Marijuana Reform on Several State Ballots
The issue of marijuana reform is up for debate in several western states this election season as voters in Colorado and Nevada prepare to vote on ballot initiatives that would allow the use of medical marijuana, and residents in Alaska and Mendocino County, Calif., consider whether to legalize marijuana for general use. Nevada's Question 9, which would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for severe illness and pain, is likely to pass, according to a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll that found 63% of voters backed the measure and 28% oppose it. Voters in the state already approved a similar measure in 1998 by 59%. This year's vote is necessary to add the measure to the state's constitution. Colorado's Amendment 20 also would permit marijuana use for "those with serious or chronic illnesses" who are under a doctor's care. According to a Denver Rocky Mountain News poll, 71% of voters support the measure and 23% oppose it. This year's marijuana ballot measure may face tough opposition in Alaska, which has a lengthy history with the issue. Marijuana was legal in the state until 1990, when voters banned it (Riley, AP/Milwaukee Journal, 10/1). In 1998, voters decided to permit medicinal use, and residents will now decide whether or not to again legalize marijuana and also provide "amnesty and possible restitution for people convicted of marijuana crimes in the past." According to one poll, support for the measure is at about 60% (Queary, Associated Press, 10/4). In Mendocino County, Calif., Measure G would allow "adults to grow 25 plants apiece as long as they are not for sale or transport." Under the measure, the sheriff and district attorney, who currently oppose the measure, "would make marijuana their lowest priority" and county officials would "seek an end to federal anti-marijuana laws." Last year, authorities raided 300 pot plantations, seizing $204 million worth of marijuana (Riley, AP/Milwaukee Journal, 10/1). Also under consideration in California is Proposition 36, a statewide ballot initiative that would send drug offenders to treatment instead of prison. An October Field poll found that 49% of voters favored the measure, 28% opposed it and 23% were undecided (Thompson, Associated Press, 10/18). Six states have passed medical marijuana initiatives through ballot initiatives: Arizona and California approved laws in 1996; Alaska, Oregon and Washington did so in 1998; and Maine voters enacted a measure in 1999. This year, Hawaii became the first state to pass a law through its Legislature. Despite the laws, physicians still cannot legally prescribe medical marijuana because federal law specifies that any physician who prescribes marijuana to a patient may be "stripped of his federal license to prescribe drugs and be prosecuted" (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, norml.org, 11/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.