Pubdate: Sat, 02 Nov 2002
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2002 Star Tribune
Author: Tom Ford, Star Tribune Washington Bureau Correspondent
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project ( )
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Nevadans for Responsible Law 
Bookmark: (Question 9 (NV))


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Voters in 19 different states will decide on a total of 
53 citizen-inspired initiatives and referendums Tuesday, including whether 
to make extreme animal cruelty a felony or give as much as $10,000 in 
incentives to college graduates for staying in North Dakota.

Many of the initiatives address national issues, such as education policy 
and animal rights, and have attracted big out-of-state donors and sponsors. 
The measures will be on ballots in states where citizens collected a 
certain number of signatures and submitted petitions.

North Dakota, consistently one of the slowest-growing states in the 
country, has been experiencing an extensive brain drain. Proponents of the 
measure say that each year the state loses more than 4,000 people with 
college degrees.

To shore up the dam, the "Youth Investment Initiative" would allow 
residents younger than 30 an income tax credit and forgive portions of 
their student loans if they stay in the state.

Roger Johnson, the state's agricultural commissioner and one of the 
principal sponsors of the proposal, said North Dakota ranks first in the 
nation in both high school graduation rates and the number of those 
graduates who advance to college. But, he said, despite that and the 
thousands of dollars North Dakotans invest in their students, the state 
ranks 34th in the number of residents with college degrees.

"Doesn't it make sense to invest a little bit as an incentive to say to 
them, consider building your future here?" he said.

The plan would cost about $20 million each year, he said, but over time if 
people remained in the state and pumped money into the economy, the measure 
would pay for itself.

A chief opponent of the initiative, former Gov. Ed Schafer, said the plan 
has good intentions but would cost too much and wouldn't create any jobs.

Anti-smoking measures are proposed in several states. Voters in Missouri 
and Arizona will decide whether to raise cigarette taxes by 55 and 60 
cents, respectively, with additional revenue earmarked for tobacco research 
and prevention programs. In Michigan and Montana, ballot initiatives call 
for the redirection of national tobacco settlement funds to health 
care-related activities.

In Florida, restaurant patrons might no longer face the standard "smoking 
or non-smoking" question. Hundreds of local, state and national 
anti-smoking groups are sponsoring a constitutional amendment on the 
state's ballot that would ban smoking in "enclosed indoor workplaces."

Smoking in restaurants

The initiative primarily targets restaurants, said April Herrle, a 
spokeswoman for Smoke-Free for Health, a group created to push for the 
proposal. She said restaurants make up the largest number of workplaces 
where people are exposed to second-hand smoke.

"Other people's decision to smoke should not be allowed to harm our own 
health," she said.

But initiative opponents, including the Florida Restaurant Association, say 
the measure would rob business owners of the freedom to run their 
restaurants as they see fit.

"Basically you're telling them who they can and who they cannot serve," 
said association spokeswoman Lea Crusberg. "Who knows what's next? There 
could be another ballot initiative several years from now that bans a 
certain food item. It concerns us."

An anti-tax initiative on the ballot in Washington would limit license tab 
fees to $30 and would bar local governments from approving any increases. 
The state recently adopted a law setting the fee at $30, but several 
metropolitan counties collect additional tab charges that finance local 
road projects and construction of a light-rail system.

Initiative supporters contend the measure would help diminish an already 
hefty tax burden on all Washingtonians. But detractors say the initiative 
would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in road and transit funds.

Laura McClintock, an organizer with the "No on I-776" opposition group, 
said voters in the counties that charge additional tab fees chose to tax 
themselves at higher rates to reduce local traffic congestion. She said the 
initiative would strip those voters of that right.

"That's the price you pay to keep buses on the street, the roads fixed and 
the potholes filled," she said.

Particularly ambitious and radical initiatives are on the ballot in Oregon, 
a state with a history of approving controversial measures, such as the 
nation's only law allowing physician-assisted suicide.

One measure would raise the state's minimum wage to $6.90, which is $1.75 
more than the national figure. Another would establish the country's first 
universal health care plan.

Opponents of that initiative say the proposal could cost as much as $20 
billion, which would exceed the state's budget and cause residents and 
businesses to flee the state. Those championing the effort argue that the 
elimination of premiums and deductibles would offset the prescribed 
increases in payroll and income taxes.

An initiative in Colorado would limit campaign donations to state 
candidates, and one in Arkansas would make extreme acts of animal cruelty 

Drug policies

But some of the most intense campaign contests involve changes in drug policy.

An Ohio measure would require treatment rather than jail time for people 
convicted of drug possession. A proposal in South Dakota would allow 
criminal defendants to argue the merits and validity of laws of which they 
are accused, an idea backed by drug decriminalization advocates.

Perhaps the biggest battleground will be in Nevada. Voters there will 
decide whether to make it legal for adults to use and possess as much as 3 
ounces of marijuana and require the state to create "pot marts," or 
regulated markets where people could buy the drug. The measure, if 
approved, would have to be on the ballot and be adopted again in 2004 
before taking effect.

Sandy Heverly, a spokeswoman for a Nevada opposition group, blasted the 
proposal, saying it could increase the number of traffic crashes and could 
make the state the "Amsterdam of the United States," particularly for 

"Anybody with an ounce, or three ounces, of common sense would certainly 
realize that [kids are] not going to have a problem getting hold of 
marijuana," Heverly said. "Our position isn't just 'no,' it's 'hell no.' "

But Bruce Mirken, with the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project 
that is a principal sponsor of the initiative, said research has not shown 
any link between relaxed penalties and increased drug use. He said several 
countries -- such as Canada and Great Britain -- are considering or have 
already scaled back their drug laws, choosing to focus on "behavior that 
causes problems or harm."

"The U.S. is several steps behind the rest of the world," Mirken said. 
"Eventually the stupidity of our current policies cannot stand."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D