Press Release  | 10/31/2002

Drug Policy Reform Campaigns Come Down to Wire in Washington, DC, Ohio, Arizona, California, Nevada

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Win or Lose, Advocates Say Reform of Drug Laws Can't Be Stopped

Next Tuesday voters across the country will be casting ballots on various drug policy reform issues, including treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent offenders; medical marijuana for AIDS, cancer and other patients; and marijuana decriminalization for personal use.

"People are tired of wasting money on policies that don't work," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. "When our national security is at risk, our federal law enforcement agencies should not be wasting their time arresting non-violent citizens, including the terminally ill who use marijuana to ease their pain."

According to a 2001 survey by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press, 74% of Americans agree that we are losing the war on drugs, and that because of insatiable demand, we will never win. Around the country, people have responded by voting in favor of policies that are based on science, compassion and public health. In fact, in the last six years, 17 out of 19 drug policy reform initiatives have passed around the country.

"The government spends billions of dollars just on advertising to convince people that the drug war is working," said Bill Zimmerman, executive director of Campaign for New Drug Policies. "People are tired of being misled. We can see first hand that the drug war is not working, and that we can do better."

Following are the drug policy reforms to be voted on around the country next week:

Washington, DC -- Measure 62 - Treatment Instead of Incarceration -- Both DC's Measure 62 and Ohio's Issue 1 (see below) would allow certain non-violent drug offenders access to treatment instead of jail. These initiatives were modeled after Arizona's Proposition 200 (1996) and California's Proposition 36 (2000), which have already saved taxpayers millions of dollars and reduced drug-related crime. In fact, an Arizona Supreme Court study found that Proposition 200 had saved taxpayers more than $6 million in prison costs during its second year of implementation alone. Likewise, the California's Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that Proposition 36 will divert more than 30,000 drug offenders per year into treatment, saving California taxpayers approximately $1.5 billion over the next five years. In addition, California has increased the number of licensed and certified substance abuse slots by 68%.

Measure 62 is the first attempt to change drug policy under Congress' area of influence. If approved, this measure must still face Congressional signoff, potentially inciting a major national debate.

Ohio - Issue 1 - Treatment Instead of Incarceration -- Like DC's Measure 62, Ohio's Issue 1 is modeled after similar initiatives that have passed and are being implemented successfully in California and Arizona (see above). Ohio state expenditure on drug treatment is currently one of the lowest in the country, with drug users routinely facing long waiting lists when seeking services. Issue 1 proposes that the Ohio constitution be revised to establish a comprehensive treatment instead of incarceration program for individuals charged with or convicted of illegal possession or use of a controlled substance, and, in some cases, additional non-violent offenses.

Ohio's incumbent Governor, Bob Taft (R), has waged a long-term campaign against Issue 1, spending over $750,000 on opposition television ads. While early polls showed a strong lead in favor of passing the initiative, recent polling indicates otherwise. The key issue: fiscal impact. A recent report by the Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) undercuts the opposition's misleading argument that Issue 1 would be a financial burden. According to the ODT report, released on October 28, "mandated treatment and administrative expenditures will be partially offset by decreased criminal justice system expenditures and additional fee revenues totaling as much as $22.4 million" per year. This means the state would actually save millions of dollars in the long run if Issue 1 passes.

Arizona - Proposition 203 - Medical Marijuana and Civil Fines Instead of Criminal Penalties for Small Amounts of Marijuana Possession - Proposition 203 would decriminalize adults' possession of marijuana, imposing a $250 civil fine instead of criminal penalties for limited amounts. It would also require the state to distribute medical marijuana free of charge to patients with written approval from their physician. Finally, the measure would require parole for persons imprisoned on mere drug possession charges and eliminate all mandatory-minimum penalties for drug crimes, substituting judicial discretion. If enacted, Arizona could become the most progressive state in the nation in terms of its drug policies.

