By Chris Conrad
In a pivotal election Nov. 6, 2012, voters in the states of Colorado and Washington passed the first marijuana legalization initiatives in US history. Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical use of cannabis, and voters in that state approved six resolutions calling on the federal government to legalize adult use of cannabis. Michigan voters approved five local reform measures, as well.
Meanwhile, voters in Oregon rejected personal adult legalization, voters in Arkansas narrowly defeated medical use, California voters removed marijuana offenses from the onerous “Three Strikes” life imprisonment penalty, and a spattering of local votes in that state have made it more difficult for collectives and individual patients to cultivate, obtain or provide medical marijuana.
The results were: Colorado Amendment 64 passed 54 to 46%; Washington Initiative 502 won 55 to 45%; Massachusetts medical use act passed 63 to 37%; Oregon Measure 80 lost 45 to 55%; and Arkansas medical use act lost 48 to 52%.
This seismic shift in the political landscape comes just two years after California voters narrowly defeated adult legalization via Prop. 19. Whereas in that election, to undercut that ballot measure’s majority support among voters just weeks before the vote, the California governor signed a law that decriminalized marijuana to the level of a traffic infraction, no such changes in state law occurred in the 2012 campaign.
Another key difference was that, unlike in 2010, the federal government did not send in high-ranking officials to make sweeping threats to prosecute citizens, news media, state lawmakers and local officials if the initiative passed. Many jaded observers felt this was because Colorado, unlike California, was an essential ‘swing state’ for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election ambitions, so pro-marijuana voters were needed to carry him to victory. Another possible reason is that since the US Department of Justice is now deeply embroiled in the “Fast and Furious” scandal involving sales of assault weapons and other firearms to Mexican drug gangs, the Feds did not care to engage in a debate as to how it should be conducting the Drug War, the longest war in US history.
Whatever the reason, cannabis reform legislation got more favorable votes than Obama in three of the five initiative states, and more votes than Romney in four out of five races.
The legalization laws that were approved by voters are significantly more restrictive than California’s Prop 19 had intended, as campaign activists had warned the so called ‘dopers against legalization’ — spearheaded by provocateurs, illicit growers, dealers and medical marijuana storefronts — would be a consequence if the bill did not pass.
For example, Washington’s I-502 was drafted with the support of law enforcement and parents groups, and drew opposition from the medical marijuana and adult legalization communities because it does not authorize cultivation, it sets a completely un-scientific “per-se” limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter in the blood for driving under the influence, and it increases penalty for marijuana offenses involving minors.