Pubdate: Fri, 11 Aug 2006
Source: Mother Jones (US)
Copyright: 2006 Foundation for National Progress
Author: Sasha Abramsky
Cited: Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana


If Passed, a Fall Ballot Initiative With Some Unlikely Supporters 
Could Turn Reno and Vegas into American Amsterdams.

Voters have been losing their taste for the war on drugs lately; in 
the past few years, states from Arizona and Alaska to California and 
Hawaii have moved toward making marijuana, in particular, a low 
priority for law enforcement, with first-offense possession cases 
often dismissed with small-time fines and medical-marijuana measures 
on the books in several states.

But the initiative voters in Nevada will be considering this fall 
goes much further: The "tax and regulate" measure, whose supporters 
got it on the ballot by collecting 86,000 signatures, would allow 
anyone over 21 to possess up to one ounce for personal use, would set 
up a system of pot shops (at a specified distance from schools), and 
would tax marijuana in a manner comparable to alcohol.

What's intriguing about the measure is not just that it could turn 
Reno and Vegas into American Amsterdams, but that its most 
enthusiastic champions are folks like Chuck Muth. A burly, crew-cut, 
47-year-old meat-and-potatoes man--during dinner at the Glen Eagles 
restaurant, to which he has driven in a beat-up, 15-year-old station 
wagon, he opts out of the salad and never touches the vegetables that 
come with the steak--Muth runs a conservative networking organization 
named Citizen Outreach. Inspired by a course designed in Newt 
Gingrich's office that he took in Washington, D.C., in 1996, he also 
leads message-honing seminars that have trained many successful 
Republican politicians and public figures including the state's 
current first lady, Dema Guinn; his electronic newsletter claims 
15,000 daily readers nationwide.

Nevada went for Bush in 2000 and 2004, but not by much. It is a land 
of desert and mountains, conservative in an old-fashioned, western 
sense. And that, says Muth, who grew up in Baltimore and was arrested 
for pot possession in a city park late one night when he was 19 years 
old, makes it the perfect state to say no to the war on drugs. "Live 
and let live," says Muth. "If I'm not bothering anyone else, don't 
bother me." The politician he most idealizes is Barry Goldwater, 
another Republican who took on his party's sacred cows.

What if Nevada were to pass the measure and the feds swept in? "Bring 
it on," Muth exclaims, so excited his large fist literally thumps the 
table. "This country has needed a big fight over federalism for a 
long time. I'd love to see it here. If the feds came in, you'd start 
to see a backlash against the drug war and the federal government. 
The war on drugs is a total failure. It's time to bring the troops home."

It's a hallmark of how much has changed from a decade ago, when 
Democrats and Republicans were clamoring for ever more tough-on-drugs 
measures, that the war on drugs will likely be undone (if it ever is) 
in the red states, by conservatives like Muth, his friend Grover 
Norquist (the conservative guru at Americans for Tax Reform), writer 
William F. Buckley, Jr., economist Milton Friedman, and former 
Secretary of State George Shultz, all of whom have a sort of 
Nixon-going-to-China advantage in turning soft on pot. Across the 
nation, says Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug 
Policy Alliance, about a quarter of Republicans support marijuana 
legalization, and the numbers are creeping up. "The next generation 
of Republicans is much more libertarian than social conservative," 
says Piper. "At its core, conservatism is supposed to be about free 
markets, the rule of law, and smaller government--and you can't have 
any of those when you have a massive war on drugs." At last year's 
Conservative Political Action Conference, Drug Policy Alliance 
director Ethan Nadelmann got enthusiastic applause when he called on 
Republicans to move away from the lock-'em-up approach as a 
drug-prevention strategy.

For Nevada, this is not the first attempt to pass a legalization 
measure. Four years ago, advocates got an initiative on the ballot 
that would have permitted possession of up to three ounces of 
marijuana; the initiative gained the support of the Nevada Conference 
of Police and Sheriffs. "We're saying we should be spending our time 
protecting and serving the public," asserted the organization's 
then-president, Andy Anderson, before pressure from members forced 
the conference's leadership to abandon its support.

On Election Day, the initiative polled 39 percent.

This time around, despite early polls showing 56 percent of voters 
opposing the measure, supporters are hoping that they'll do better 
come Election Day. Across the state, says Neal Levine, who leads the 
campaign for the measure, more and more conservatives are getting 
interested in reform for pragmatic as well as philosophical reasons; 
attempting to stamp out marijuana usage through incarceration, argues 
Levine, "is the biggest, costliest policy of failure this side of 
Iraq." The D.C.-based Sentencing Project estimates that it costs 
America more than $4 billion annually to arrest, prosecute, and lock 
up marijuana offenders.

Levine, who lives in Las Vegas, maintains ties to many activists 
inside the Republican Party. The campaign's press officer is a Log 
Cabin Republican. The measure's most fervent backers, besides Muth, 
include Earlene Forsythe, a former military nurse who now specializes 
in caring for cancer patients.

Forsythe, 56, chaired the state GOP during the 2004 presidential 
election season and has framed photos of herself with Laura and 
George Bush on her office walls.

But she's lost patience with her party over the issue of medical 
marijuana. "If my patient wants to go out and smoke a joint," she 
shrugs, "I say, 'Why not?'"

Besides, argues Muth, what better state than Nevada to launch a 
drug-reform movement? "It's got to start somewhere," he says. "The 
first domino has to fall." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake