Pubdate: Wed, 24 Oct 2012
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: William M. Welch
Page: 3A


Voters Consider Legalization for Recreational Use

Now that medical marijuana is permitted in about one-third of the
nation, advocates hope to move beyond therapeutic uses with ballot
questions in three states that could legalize pot for recreational

Voters in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon face proposals to
change state laws to permit possession and regulate the sale of
marijuana - though the plant with psychoactive properties remains an
illegal substance under federal law.

Approval in even one state would be a dramatic step that most likely
would face legal challenges but could also bring pressure on the
federal government to consider modifying the national prohibition that
has been in place since 1937, backers say.

"One of these states crossing that Rubicon will immediately set up a
challenge to the federal government," says Allen St. Pierre, executive
director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Polls have shown proponents leading in Washington and Colorado, but
the outcome remains in doubt. Both sides are aware of what happened in
California in 2010: The similar Proposition 19 lost 53.5% to 46.5%
after an early lead in favor disappeared.

"It's a similar trajectory here," says Laura Chapin, spokeswoman for a
group opposing Colorado's Amendment 64, who predicts the proposal will
be defeated.

John Matsusaka, a professor of law and business who is president of
the Initiative & Referendum Institute at the University of Southern
California, says the ballot questions on recreational use reflect
growing acceptance of marijuana.

A Gallup Poll in October 2011 showed support for legalization at 50%,
the highest since Gallup began asking in 1970, and 46% opposed.

"It's a matter of time before one of these passes," Matsusaka

Medical-marijuana proposals are on the ballot in Arkansas,
Massachusetts and Montana. The ballot issues arise against a growing
conflict between the federal ban and more permission states.

In California, federal prosecutors have been shutting down
medicalmarijuana dispensaries, but federal prosecutors typically do
not go after cases of simple possession.

Campaigns have been intense in Washington and Colorado. In Oregon, St.
Pierre says, marijuana advocates are less hopeful and support is not
as well-financed.

Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, who backs Washington's
Initiative 502, says police and prosecutors are frustrated at the
futility of marijuana prohibition and see regulation as a way to take
the trade away from criminals and free up the justice system for more
serious matters.

"They've seen the enormous costs associated with marijuana
prohibition," Stamper says. "None of us is advocating marijuana use."

In Washington state, the proposal is being sold as a chance to
license, regulate and tax marijuana and impose a tough ban on driving
while impaired by pot.

Colorado's proposal would authorize licensed production and retail
facilities but leave it to lawmakers to follow up with any driving
restrictions, says Mason Tvert, co-director of a group pushing the

New Approach Washington is airing $2 million worth of TV ads in favor
of Initiative 502, campaign director Alison Holcomb says. They feature
two former U.S. attorneys from the Bush and Clinton administrations
and a former Seattle FBI chief.

"We know firsthand that decades of marijuana arrests have failed to
reduce use, and the drug cartels are pocketing all the profits,"
Charlie Mandigo, former special agent in charge of the FBI in Seattle,
says in one ad.

"If 502 passes, we will have more resources to go after violent
crimes," John McKay, U.S. attorney for western Washington from 2001 to
2007, says in another.

In Colorado, Chapin's group, Vote No on 64, has no TV ads. It touts
the opposition of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor
Michael Hancock, teachers, ministers and law enforcement groups.

In Washington state, the opposition group No on I-502 is led by Steve
Sarich, a medical-marijuana entrepreneur, who calls the initiative "a
Trojan horse" for the strict anti-drugged-driving provision.

"The government knows they're losing the battle, with more medical
marijuana states," he says. "So their new strategy ... is 'You can
have your pot - but we're going to arrest you now for drugged driving.' "

Holcomb says approval of the legalization initiative would demonstrate
that, as with the repeal of the prohibition on alcohol in 1933, the
public is ready for change.

"This is one of those issues that has to percolate up from the
states," she says. "Congress and the administration need to see that
the will of voters has shifted and we are ready to try something
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