We’re still tracking down all the results from yesterday’s election, but here’s a quick look at how things fared in races affecting marijuana policy.
This year witnessed historic progress in the campaign to end marijuana prohibition – but as some of these results below show, there remains much work ahead. MPP and others are already looking to build on this year’s advances by launching new campaigns in 2012.
First, the good news: Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts
The only two major party gubernatorial candidates in the nation to vocally support medical marijuana and decriminalization were both victorious. Democrat Peter Shumlin won in Vermont, and Democrat Dan Malloy won in Connecticut. Both men bring renewed hope to efforts to pass more sensible marijuana laws in their respective states.
Also, in Massachusetts, voters in 18 out of 18 districts have overwhelmingly approved a series of non-binding policy questions asking whether they support medical marijuana or the regulation of marijuana like alcohol. That not only sends a strong pro-reform message to state lawmakers, but is a good sign for future efforts in Massachusetts as well.
Next, the bad news: California, Oregon, South Dakota, and New Mexico
As most readers probably already know, California’s Proposition 19, which would have made the Golden State the first in the nation to fully end the prohibition on adult marijuana use, was defeated last night. Garnering 46% of the vote, it still made history as the highest statewide vote in favor of marijuana legalization to date.
Sadly, the Obama administration took this defeat as an opportunity to spout more baseless “Reefer Madness”-style propaganda.
In Oregon, Measure 74, which would have authorized state-licensed dispensaries, also failed, as did South Dakota’s Measure 13 for medical marijuana. Pre-election polling showed both measures trailing significantly.
And in New Mexico, voters have elected Republican Susana Martinez as the state’s next governor. Martinez has previously voiced her desire to repeal New Mexico’s medical marijuana law – considered by many to be a national model for regulation.
But wait – the undecided! Arizona and California attorney general
The only marijuana ballot measure that still retains a hope of victory is Arizona’s Proposition 203, the medical marijuana initiative that would establish up to 120 licensed dispensaries in Arizona and received significant support from MPP. Current results show the measure down by fewer than 7,000 votes, but we have reports that up to 200,000 ballots have not yet been counted. It still has a chance!
And finally – in a hugely significant contest for the future of medical marijuana in California – it appears that Republican Steve Cooley is heading toward defeat in the race for California attorney general. Simply put, Cooley is a self-declared enemy of medical marijuana laws, and his election could have wrought all kinds of hardship on thousands of patients and providers throughout California.
That’s all for now. We have more updates and analysis on the way.
Voters all across the country will cast ballots tomorrow in elections that could alter the course of U.S. marijuana policy for years to come. Here are the 9 most important contests to watch for the movement to end marijuana prohibition:
- California: Proposition 19 would make marijuana legal for all adults – it represents the best chance to date for a single state to overturn the failure of marijuana prohibition and offer an alternative for others to follow. It would make it legal for all adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, as well as grow a 25-square-foot marijuana garden on their property. It would also allow localities to tax and regulate marijuana sales, but it remains unclear how the federal government would react if Prop 19 passes. Website: yeson19.org
- Arizona: Proposition 203, an MPP-backed initiative, would allow patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases to use marijuana with their doctor’s recommendation. Patients could purchase their medicine from tightly regulated, state-licensed dispensaries or grow their own if they live more than 25 miles from a clinic. Website: stoparrestingpatients.org
- Oregon: Measure 74 would expand the state’s existing medical marijuana law by authorizing regulated, state-licensed nonprofit clinics to provide improved patient access to their medicine. The system would generate an estimated $3 to $20 million a year for the state through taxes and fees. Website: measure74.com
- South Dakota: Measure 13 would allow patients suffering from cancer, AIDS and other serious ailments to use marijuana with a recommendation from their doctor. Patients could grow their own medicine or designate a caregiver to grow it for them. Website: sdcompassion.org
- Vermont: VOTE Peter Shumlin for governor. Shumlin (D), the state Senate pro tempore, played a major role in passing Vermont’s medical marijuana law in 2004, and has been a staunch advocate for marijuana decriminalization. MPP has spent years lobbying for a decriminalization law in Vermont. With Shumlin as governor, Vermont would be well poised to pass decriminalization and expand its medical marijuana law by authorizing licensed dispensaries. Website: www.shumlinforgovernor.com
- California: NOT Steve Cooley for attorney general. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley (R) is a rabid anti-marijuana zealot who has falsely claimed that all medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal, and that he would continue to prosecute adults for marijuana crimes even if voters pass Proposition 19. If he wins the election for state attorney general, he will become the state’s top law enforcement official and could reverse years of progress toward saner marijuana laws in California. Website: notcooley.com
- New Mexico: NOT Susana Martinez for governor. Martinez (R), the leading candidate for governor, has said she will work to overturn New Mexico’s medical marijuana law if elected. New Mexico’s law enjoys wide popular support and is often described as the tightest-regulated law in the country. But Martinez believes federal law should trump a popular local law – despite the Obama administration’s promise of non-intervention in state medical marijuana laws. Website: donttakeawaymymedicine.org
- Connecticut: VOTE Dan Malloy for governor. Malloy (D) has said that he “absolutely” supports decriminalizing marijuana, as well as medical marijuana legislation that would protect seriously ill patients from arrest. Outgoing Gov. Jodi M. Rell vetoed medical marijuana legislation in 2007. If Malloy were elected governor, proponents would be given renewed hope for passing a medical marijuana law in Connecticut. Website: danmalloy.com
- Massachusetts: More than 70 local municipalities in Massachusetts will be voting on non-binding resolutions and public policy questions calling on the state government to pass medical marijuana or end marijuana prohibition entirely. These initiatives are a great opportunity for Massachusetts voters to send a strong message to their state lawmakers, as well as give local organizers a better sense of where things stand for future marijuana initiatives in Massachusetts. Website: masscann.org
You can find links to other MPP state voter guides at our state page.
