By Dan Bernath
Local and state marijuana-related ballot initiatives across the country yielded mixed results on election night, but showed signs of increasing support for effective, humane marijuana laws.
First, the bad news: Despite a strong campaign that garnered support across the state - including endorsements from three of the state’s six major newspapers - MPP's initiative to end marijuana prohibition in Nevada was defeated, 44%-56%. However, the results tied Alaska for the all-time highest vote to end marijuana prohibition ever received in a statewide election and were a significant increase from a similar initiative in the state in 2002.
A proposal in Colorado that would have removed criminal penalties for adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana also fell short, with 40% of voters supporting the initiative. And a ballot initiative that would have made South Dakota the 12th state to protect seriously ill patients using medical marijuana under doctor supervision from arrest and imprisonment was narrowly defeated with 48% voter support.
All three ballot initiatives faced intense opposition from federal and state officials – including the White House drug czar - using tax dollars to spread misinformation and hysteria about the proposals. And yet, more than a quarter-million Nevadans and almost half of South Dakota’s voters saw through the U.S. government’s attempts to influence their states’ policies and demanded change.
The results validate marijuana policy advocates’ overall campaign strategy: The drug warriors will keep trying to frighten people with lies, we'll keep telling the truth, and eventually the truth will win.
And now the good news: Election Day results indicate the truth is winning. Four in ten Nevadans voting to end marijuana prohibition shows tangible evidence of increasing voter frustration with prohibition and openness to sensible reform.
And what’s more, ten out of ten local marijuana-related ballot initiatives won on Election Day. Local initiatives in Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, and Montana - some directing law enforcement agencies to make minor marijuana arrests their lowest priority, some aimed at protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest and imprisonment, and one to establish a medical marijuana dispensary - all passed overwhelmingly, with voter support reaching as high as 67%. Check out MPP’s initiative results summary page for details.
Congressional election results brought more signs of hope for effective medical marijuana policy reform. For the first time since states began passing medical marijuana laws in 1996, we’ll have a speaker of the House who supports protecting medical marijuana patients. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been a strong supporter of the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, aimed at ending federal attacks on medical marijuana patients in states where medical use of marijuana is permitted. She also was a co-sponsor of the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA).
In addition, at least 20 medical marijuana opponents were defeated, while several new House members are expected to be supporters. Notably, the House seat formerly held by Harold Ford (D-TN), a consistent "no" vote on Hinchey-Rohrabacher, now goes to Stephen Cohen, who introduced medical marijuana legislation as a Tennessee state senator. Cohen was attacked for that position during the Democratic primary, but won both the primary and general election easily.
The momentum is with us, but major social change never comes easily. There were ballot box setbacks this year, but there were wins as well – and even the losses have moved us forward.
Dan Bernath is MPP’s assistant director of communications. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.