Pubdate: Mon, 24 Sep 2012
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Authors: Miguel Bustillo and Joel Millman


PORTLAND, Ore. - =C2=80"Two years after California voters rejected an
initiative to legalize marijuana, advocates are promoting similar
measures on the ballot this fall in Colorado, Oregon and Washington
statea=C2=80"and recent polls suggest at least a couple of the campaigns
have realistic chances of success.

Details vary, but all three measures would legalize possession of
small quantities of the drug for anyone above age 21 and allow taxable
retail sales, going well beyond laws in 17 states that permit
marijuana use for medical purposes. Many states already have laws
decriminalizing pot by making possession punishable only by a small

The proposed state laws are in direct conflict with federal law, which
continues to outlaw marijuana, even though possession of small
quantities is rarely prosecuted on a federal level.

A group of former Drug Enforcement Administration directors wrote to
Attorney General Eric Holder last month, asking him to publicly oppose
the legalization measures. Mr. Holder came out against the California
initiative in 2010 but has been silent on this year's measures.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

The initiatives underscore the evolution of public attitudes about
marijuana use, as young people and others critical of criminalizing
the drug become a bigger part of the voting population. A Gallup poll
last year found a record 50% of Americans favored legalizing pot. When
Gallup began asking the question in 1969, only 12% did.

The Democratic governors of all three states are opposed to the
measures, with Colorado's John Hickenlooper saying this month that
marijuana legalization "sends the wrong message to kids that drugs are

Oregon voters are split on legalizing marijuana, with a Public Policy
Polling survey in July finding 46% opposed and 43% in favor. But
opinion polls are showing substantial support in Colorado and
Washington, particularly among younger voters.

A recent Denver Post poll found that 51% of Colorado voters supported
the state's measure, with 40% opposed and the rest undecided.

"Attitudes have shifted," said Brian Vicente, a lawyer for
medical-marijuana providers who is one of the authors of the Colorado
measure, known as Amendment 64. "We have seen support for marijuana
prohibition slowly erode every year as the public realizes that the
current policies just don't work."

A poll of Washington voters this month by independent surveyor Elway
Research Inc. found the marijuana measure leading by a 50-38 margin,
after being up by just two points in July.

Although most politicians and law-enforcement leaders remain opposed
to legalization, the Washington measure, known as I-502, has won
support from some officials in Seattle, where City Attorney Pete
Holmes is among its sponsors.

"Possession is a crime solely because we have chosen to call it a
crime," said Mr. Holmes, who was elected in 2009 after vowing to not
prosecute marijuana-possession cases in Seattle.

To be sure, none of the legalization drives appears to be a surefire
winnera=C2=80"the California measure that lost in 2010 also led in early
polling, and undecided voters typically decide against ballot measures
late in campaigns.

But the measures have forced the presidential campaigns to answer
combustible questions about marijuana and states' rights, especially
in Colorado, a battleground state. Both campaigns oppose

President Barack Obama has attempted a delicate balance on medical
marijuana, vowing not to prosecute individual users while permitting
federal officials to target some pot dispensaries for closure.
Regional U.S. attorneys have pressured hundreds of dispensaries to
shut down, including facilities near schools in Colorado and Washington.

Some political experts speculate the Colorado measure could assist Mr.
Obama by drawing younger, liberal-leaning voters to the polls. Others
question that premise, noting that the president could lose votes to
Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, a former New Mexico
Republican governor, who supports legalization.

In Colorado, where voters approved medical marijuana in 2000, some
business leaders worry legalization would make it hard to screen
employees for drug use, even though the measure contains language
allowing such tests. "If someonea=C2=80| is a recreational user who smoke
a joint Sunday night and is operating a crane the next day, is he
somehow impaired?" asked John Beeble, chairman of the Denver Metro
Chamber of Commerce, who owns a construction company that employs 500
workers. "That's not an issue I am eager to sort out."

In Oregon, which has 55,000 medical marijuana users licensed by the
state, supporters claim the proposal, Measure 80, could increase
revenue by $100 million a year, largely by cutting the cost of jailing
and prosecutions.

"A society has to make a choice: tolerate alternative lifestyles or
build more prisons," said Rick Steves, a travel author and television
personality who is a co-sponsor of the Washington legalization measure.

Opponents counter that the measures may carry hidden expenses, such as
the costs of defending against federal legal challenges.

A version of this article appeared September 24, 2012, on page A3 in
the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Voters
Weigh Eased Pot Laws.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt