Pubdate: Wed, 29 Oct 2014
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2014 The New York Times Company
Author: Kirk Johnson


KEIZER, Ore. - Two years after voters in Colorado and Washington 
State broke the ice as the first states to legalize sales of 
recreational marijuana to adults, residents of Oregon, Alaska and 
Washington, D.C., will vote next week on ballot measures patterned on 
those of the two pioneers. People on both sides of the issue say 
these initiatives could determine whether there will be a national 
tide of legalization.

A changing political landscape has weakened anti-marijuana efforts. 
As the libertarian movement in the Republican Party has gained force, 
with leaders like Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, 
supporting decriminalization of marijuana and others going even 
further, an anchor of the conservative opposition to legalization has eroded.

And Democrats have found that supporting legalization - once an 
invitation to be labeled soft on crime - no longer carries the risk 
it once did, as public discussion of prison overcrowding and law 
enforcement budgets has reframed the issue.

National groups that have long advocated legalization have provided 
labor and money, along with help from a legal marijuana industry that 
did not exist in 2012. The old antidrug coalition has struggled to 
find traction and money. Supporters of legalization have outdone 
opponents' fund-raising here in Oregon by more than 25 to 1, and in 
Alaska by about 9 to 1.

"The support coalition is definitely broader, and the opposition has 
splintered," said Corey Cook, an associate professor of politics at 
the University of San Francisco who follows the marijuana debate.

The contrast between the pro- and anti-legalization forces was 
apparent on a recent day in Oregon. In downtown Portland, scruffy 
hipsters with clipboards buttonholed passers-by, registering voters 
and urging them to vote yes on Measure 91, while political 
consultants put the final touches on a $2 million ad barrage.

Nearby, opponents organized one of their major events in Keizer, a 
suburb of Salem, the state capital. Titled "Marijuana and Our Youth," 
the session included two hours of PowerPoints and passionate 
denunciations of the drug. But no one even mentioned Measure 91: 
Audience participants and organizers, many of them from 
government-funded nonprofit groups involved in drug treatment 
services, were afraid of violating laws that ban politicking with public money.

Opponents were, by their own admission, late in forming a united 
organization, and their campaign had only about $10,000 for 
advertising, with spots running on two Portland radio stations 
starting last weekend.

"They've done a pretty good job of shutting everybody up," said 
Joshua K. Marquis, the district attorney in Clatsop County and an 
opponent of legalization, referring to the pro-91 forces.

The pro-legalization campaigns in Oregon and Alaska are financed 
largely by national organizations. In Alaska, 84 percent of the 
$867,000 raised by legalization proponents at Yes on Ballot Measure 2 
has come from the Marijuana Policy Project, a group based in 
Washington, D.C., with an advisory board that includes actors, 
musicians and politicians, including Gary Johnson, the Libertarian 
Party candidate for president in 2012. Opponents to legalization in 
Alaska have raised only $97,000.

In Oregon, the Drug Policy Alliance, based in New York and backed by 
the billionaire investor George Soros, has led the charge, 
contributing at least $780,000 this year, according to state records, 
making up about 35 percent of the cash raised by the main committee 
supporting legalization.

Marijuana-related businesses or investors in Colorado, Washington and 
California have contributed at least $60,000. Contributors included 
O.penVAPE, a company based in Denver that sells products for 
consuming concentrates like hash oil; Privateer Holdings, a marijuana 
investment firm in Seattle; and Vicente Sederberg, which calls itself 
"The Marijuana Law Firm."

There has been some well-funded opposition to legalization, 
especially in Florida, where voters will decide whether to become the 
first state in the South to allow marijuana for certain medical uses. 
There, Sheldon G. Adelson, a casino executive from Las Vegas, has 
contributed $5 million to opponents of medical marijuana, about 86 
percent of the total raised by the main committee fighting the legislation.

But in Oregon, there has been "no sugar daddy," as Mr. Marquis, the 
county prosecutor, put it. Opponents have raised only about $179,000.

