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Alaskans post lone anti-drug vote; measures in Calif., Colo., Nev. pass

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–While Alaska voters resoundingly rejected legalization of marijuana, voters in three other states approved relaxing laws against the drug Nov. 7.

With most ballots counted, Colorado and Nevada approved medicinal use of marijuana, while California residents approved treatment for nonviolent offenders instead of jailing them for low-level drug offenses.

In addition, California’s Mendocino County became the first place in the nation to legalize personal possession of up to 25 marijuana plants, according to The Los Angeles Times. The county clerk-recorder’s office said the measure passed by a 58-42 percent margin.

The Alaska secretary of state reported Wednesday morning that the Proposition 5 legalization effort was turned down by a 134,892-87, 246 vote count, a margin of 61-39 percent.

Wev Shea, a spokesman for “No on 5,” said his group was victorious despite being outspent by at least a 6-1 margin. The proposal would have also declared amnesty and considered restitution for jailed offenders, which he said turned off voters.

“I think the amnesty went way too far and the potential for restitution was bizarre,” said Shea, a former U.S. attorney. “But one of the things that bothered me most [about the initiative] was letting kids smoke intoxicants and hallucinogens at 18, when they can’t buy cigarettes until they’re 19 and alcohol until they’re 21.”

In addition to the civic groups, legislators and law enforcement figures opposing the initiative, the Christian community made a difference, Shea said. Among those speaking out against it was Anchorage Baptist Temple.

The state’s largest Baptist church distributed materials to a mailing list of 10,000, including members and supporters of its Christian school and radio-TV programs.

Pastor Jerry Prevo called the struggle a spiritual battle.

“It is because of marijuana being a drug that puts people under false moods and thinking,” said the independent Baptist pastor. “There is a lot of marijuana grown in Alaska and a lot of people who use marijuana, but we don’t want it legalized.”

Despite the wide vote margin in Alaska, the vice president of research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called most of the drug issue votes Nov. 7 disappointing.

Barrett Duke said many aren’t listening to health or drug policy experts, acting instead on their emotions.

He called the California’s Proposition 36 an indicator of the direction advocates of casual drug use are taking. Many in that state have become desensitized to the problems associated with such abuse, he said.

“Proposition 36 was partially an indication of overcrowding of jails; people asking, ‘Should we really be sending [users] to jail with hardened criminals?'” Duke said. “But what folks in California overlooked is the use of drugs will contribute to future violent offenders. They are going to end up with more people in prison because people with addictions turn to crime.”

In a report on statewide initiatives, The Los Angeles Times said the move to give drug users treatment suggests that discontent with the nation’s drug war is beginning to reshape criminal justice codes.

“People finally understand that addiction is a disease — a treatable disease — and that the answer to this epidemic is not locking addicts up,” Gretchen Burns Bergman told the newspaper. The chairwoman of the “Yes on 36” campaign, her son has been jailed three times for drug offenses, the newspaper said.

However, in Colorado a spokesman for a grassroots coalition opposed to medical marijuana said those who approved it don’t realize what they have created.

“I think it’s going to open the floodgates,” said physician Frank Sergeant, a member of the steering committee for Coloradoans Against Legalized Marijuana. “If you were a dealer or recreational user, wouldn’t you to want to come to Colorado?

“We’re going to have more people high on pot driving our streets and operating machines. It’s just another negative substance out there.”

With nearly 98 percent of precincts in, the Denver Post reported that the initiative had passed by a 53-47 percent margin. A similar measure in Nevada passed by a 65-35 percent margin.

Nevada residents had previously approved medicinal marijuana, with that state’s constitution requiring approval of ballot issues in two consecutive elections.

The Colorado vote appeared a cinch for the pro-marijuana forces several months ago, with polls showing 75 percent in favor. The Post reported three wealthy out-of-state backers contributed $200,000 to the pro-marijuana campaign, which Sargent estimates outspent his group by a margin of nearly 3-1.

But the suburban Denver resident said Coloradoans Against Legalized Marijuana lined up support from the governor, mayor of Denver, law enforcement and civic groups to help stem the tide.

Ten thousand volunteers went door-to-door in October to distribute brochures against the proposal and doctors placed anti-marijuana summaries in their offices. That is part of the educational effort he said will be needed for future battles.

“The idea is not just to legalize marijuana, but all drugs … LSD, heroin, PCP,” the urologist said. “Medically, we all know that this was just a sham. To tear it down and educate the people, that’s the key for the future.”

However, the leader of a West Coast group that defends Christians’ legal rights said after the election that the marijuana initiatives are an exercise in futility.

Attorney Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, said none of the measures will stand because they conflict with federal laws.

“There’s a very good chance these [initiatives] will be held to be invalid,” he said. “The courts have made it very clear that no state or local government can in any way negate the federal criminal statutes.”

Since pro-marijuana forces will continue pressing their case in the court of public opinion, Dacus said, private schools and churches need to educate children about the medical ramifications of drug abuse.

“We can’t count on public schools or TV to do it; it’s really up to the parents,” said the Sacramento lawyer. “Churches can be a valuable tool in helping parents overcome the misunderstandings their children have about drugs.”

Churches can also play a valuable role by not only educating members, but encouraging them to vote, Duke said.

Fear of losing their tax exemption has sent many churches to the political sidelines, Duke said. But congregations need to understand they are allowed to speak out on any issue; they just can’t endorse individual candidates, he said.

“We should mobilize congregations and be more involved so the community does hear from one of the more respected moral guardians,” Duke said. “Churches should provide communities opportunities to learn more about these issues.”

People should also retain a strong faith in God, Sargent said. As Colorado’s campaign against medicinal marijuana neared its end, the Methodist layman said he recognized he had to trust that God’s will would be done.

“It’s sad that we lost, because of contributions of time and money given by so many volunteers,” Sargent said. “But there’s reasons for things happening. That’s when you get discouraged and depressed, trying to figure it all out. God’s the one who has the plan.”

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  • Ken Walker