Election 2002 Wrap-UpDisappointing Results Provide Opportunity For Self Assessment

Washington, DC:  Yesterday’s defeat of a trio of marijuana reform initiatives in Arizona, Nevada and South Dakota mark a temporary setback, but also offer an opportunity for self assessment, NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup said today. 

All three initiatives targeted separate aspects of marijuana law reform.  Arizona’s proposal, which won 43 percent of the vote, would have replaced criminal penalties on minor marijuana offenses with a civil fine, and mandated the state to distribute medical marijuana free to qualified patients.  Question 9 in Nevada, which won 39 percent of the vote, sought to eliminate all penalties on the possession of three ounces or less of marijuana, and mandated state officials to implement a system whereby adults could obtain pot through a legally regulated market.  South Dakota’s Initiative 1, which gained a reported 38 percent of the vote (with 769 of 844 precincts counted), sought to establish a state-licensing system so that farmers could legally grow the non-psychoactive variety of cannabis known as hemp.

Local marijuana reform initiatives fared much better in yesterday’s election.  In San Francisco, 63 percent of voters approved Proposition S, which encourages the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to enact legislation authorizing the cultivation and distribution of medicinal pot by city officials.  In Massachusetts, voters in 19 State House districts approved non-binding resolutions instructing their state representative to vote in favor of making marijuana possession a civil rather than a criminal violation.  Voters in Massachusetts’ 14th Worchester District also endorsed a non-binding resolution supporting the use of medical marijuana, and voters in the state’s 2nd Franklin District endorsed a proposal to legalize hemp cultivation.

Broader statewide drug reform initiatives also yielded disappointing results.  An Ohio initiative (Initiative 1) mandating treatment rather than incarceration for non-violent drug offenders gained 33 percent of the vote, and an Arizona proposal (Prop. 302) re-instituting probation and incarceration for some non-violent drug offenders passed with 69 percent of the vote. 

A Washington DC proposal (Initiative 62) mandating alternative sentencing for some drug offenders did pass overwhelmingly, but must still be approved by Congress.

NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup said there are many lessons drug-law reformers can learn from yesterday’s outcome, and stressed the need for follow-up polling in Arizona and Nevada to better determine why a majority of citizens voted against these proposals.  “Certainly, the political climate of this year’s election was decidedly conservative, as evidence by the gains made by Republicans in both the House and Senate and the defeat of several other liberal, but non-drug reform initiatives around the country,” he said. 

“Specific to marijuana-law reform, however, it appears clear that although a majority of the public supports the legalization of medical marijuana as well as the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, much of the U.S. public remains skeptical of broader-reaching proposals – particularly those that mandate the state to become involved in either the distribution or regulation of pot.  Drug law reformers also need to do a better job countering some of our opponents’ concerns, such as the issue of marijuana and driving as well as the rising use of marijuana by adolescents, as it is clear that much of the voting public also shares these anxieties.”

Nevertheless, despite yesterday’s defeats, Stroup’s outlook for the marijuana law reform movement remains optimistic.  “Yesterday’s losses represent a temporary setback, but it’s one we know we can and will overcome.  The American public stands solidly against our government’s policy of arresting and jailing responsible adult marijuana smokers, and we will continue to make gains on this core issue.”

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup of NORML at (202) 483-5500.