Pubdate: Wed, 10 Oct 2012
Source: Billings Gazette, The (MT)
Copyright: 2012 The Billings Gazette
Author: Ronald Fraser


Montana voters on Nov. 6 will approve or reject five ballot items
including whether to require parental notification before a minor's
abortion and whether to declare that corporations do not have
constitutional rights regarding campaign spending. But along with
citizen lawmakers in five other states, marijuana-related ballot
initiatives will, in the long run, have a far greater impact nationally.

Medical marijuana has already been approved in Montana. Voters in two
states, Massachusetts and Arkansas, will decide if marijuana can be
used for medical purposes with the advice of a licensed doctor. If
passed, Massachusetts will join nearby states -- Connecticut, Vermont,
Maine and Rhode Island -- where the drug is already used to ease pain
caused by cancer and other serious medical conditions.

In Arkansas, however, the stakes are much higher. The state could
become the first in the South to break down the medical marijuana
barrier. If voters in Arkansas say "yes," other Southern states could
follow in the coming years.

Montana referendum

In Montana, the 2011 Legislature removed parts of a 2004
citizen-approved medical marijuana law. The proposal on the ballot in
November asks Montanans to repeal the Legislature's action and
reinstate the law as originally enacted in 2004.

Montana voters should also keep an eye on potentially trend-setting
ballots in Colorado, Oregon and Washington state where marijuana is
legal for medical purposes. In all three states, propositions to
legalize and regulate the use of marijuana for any purpose will be
decided by the people. Passage in just one of these states will surely
set off a major expansion of the marijuana policy debate nationally
and in Montana.

Recreational drug

Not surprisingly, initiative supporters stress the potential benefits
of legalizing the drug. In Colorado, Amendment 64 proposes a
regulatory system for marijuana much like that for alcohol products
and promises to reduce law enforcement cost and increase tax revenues.

Initiative Measure 502 in Washington state will not only legalize and
tax marijuana sales, it will also prohibit driving under the influence
of the drug.

The purpose of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2012, according to its
supporters, is to protect children and increase public safety by
regulating the sale of cannabis.

Historically, the marijuana debate is following America's laboratory
of democracy tradition. New public policy ideas are first tried in
individual state "laboratories" before they are exported to other
states or imposed nationally. The first state to legalize the
recreational use of marijuana will certainly become a closely watched
policy experiment.

State-level ballot initiatives also provide a much-needed means for
the people to challenge one-size-fits-all federal policies such as the
federal ban on medical marijuana.

Seventeen states (Montana included) and the District of Columbia now
allow medical uses of marijuana -- a direct rebuttal of federal laws
that claim marijuana has no medicinal value.

Ballot initiatives become important public education events. Voters
have an opportunity to consider both sides of the issue and replace
fear of the unknown with a more informed understanding of drug use.
Once better informed, voters are ready to responsively make the rules
by which they will live.

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Ronald Fraser, writes for DKT Liberty Project, a Washington-based
civil liberties organization,  ---
MAP posted-by: Matt