Proposition 203 is not to be confused (though it easily can be) with Arizona's Proposition 302, which was put on the ballot by prosecutors and hard-line legislators to undermine a previously approved citizen initiative - Proposition 200 (1996), which requires treatment, not jail, for all first- and second- time non violent drug possession cases. Those who supported Proposition 200, which has already saved taxpayers money and diverted thousands of people into treatment, are fighting Proposition 302 vigorously under the name "The People Have Spoken."

San Francisco - Proposition S - Medical Marijuana - In response to the federal government's crackdowns on voter-approved medical cannabis facilities around the state that serve AIDS, cancer and other patients, San Francisco voters will decide whether city officials can explore cultivating and dispensing the plant themselves. Under the Proposition, the Mayor, Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, City Attorney and Department of Public Health would be allowed to explore where medical marijuana could be grown, to whom it would be distributed and the legal implications.

California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996 when they passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act. Since then, eight other states have adopted similar laws.

Nevada - Question 9 - Marijuana Decriminalization for Adults Possessing Up to 3 Ounces - Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement's initiative would remove the threat of arrest for responsible marijuana use and punish irresponsible use. Under Question 9, adults 21 or older would be able to legally possess up to three ounces of marijuana for personal use. The state government would also be required to implement a system whereby adults could obtain marijuana through a legally regulated market, rather than from a criminal market. Seriously ill patients would be able to obtain marijuana at a lower cost than non-medical users under Question 9; and common-sense restrictions would be enacted by voter demand, such as penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana, smoking in public, and providing marijuana to minors.

Next Tuesday voters across the country will be casting ballots on various drug policy reform issues, including treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent offenders; medical marijuana for AIDS, cancer and other patients; and marijuana decriminalization for personal use.

"People are tired of wasting money on policies that don't work," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. "When our national security is at risk, our federal law enforcement agencies should not be wasting their time arresting non-violent citizens, including the terminally ill who use marijuana to ease their pain."

According to a 2001 survey by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press, 74% of Americans agree that we are losing the war on drugs, and that because of insatiable demand, we will never win. Around the country, people have responded by voting in favor of policies that are based on science, compassion and public health. In fact, in the last six years, 17 out of 19 drug policy reform initiatives have passed around the country.

"The government spends billions of dollars just on advertising to convince people that the drug war is working," said Bill Zimmerman, executive director of Campaign for New Drug Policies. "People are tired of being misled. We can see first hand that the drug war is not working, and that we can do better."

Following are the drug policy reforms to be voted on around the country next week:

Washington, DC -- Measure 62 - Treatment Instead of Incarceration -- Both DC's Measure 62 and Ohio's Issue 1 (see below) would allow certain non-violent drug offenders access to treatment instead of jail. These initiatives were modeled after Arizona's Proposition 200 (1996) and California's Proposition 36 (2000), which have already saved taxpayers millions of dollars and reduced drug-related crime. In fact, an Arizona Supreme Court study found that Proposition 200 had saved taxpayers more than $6 million in prison costs during its second year of implementation alone. Likewise, the California's Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that Proposition 36 will divert more than 30,000 drug offenders per year into treatment, saving California taxpayers approximately $1.5 billion over the next five years. In addition, California has increased the number of licensed and certified substance abuse slots by 68%.

Measure 62 is the first attempt to change drug policy under Congress' area of influence. If approved, this measure must still face Congressional signoff, potentially inciting a major national debate.

Ohio - Issue 1 - Treatment Instead of Incarceration -- Like DC's Measure 62, Ohio's Issue 1 is modeled after similar initiatives that have passed and are being implemented successfully in California and Arizona (see above). Ohio state expenditure on drug treatment is currently one of the lowest in the country, with drug users routinely facing long waiting lists when seeking services. Issue 1 proposes that the Ohio constitution be revised to establish a comprehensive treatment instead of incarceration program for individuals charged with or convicted of illegal possession or use of a controlled substance, and, in some cases, additional non-violent offenses.

