2008 Damn Lies: Shenanigans to Stop Drug Initiatives
posted by November 4 at 12:39 PMon
You are sitting here, fretting about the election. Obama, McCain. The governor’s race. You’re not thinking about the drug laws in this country—no matter how fucked up they may be—they are etched in the stone tablets of law. Nothing is ever going to fix them, right? Not true. It’s the year of Obama. There is hope.
Under the national radar, three initiatives on state ballots are at the vanguard of changing drug laws:
The most revolutionary initiative is in Massachusetts. Question 2 would reduce the penalty for an ounce of marijuana from a toss-your-lily-white-ass-in-jail misdemeanor to a $100 fine. No state has ever, by public vote, decriminalized marijuana. And the states that have “decriminalized” pot still carry expensive penalties for people who are busted.
“It takes a whack over the head from the voters to pull the politicians out of their default tough-on-drugs mode,” says Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a backer of the initiative. “And it appears the voters could be ready to give them one.”
A poll two weeks ago found Question 2 was leading by 19 points, 51 to 32 percent.
But politicians are firing on the revolutionaries. A fleet of public safety officials, district attorneys, police, and even John “Lieberman” Kerry are lining up to oppose the measure.
In a squawking Massachusetts accent, Bill Breault, a public safety official, warns in a radio ad that “our state is under attack…” He says the initiative would “put marijuana, a dangerous and addictive drug, into the hands of our children.” He adds it would “legalize marijuana.”
Of course, the measure doesn’t legalize marijuana. But Breault tells the Sentinel and Enterprise, “If legalize helps us to get the public’s attention, we will use it.” Who cares if it’s not true?
“What the opposition has tried to do it make it confusing enough that if you are not sure, then vote no,” says Mirken. “Stay with the devil you know rather than the devil you don’t know.” Mirken points out, however, that places that have decriminalized marijuana haven’t shown more pot smoking. Supporters are hitting back with their own phalanx of former cops in favor of decriminalizing pot. You can see their television ads over here.
The next proposal is in Michigan. Before you fall asleep, let me say this: medical marijuana seems boring until you watch someone writhing in agony who needs pot to eat and stay alive. But no states in the Midwest have passed medical marijuana laws; Michigan is ready to be the first.
Proposition 1 would allow people with certain diseases—cancer, AIDS, MS, etc.—to use medical marijuana with their physician’s permission. It would also create an identification system, managed by the state, which provides patients instant proof to police officers that they are complying with the law.
The thrust of an opposition campaign against the measure warns that it would create a climate like California, where “hundreds of pot smoking clubs opened in strip malls over the state… just blocks from schools.” In this ad, shot in C.O.P.S. cam, shady, stoned characters emerge form a pot club to whack a middle-aged woman walking down the sidewalk.
There’s one problem with this ad—and the entire campaign that rests on this attack. The initiative doesn’t allow pot clubs. But voters don’t seem to be falling for the sham.
A poll shows the initiative leading 21-point lead—57 percent to 36 percent.
“After Tuesday it is very likely that one in four Americans is going to live in a medical marijuana state,” says Mirken. “It may be that some years from now, when we look back, this will be distinct turning point when we went from an uphill struggle to an emerging national consensus that we need to do something different, at least about medical marijuana.”
California’s attempt to dismember the prison industrial complex after the jump.
An initiative in California, which polling had shown in the lead this summer, is now looking less fortunate. Proposition 5 would allocate $460 million to expand treatment programs for nonviolent drug offenses, divert those offenders into treatment instead of prison, and shorten their parole. Seems like a hefty price tag, but the California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates Prop. 5 would cut the inmate population by 18,000 and the parolee population by 22,000 people, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in incarceration costs and up to $2.5 billion in prisons that don’t need to be built.
But opponents have come out swinging. The California prison guards union and allies have launched a blitzkrieg, spending roughly $3.5 million on ads in the last few months, claiming the measure will limit the state’s authority over drug dealers and pose a threat to neighborhoods. Martin Sheen, who opposes Washington’s Death with Dignity initiative, has also opposed this measure, as well as another pro-treatment measure in 2000. Five former California governors have teamed up to oppose the measure.
“We know from our polling and research that the public strongly supports treatment over incarceration … and that treatment is more cost-effective than incarceration and that it also reduces crime and recidivism,” says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization backing Proposition 5. “But that doesn’t mean [voters] can’t be swayed by an intensive ad campaign employing scary and deceptive messaging that uses supposedly respectable voices.”
“This is about arrogance of people who have held all this power and not been subject to any checks ad balances,” Nadelmann says about the prison guards union, which would lose jobs and industry growth under proposition 5. Nadelmann and others are more skeptical now about the measure’s prospects.
“All the key players [in the California prison industrial complex] are insulated from any critical feedback and they are all feeding off each other, each getting more bloated with more power and money,” Nadelmann says. “In each case it is going to be citizens and tax payers who bear the brunt of the burden of government’s irresponsibility.”
Two out of three ain’t bad.