Now -- if you haven't already -- go out and VOTE!
You probably guessed wrong.
Peter Shumlin (D), the president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate, is one of only two major-party gubernatorial candidates in the nation to advocate publicly for the decriminalization of marijuana. (The other candidate is Dan Malloy, the Democratic nominee for governor in Connecticut.)
On August 10, just two weeks before Vermont's primary election, Shumlin said on television, "We simply are penny wise and pound foolish to be using law enforcement dollars to be locking up criminals when they're dealing with small amounts of marijuana." He was consistent all the way through the campaign.
By making marijuana decriminalization -- the removal of all criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana -- a major campaign issue, Shumlin was able to overcome the odds by prevailing in a five-way Democratic primary.
His opponent in the Nov. 2 general election, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (R), is ultra-hostile to decriminalization efforts.
Supporters of sensible marijuana policies must do everything we can to help Shumlin get elected on November 2. If we succeed, Vermont has a good chance of decriminalizing the possession of marijuana, as well as allowing a handful of medical marijuana dispensaries to provide patients with improved access to their medicine in 2011.
When I met Shumlin in a Springfield cafe in 2002, he impressed me with his candor, especially since he was telling me the opposite of what I wanted to hear.
Howard Dean (D) was governor and about to run for president, and Shumlin was helping him steer clear of controversy by bottling up our medical marijuana bill in the state Senate. I suggested to Shumlin that he was single-handedly preventing medical marijuana from becoming legal. "Don't kid yourself," he responded. "Governor Dean would veto the bill anyway, so I'm just saving everyone the trouble." He went on to say that he'd help pass medical marijuana during the 2003-2004 cycle.
He kept his word. With his help and the leadership of state Rep. David Zuckerman (Progressive), our medical marijuana bill was enacted into law in May 2004.
The story of our 2004 victory points to how we plan on being successful again in Vermont, if we can get Shumlin elected.
Vermont's original medical marijuana bill, which sought to allow patients and their caregivers to grow their own marijuana for a variety of medical conditions, passed the Democrat-controlled Senate in 2003. But the bill temporarily stalled in the Republican-controlled House health committee, where we were shy of a majority vote.
One legislator on that committee, Rep. Bill Keogh (D), publicly said he'd support our bill if a majority of his constituents voted for the local medical marijuana initiative that would soon be on the citywide ballot in Burlington, the state's largest city. The initiative then received 83% of the vote, Keogh changed his vote, and we therefore reached majority support on the committee.
But we had a governor problem. Jim Douglas (R), who replaced Howard Dean in January 2003, had publicly stated he was opposed to the bill. So we ran a heavy rotation of three TV ads in Vermont -- separately featuring an AIDS patient, a cancer patient, and an MS patient -- to pressure the governor and the legislature.
In the meantime, we were gathering postcards to the governor from concerned citizens all across Vermont. A reporter who was writing a story about our lobbying juggernaut was flipping through the postcards and noticed a name of particular importance -- Kenneth Angell, the Catholic bishop of Vermont.
After the bishop released a public statement in support of our bill, the governor and the House health committee chair cut a deal: They'd let the bill pass out of committee, provided it would protect medical marijuana use for only three medical conditions; coincidentally, they chose AIDS, cancer, and MS.
The bill passed out of committee and also on the House floor, and Gov. Douglas let the bill become law without his signature.
Because there were no abuses of the new law, we were able to expand it in 2006 by increasing the number of medical conditions and the number of ounces/plants that patients could have. This expansion became law without controversy.
Flash forward to this year: On March 2, the voters of Montpelier, the state capital, passed a local marijuana-decriminalization initiative with an overwhelming 72% of the vote. And a bill to expand the state's existing medical marijuana law to allow for the sale of medical marijuana through nonprofit dispensaries, which was cosponsored by Shumlin, passed three different Senate committees in March.
Vermont is poised to pass both a decriminalization bill and a dispensary bill next year, if Shumlin gets elected this November 2. In Vermont, successful gubernatorial races cost only $2,000,000 or so for the winning candidate; the Marijuana Policy Project has already raised/donated $14,000, and we continue to ramp up. Please help us make it happen.
(Note: This article also appeared on the Huffington Post.)