Ohio's incumbent Governor, Bob Taft (R), has waged a long-term campaign against Issue 1, spending over $750,000 on opposition television ads. While early polls showed a strong lead in favor of passing the initiative, recent polling indicates otherwise. The key issue: fiscal impact. A recent report by the Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) undercuts the opposition's misleading argument that Issue 1 would be a financial burden. According to the ODT report, released on October 28, "mandated treatment and administrative expenditures will be partially offset by decreased criminal justice system expenditures and additional fee revenues totaling as much as $22.4 million" per year. This means the state would actually save millions of dollars in the long run if Issue 1 passes.

Arizona - Proposition 203 - Medical Marijuana and Civil Fines Instead of Criminal Penalties for Small Amounts of Marijuana Possession - Proposition 203 would decriminalize adults' possession of marijuana, imposing a $250 civil fine instead of criminal penalties for limited amounts. It would also require the state to distribute medical marijuana free of charge to patients with written approval from their physician. Finally, the measure would require parole for persons imprisoned on mere drug possession charges and eliminate all mandatory-minimum penalties for drug crimes, substituting judicial discretion. If enacted, Arizona could become the most progressive state in the nation in terms of its drug policies.

Proposition 203 is not to be confused (though it easily can be) with Arizona's Proposition 302, which was put on the ballot by prosecutors and hard-line legislators to undermine a previously approved citizen initiative - Proposition 200 (1996), which requires treatment, not jail, for all first- and second- time non violent drug possession cases. Those who supported Proposition 200, which has already saved taxpayers money and diverted thousands of people into treatment, are fighting Proposition 302 vigorously under the name "The People Have Spoken."

San Francisco - Proposition S - Medical Marijuana - In response to the federal government's crackdowns on voter-approved medical cannabis facilities around the state that serve AIDS, cancer and other patients, San Francisco voters will decide whether city officials can explore cultivating and dispensing the plant themselves. Under the Proposition, the Mayor, Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, City Attorney and Department of Public Health would be allowed to explore where medical marijuana could be grown, to whom it would be distributed and the legal implications.

California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996 when they passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act. Since then, eight other states have adopted similar laws.

Nevada - Question 9 - Marijuana Decriminalization for Adults Possessing Up to 3 Ounces - Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement's initiative would remove the threat of arrest for responsible marijuana use and punish irresponsible use. Under Question 9, adults 21 or older would be able to legally possess up to three ounces of marijuana for personal use. The state government would also be required to implement a system whereby adults could obtain marijuana through a legally regulated market, rather than from a criminal market. Seriously ill patients would be able to obtain marijuana at a lower cost than non-medical users under Question 9; and common-sense restrictions would be enacted by voter demand, such as penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana, smoking in public, and providing marijuana to minors.

Polls have consistently shown those in favor and those opposed to Question 9 to be neck and neck, with many undecided. If approved, Question 9 must be voted on again in November 2004, as is the practice with Nevada's constitutional amendments. Nevadans previously enacted a medical marijuana law with supportive votes in November 1998 and 2000.


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ATTENTION WASHINGTON, DC JOURNALISTS: You are invited to attend a post-election press conference for a report and analysis of next Tuesday's results, and what to expect in 2004. Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 1:00 PM, at the Hyatt Regency - Capitol Hill, 400 New Jersey Ave., NW. For details please call Shayna Samuels at 646-523-6961.



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ATTENTION WASHINGTON, DC JOURNALISTS: You are invited to attend a post-election press conference for a report and analysis of next Tuesday's results, and what to expect in 2004. Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 1:00 PM, at the Hyatt Regency - Capitol Hill, 400 New Jersey Ave., NW. For details please call Shayna Samuels at 646-523-6961.

Shayna Samuels at 646-523-6961 or Tony Newman at 510-208-7711

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