happening in Washington and Colorado," says Andy Ko, who leads the Campaign for a New Drug Policy at Open Society Foundations. "Marijuana reform is going to happen in this country as older voters fade away and younger voters show up. Legislators see this as something safe to legislate around."They see the writing on the wall."Kristen Wyatt contributed from DenverSource: Associated Press (Wire)Author: Gene Johnson, Associated Press Published:  December 2, 2012Copyright: 2012 The Associated PressCannabisNews  -- Cannabis Archives 
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Comment #8 posted by Had Enough on December 04, 2012 at 00:08:10 PT
Dragin’ and Drivin’
While at the ¼ mile drag strip…I’d rather have the person next to me in the other lane …takin’ a drag off a joint instead of takin’ a drag off a bottle of Jack Daniels…Speaking of which…the Jack Daniels Distillery is located in Lynchburg Tennessee…a dry county…go figure…The hypocrisy runs so deep and thick…you can cut with a knife…kneed it into a ball…throw it at a wall…and it will sure as plum stick…************Shirley Muldowney Drag Racer Biography (The First Lady of Drag Racing)
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Comment #7 posted by Hope on December 03, 2012 at 19:45:16 PT
Me, too.
I agree, BGreen and FoM.If there's noticeable impairment... which is doubtful... then maybe something's up... but looking for trouble where there is none is such a drag.
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Comment #6 posted by FoM on December 03, 2012 at 08:38:10 PT
I agree.
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Comment #5 posted by BGreen on December 03, 2012 at 07:39:16 PT
Why can't cannabis be treated like prescriptions?
We all know sleeping pills are super dangerous compared to cannabis. They're prescribed like freaking candy and more people are taking them today than yesterday. Are we devising tests for those driving under the influence of these dangerous drugs? Hell no! They leave it up to the discretion of the drug user to decide if they're capable of driving!Why are Ambien users treated as competent adults when those who partake of cannabis are treated as if they're mentally deficient children?There's nothing safer than a timed release sleeping pill for quick arousal from drowsiness, is there? It's disturbingly ironic that Ambien users are capable of sleep-driving with no recollection of so doing but they're also considered responsible enough to self-decide their ability to safely drive.Give us a level playing field by punishing everybody who drives in a dangerous fashion.The Reverend Bud GreenFrom the Ambien CR patient guide:17.2 Sleep-driving and other complex behaviorsThere have been reports of people getting out of bed after taking a sedative-hypnotic and driving their cars while not fully awake, often with no memory of the event. If a patient experiences such an episode, it should be reported to his or her doctor immediately, since "sleep-driving" can be dangerous. This behavior is more likely to occur when Ambien CR is taken with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants [see Warnings and Precautions (5.3)]. Other complex behaviors (e.g., preparing and eating food, making phone calls, or having sex) have been reported in patients who are not fully awake after taking a sedative-hypnotic. As with "sleep-driving", patients usually do not remember these events.In addition, patients should be advised to report all concomitant medications to the prescriber. Patients should be instructed to report events such as "sleep-driving" and other complex behaviors immediately to the prescriber. You may still feel drowsy the next day after taking AMBIEN CR. Do not drive or do other dangerous activities after taking AMBIEN CR until you feel fully awake.
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Comment #4 posted by FoM on December 03, 2012 at 06:21:34 PT
I agree with you. We need a fair test if we have to have a drug test at all. Impairment should be measured by observation not an inaccurate test. 
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Comment #3 posted by sinsibility on December 03, 2012 at 05:54:52 PT
What will take us over the top
The chemistry or biology student that devises an easily administered, minimally invasive test that shows here and now systemic concentration and likely impairment level from THC ingestion will very probably out earn Bill Gates. When people can be confident that they know if you should be driving or not, they will be far more comfortable voting for pro-cannabis legislation.We all know that it really isn't that big of a problem but I'm just saying that this is what the anti's worry about.
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Comment #2 posted by Paint with light on December 02, 2012 at 23:25:48 PT
Familiar words
I like this comment."He called for a top-to-bottom review of the nation's drug war and endorsed regulating marijuana like alcohol.Suddenly, the legalization movement had traction."Legal like alcohol
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Comment #1 posted by The GCW on December 02, 2012 at 17:55:52 PT
No good reason to continue cannabis prohibition.
Why?"Opponents tried to fight back, mounting a $543,000 campaign in Colorado, with backing from a Florida-based anti-drug group and an evangelical Christian group."Why would "evangelical Christians" support cannabis prohibition? The Christ requests Us to love one another and We can not love someone and cage them for using what God indicates He created and says is good on the very 1st page of the Bible, at the same time. 
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