Pubdate: Wed, 17 Oct 2012
Source: Times, The (Trenton, NJ)
Copyright: 2012 The Times
Author: Ronald Fraser
Note: Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the 
DKT Liberty Project, a Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties organization.


New Jersey voters on Nov. 6 will approve or reject two statewide 
ballot items, including whether to allow more of the cost of benefits 
to be subtracted from the salaries of judges and whether to approve a 
$750 million bond issue for state universities and colleges. Citizen 
lawmakers in six other states will vote up or down a variety of 
marijuana ballot initiatives.

As important as New Jersey's ballot propositions are, the 
out-of-state marijuana initiatives may, in the long run, have a far 
greater impact nationally and even here in New Jersey.

Medical marijuana. Voters in two states, Massachusetts and Arkansas, 
will decide if marijuana can be used for medical purposes with the 
advice of a licensed doctor, a measure already approved in New 
Jersey. If approved, 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 

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 
very well follow in the coming years.

The third state with a medical marijuana ballot initiative, Montana, 
is a bit different. That state's legislature recently acted to remove 
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action and reinstate the law as originally enacted in 2004.

Recreational marijuana. New Jersey voters should also keep an eye on 
potentially trend-setting ballots in Colorado, Oregon and Washington 
state, where marijuana is currently legal for medical purposes. Now, 
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, including in New Jersey.

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. One billboard in Colorado declares, "Pat Robertson would 
vote yes on 64. Will you?"

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.

According to Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, "Taxpayers in New 
Jersey should take heed of what these Western states are trying to 
accomplish this election cycle by trying to pass binding marijuana 
legalization ballot initiatives. If any one state is successful, an 
immediate legal challenge from the federal government is likely, 
which will have an impact on whether or not states like New Jersey 
can follow suit."

Historically, the marijuana debate is following America's tradition 
as a laboratory of democracy. New public policy ideas are first tried 
in individual state "laboratories" before they are exported to other 
states or imposed nationally. The policy experiment of the first 
state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana will certainly be 
closely watched. 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 (New Jersey included) and the District of Columbia 
now allow medical use of marijuana - a direct rebuttal of federal 
laws that claim marijuana has no medicinal value.

By inviting the voters into the decision-making process, ballot 
initiatives become important public education events. Marijuana 
ballot initiatives, for example, mean 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, not lawmakers in Washington, D.C., or the Statehouse in 
Trenton, are ready to responsively make the rules by which they will live.

As long as no one knows how to curb America's urge to use alcohol, 
tobacco - or marijuana, legalization and regulation is a common-sense 
alternative to the current drug war and one that is worth a try.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom