The Austin Chronicle

Toke the Vote

By Jordan Smith, November 2, 2012, 12:02pm, Newsdesk

If the latest poll numbers are correct, voters in at least two states on Tuesday will approve state measures to end pot prohibition once and for all. Whether the feds would go along is another story.

Voters in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington will vote on measures that would legalize possession and distribution of marijuana to adults 21 and older. Although polls in Colorado and Washington show support in those states pulling past the 50% mark, whether that support will translate into yes votes on Nov. 6 remains to be seen. Support for legalization polled well in California in 2010 and in Nevada in 2002 and 2006, before each met with defeat on e-night.

In general, supporters of these measures argue that regulating marijuana like alcohol takes dealing out of the hands of criminals and reduces access to the drug by children. Opponents suggest that legalizing the drug would somehow create new marijuana users, among them kids.

Notably, each of the three pot legalization measures on state ballots this year would also restore cultivation of industrial hemp in those states, the domestic production of which disappeared after marijuana was outlawed.

Below is a primer on the pot legalization measures to be decided by voters on Tuesday:

Colorado's Amendment 64: Amendment 64 would allow for the possession, use and transfer (but not for money) of up to one ounce of pot, and for the possession and cultivation of up to six plants by adults 21 and older. The measure would also allow the state to license wholesale pot operations and retail stores and would require lawmakers to tax wholesale pot sales. Annually, the first $40 million in revenue generated would be credited to the state's public school construction assistance fund. The measure would also legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp.

Proponents of the law say that regulation of pot will further reduce pot use by teens in Colorado – building on a trend that began when the state legalized medi-pot in 2009. While teen use of pot has increased 2.3% nationally since 2009, use of pot has declined 2.8% in Colorado over the same time period. Regulating pot sales like alcohol sales would also take pot dealing out of the hands of criminals and would reduce exposure to the criminal justice system – and the collateral damage – by otherwise law abiding adults.

In an Oct. 25 Public Policy Poll, 53% of Colorado voters said they favor Amendment 64.

Oregon's Measure 80: Supporters of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act – also known as Measure 80 – say the decision to regulate, tax, and manage marijuana is a no-brainer: Free cops to chase criminals; require ID for pot sales; help farmers, not cartels; stop relying on imported industrial hemp. The OCTA, which seeks to regulate and tax the pot industry similar to how the state's wine and beer industry is regulated, would save the state roughly $60 million a year it currently spends on marijuana law enforcement and would generate more than $140 million in new tax revenue.

The measure would also require the state's attorney general to fight continued attempts by the feds to maintain prohibition. Indeed, while voters may finally be coming around to embrace the wisdom of legalization, the feds have shown no sign of backing down, so even if successful, drug law reformers will likely have to be patient (and, perhaps, willing to risk prison) in order to see the final demise of prohibition.

Washington's I-502: Washington's Initiative Measure No. 502 (I-502) is considered the pot legalization measure most likely to pass next week. The measure, led by New Approach Washington coalition, is crafted as a new, common sense approach to dealing with responsible adult marijuana use. The measure would tightly regulate the cultivation, taxation and sale of pot to adults. The measure is supported by lawyers, doctors, police, lawmakers, and faith leaders, and has been endorsed by the majority of the state's newspapers. A mid-October poll puts support for the measure at 55%, according to the Seattle Times.

Opponents of each of the three measures have adopted some variation of the same argument: Marijuana is addictive and legalizing it would lead children into use, destroying brain cells and futures. They may be short on facts – after all, prohibition means there's no ability to regulate who can buy, what is bought, or who profits – but they've got shallow thinking and the fear of the unknown on their side, which could be potent for Election Day voters. Indeed, although the California tax-and-regulate measure polled as high as 56% in support, the measure was roundly defeated, with roughly 54% of voters casting no ballots.

While statewide pot legalization measures may be taking the drug reform main stage this November, there are other, less publicized pot measures vying for support in several states that, if successful, could add a few more dents in the prohibition armor. Three states – Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Montana – will consider medi-mari initiatives, while voters in four cities in Michigan (Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, and Ypsilanti) will consider municipal legalization or decriminalization measures.

Massachusetts and Arkansas are poised to join the ranks of 17 states where medi-pot has already been legalized, while in Montana, voters will be asked to repeal restrictions lawmakers last year imposed on the medi-pot law passed by voters in 2004. (To better understand medi-pot politics in Montana and beyond check out situation Rebecca Richman Cohen's Code of the West, a must-see doc that screened at this year's SXSW.) On the medi-pot stage, things are looking strongest in Massachusetts, where support for Question 3 is polling at 55% in a Suffolk University poll, NORML reports.

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