Marijuana Ballot Measures Face Voters on Tuesday

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October 31, 2012 - By Jill Harris

There are six marijuana-related measures on state ballots this year: measures to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in Washington, Oregon and Colorado, measures to legalize medical marijuana in Massachusetts and Arkansas, and a measure in Montana to undo the legislature’s effort to severely limit the medical marijuana law passed by the voters in 2004.

The measures in Washington and Colorado set up a regulatory structure for legalized and regulated marijuana sales that treat marijuana similar to alcohol: marijuana would be sold in state-licensed for-profit stores. In Washington, those stores would be stand-alone marijuana stores, similar to the stand-alone liquor stores they have in Washington. According to polls from last month, the Washington measure is ahead 57 percent -34 percent, with 9 percent undecided (though many observers believe this poll overstates the measure’s support) and the CO measure is ahead 53 percent-43 percent with 5 percent undecided.

The Oregon measure removes criminal penalties for possessing and growing marijuana, It would be up to the legislature to determine how to regulate the legal marijuana industry. According to a recent Oregonian poll, the Oregon measure is behind 42 percent to 49 percent.

If any one of the legalization measures passes it will dramatically change marijuana policy in the United States. Advocates are anticipating a range of possible federal responses should one of the measures pass. The Department of Justice had been silent about pending measures, until recently.

Both the Massachusetts and the Arkansas medical marijuana measures set up a state-licensed and regulated distribution system with dispensaries; patients could grow their own supply if they lived too far from a dispensary (Arkansas) or if they had another hardship that made it difficult for them to obtain their supply from a dispensary (Massachusetts). Polling shows the Massachusetts measure ahead 58 percent to 27 percent with the rest undecided, and the Arkansas measure behind 38 percent to 54 percent against, with 8percent undecided.

The Montana measure is the most confusing, and in this case the confusion may actually help the cause of medical marijuana patients.  The measure, if passed, would ratify the vote of the legislature to restrict the medical marijuana program so severely as to amount to a repeal of the law. For example, it prohibits caregivers who grow marijuana for patients from receiving any payment whatsoever: not for expenses, not for the costs of seeds and other supplies from which to grow the crop, not for rent on the space in which it is grown, not for gas for the car to transport it – the measure would effectively end  medical marijuana access for patients in Montana. A “yes” vote is a vote for this backdoor repeal; a “no” vote is a vote to undo the limiting legislation and restoring the law enacted by the people to legalize medical marijuana. Recent polling found the measure winning 46 percent to 29 percent, with 24 percent undecided.

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