2006 Mid-Term Election Results Offer Mixed Bag For Marijuana Law Reform

Washington, DC: The 2006 mid-term elections offered mixed results for marijuana law reformers, with voters rejecting three statewide liberalization efforts, but approving numerous local measures to ‘deprioritize’ pot law enforcement.

Voters in Colorado, Nevada, and South Dakota turned back efforts to amend state penalties on the use and possession of cannabis. Colorado’s Amendment 44, which gained 40 percent of the vote, sought to eliminate civil penalties on the possession and use of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults. Question 7 in Nevada, which won 44 percent of the vote, sought to remove all civil penalties for the private possession and use of small quantities of cannabis, and directed state officials to create a statewide system for the taxation, legal cultivation, distribution, and sale of marijuana to adults by licensed vendors. South Dakota’s Initiated Measure 4, which gained 48 percent of the vote, sought to allow the physician-authorized use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Regarding the three failed statewide initiative efforts, NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre stated: “These outcomes, while disappointing, were not unexpected. Despite these results, adults in both Colorado and Nevada continue to live under state laws that authorize the medical use of marijuana and allow adults to possess and use small amounts of pot without the threat of incarceration or a criminal record. South Dakota’s result, while disheartening, does nothing to change the fact that according to national polls, nearly eight out of ten Americans support the physician-approved use of medicinal cannabis.”

Local cannabis reform initiatives won overwhelmingly in yesterday’s election. In Eureka Springs, Arkansas, 64 percent of voters approved a citywide ordinance directing local law enforcement to issue a summons in lieu of a criminal arrest for adults found to be in possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and/or marijuana paraphernalia. The measure, sponsored by the Fayetteville/University of Arkansas chapter of NORML, is the first pot ‘depenalization’ measure ever approved in the state.

In California, local voters approved a trio of pot ‘deprioritization’ measures. In Santa Barbara, 65 percent of voters backed Measure P, which directs municipal police to make all law enforcement activities related to the investigation, citation, and/or arrest of adult cannabis users their lowest priority, and also appoints a community oversight committee to monitor police activity as it pertains to marijuana law enforcement. Santa Cruz and Santa Monica voters approved similar measures (Measure K and Measure Y) each by votes of 63 percent.

A separate pot deprioritization measure (Initiative 2) also passed in Missoula, Montana, with 53 percent of the vote.

Finally, in Massachusetts, voters in several House and Senate Districts approved public policy questions concerning the decriminalization of cannabis for personal use and the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. Since 2002, more than 420,000 Massachusetts voters in 110 communities have approved similar non-binding resolutions.

NORML’s St. Pierre said that the strong showing in local races demonstrates Americans’ overwhelming support for more responsible pot policies. “What these results tell us is that citizens strongly support reforming America’s marijuana laws, but that they prefer to do so incrementally,” he said. “These successes on the municipal level, once again, affirm that a majority of US citizens don’t want adults who use marijuana responsibly to face arrest or jail, and they do not want their tax dollars spent on policies that prioritize targeting and prosecuting marijuana offenders.”

St. Pierre added that this year’s election results also have potential federal ramifications, noting that California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who now stands to be House Speaker, is a longtime supporter and former co-sponsor of medical marijuana legislation. “It is our hope that with new Democratic leadership in the US House of Representatives we will finally be able to move forward with legislation and hearings on both the physician-approved medical use of marijuana as well as the decriminalization of cannabis for responsible adults,” he said.

For more information, please contact NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre or NORML Senior Policy Analyst Paul Armentano at (202) 483-5500.