Vice Squad
Friday, October 22, 2004
 
Power to the People


What do you do when your elected officials have failed your community by spouting lies and rhetoric, ignoring citizens' concerns, and refusing to engage in intelligent debate about drug policy? Take it to the streets.

Several communities across the nation have implemented, or hope to implement voter initiatives to decriminalize or at least de-prioritize the enforcement of recreational cannabis use by adults in the home.

Of course, last year, Seattle voters passed an initiative to make adult cannabis use the lowest law enforcement priority. Oakland is pushing a similar initiative, Measure Z, which makes private adult marijuana offenses, including possession, sales and cultivation of the herb, the lowest priority for Oakland police. Some towns in Suburban Boston have placed a measure on their November ballot that asks voters to vote "yes" or "no" to a non-binding marijuana decriminalization measure. The measure was placed on the ballot just to get an idea of voters' feelings on the issue after their representative, who sits on the state legislature's Criminal Justice Committee, sent a piece of marijuana decriminalization legislation to a "study committee", which, in the representative's words means that it "is virtually dead." Alaska's citizens have gone even farther, and are pushing Ballot Measure 2, which would make it legal under state law for people 21 and older to grow, use, sell or give away marijuana. It also would allow for state regulation and taxation of marijuana.

NORML.org reports that supporters of the Alaska initiative have now sued Lt. Gov. Loren Leman for writing a 300-word opposition to the measure, and including it in the voters' guide which was mailed to some 300,000 Alaskan voters.

Of course, officials in these communities throw up the usual red herring of the "gateway theory", a pretty much debunked theory that states that marijuana use leads to the use of harder drugs. And they try to scare people with horror stories of the possibility of a marijuana use explosion, especially among teens.

Supporters of these initiatives want to take the politics out of the decriminalization debate, and want their elected officials to start listening to the wishes of their constituencies. If more of these measures can be brought before communities, we may finally start to see a cohesive grassroots (no pun intended) movement to decriminalize. It is sad that communities have to drag their elected officials kicking and screaming towards sensible policies and an informed debate on drugs, but I think the effort is well worth it.

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