Initiative 71 in Washington, D.C., would allow residents to possess 
up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use and grow up to six 
cannabis plants at home. Measure 91 in Oregon would allow possession 
by adults of up to eight ounces of marijuana and four plants. Ballot 
Measure 2 in Alaska would allow adult possession of one ounce and six plants.

Supporters of legalization in Oregon and Alaska said that money was 
crucial to overcoming what they say was years of incorrect 
information and distortion by law enforcement and antidrug groups 
about marijuana's risks.

"The opposition made good traction for 50 years, and it was built 
around locking people up. A massive industry was built around it," 
said Richard Branson, the entrepreneur who founded Virgin Group and a 
member of the Drug Policy Alliance's international honorary board.

Opponents said they were facing, for the first time, an emerging 
industrial complex.

"This is not about independent Alaskans smoking marijuana in their 
homes, but a commercialization and industrialization of an industry," 
said Charles Fedullo, a spokesman for Big Marijuana Big Mistake, 
which opposes Ballot Measure 2 in Alaska.

Changes required for the meeting about marijuana and youth here in 
Keizer, opponents of legalization say, offers a case study in the 
tough new tactics of pro-legalization groups.

A few weeks before the "Marijuana and Our Youth" meeting, 
legalization supporters pointed out to federal and state authorities 
that a small drug treatment center funded by government grants was 
sponsoring a tour of the state by Kevin A. Sabet, a co-founder of a 
national anti-legalization group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana. They 
reminded all parties that federal and state laws prohibited the use 
of public funds to influence elections.

The State of Oregon agreed and issued a stern warning that any group 
receiving public money - a list that included 70 counties, tribes, 
schools and nonprofit agencies that provide drug treatment or 
substance-abuse prevention programs - had best tread carefully.

The result was a sudden silence in the antidrug contingent and a 
muted meeting here in Keizer. Even though private funds were 
substituted to avoid the appearance of impropriety, talk of Measure 
91, organizers said, was taken off the table out of concern for jobs 
and future government grants. A central constituency in the 
opposition, heavy on health care professionals, was stifled.

Both sides said the new terrain offered a glimpse toward the next 
wave of states, notably California, where supporters are gearing up 
for a vote in 2016. But there are strange historical echoes, too. 
Alaska and Oregon were both pioneers of marijuana law in the 1970s. 
Oregon's Legislature debated full legalization in 1973 and ended up 
passing the nation's first law decriminalizing possession of small 
amounts. Alaska's Supreme Court held in 1975 that possession of 
marijuana in one's home was protected by constitutional privacy law.

Whether the antidrug coalition of the past is dead or just sleeping, 
both sides agree that the old arguments no longer work.

"Today's parents are yesterday's children who were smoking marijuana 
and have personal experience, and, therefore, the kind of 
advertisement which shows fried eggs doesn't really cut it with 
them," Mr. Soros said in an interview this year. He was referring to 
an antidrug television campaign that showed a sizzling egg in a pan 
and the tagline, "This is your brain on drugs."

But the pressure is also on proponents, they say, not to fall short, 
because every new state is a kind of test case.

"If we win, I think it shows that public opinion has decisively 
changed - we've won in two election cycles," said Peter Zuckerman, a 
spokesman for New Approach Oregon, the main group supporting 
legalization. "If we lose, I think it becomes much harder," he said. 
"We have to maintain the momentum."

Professor Sabet, of the department of psychiatry in the College of 
Medicine at the University of Florida, founded his anti-legalization 
group with Patrick J. Kennedy, a former Democratic congressman from 
Rhode Island. He said an interview that on the surface, the fight 
against legalization probably looks unwinnable here.

"It looks bad - I want to be on the other team," he said, laughing. 
Turning serious, Professor Sabet said that experiences in Washington 
and Colorado were exposing flaws in legal marijuana - from greater 
exposure to young people to questions of highway safety - that he 
thinks will turn off many voters, even though opponents of the ballot 
measures lack the money to shout their message.

"Legalization in practice has been the biggest enemy of legalization," he said.

Serge Kovaleski contributed reporting from New York.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom