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October 31, 2008

Sentencing and drug policy reform initiatives to watch on Election Day

The Drug War Chronicle has this fantastic new feature article, headlined "Drug Policy Reform and Sentencing Initiatives on the November Ballot."  The article provides an effective review of all the big and little ballot initiative that sentencing fans should keep an eye on as this election season (finally) approaches its end.  Here are excerpts from the start pf the article:

Not only are there a number of state-level initiatives dealing with marijuana decriminalization, medical marijuana, and sentencing reform (or its opposite), there are also a handful of initiatives at the county or municipal level. But after a spate of drug reform initiatives beginning in the mid-1990s and continuing into the beginning of this decade, the pace has slowed this year. Of the 139 statewide initiatives identified by the Initiative and Referendum Institute as making the ballot this year, only seven have anything to do with drug reform, and four of those seek to increase sentences for various drug offenses.

Drug reformers have had an impressive run, especially with medical marijuana efforts, winning in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, and losing only in conservative South Dakota. Reformers also scored an impressive coup with California's "treatment not jail" initiative, Proposition 36, in 2002. At the municipal level, initiatives making adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority have won in cities across California; as well as Denver; Seattle; Missoula County, Montana; Eureka Springs, Arkansas; and Hailey, Idaho. Detroit and several smaller Michigan cities have also approved municipal medical marijuana initiatives.

One reason for the slow-down in reformers' resort to the initiative process is that, as Marijuana Policy Project assistant communications director Dan Bernath put it, "We've already grabbed all the low-hanging fruit."...  "Only half the states have initiatives, so there are only so many places where reformers can push them," he said. "And it is an expensive process that is often complicated. On the other hand, you don't have to rely on timid politicians. The voters are often way out in front of politicians on marijuana reform initiatives, and with an initiative, you don't have to worry about those timid politicians tinkering with your legislation and taking all the teeth out of it," Bernath noted. "As a general rule, I think most reformers would prefer to see something passed by the voters, that gives it a lot of legitimacy."

And that's just what reformers are trying to do with medical marijuana in Michigan and marijuana decriminalization in Massachusetts this year, both of which appear poised to pass.  Likewise, in California, reformers are seeking to expand and deepen Prop. 36, but they also face a pair of sentencing initiatives aimed at harsher treatment of drug offenders.  And next door in Oregon, anti-crime crusaders also have a pair of initiatives aimed at punishing drug offenders -- among others.

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October 31, 2008 at 07:26 AM | Permalink


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"... but they also face a pair of sentencing initiatives aimed at harsher treatment of drug offenders."

In fact, neither of the initiatives referred to is aimed at drug offenders as distinguished from other offenders. Proposition 9, on victims' rights, has little, if any, application to crimes with no individual victims.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 31, 2008 4:13:04 PM

Who's telling the truth?

Dust-Up: Proposition 5

The sad part is, we can't really trust the government to tell the truth.

The Battle Over CA Prop 5: Special Interests Overwhelming the Public Interest

Yet Prop 5 is struggling because of a very powerful special interest: the prison guards union. It has funneled $1.8 million into the campaign to derail Prop 5.

Posted by: George | Nov 1, 2008 2:40:36 PM

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