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Nov. ballots: city-grown marijuana in SF, legalizing 3 ounces in Nev.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The stakes are higher than ever as ballot box battles over marijuana loom once again in the November election.

Now, the ground-breaking issues will be:

— government-grown marijuana in San Francisco touted for medicinal purposes.

— legalization of three ounces or less of marijuana for private use in Nevada, where penalties once were among the toughest in the nation.

“In reality,” Barrett Duke, vice president for research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noted, “what they will be voting on is whether to open the door further to the complete legalization of marijuana and to increasing the already near-epidemic level of drug abuse our nation is experiencing. … It is certain that the real motive of many of the backers of these measures is no less than the legalization of the possession and use of marijuana by anyone.”

Duke described the San Francisco proposal as disturbing because the city is proposing the cultivation and distribution of marijuana “by the city itself” for medicinal purposes.

“Such official endorsement of marijuana by the city government is sure to create a false sense of safety in the minds of many of San Francisco’s residents about the use of marijuana,” Duke told Baptist Press.

In Nevada, meanwhile, decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana is “merely the Trojan Horse of the marijuana legalization movement,” Duke said.

“Because these measures will reduce the stigma of marijuana, many residents in San Francisco and Nevada will become more comfortable with the idea of its use, and some of them will decide to experiment with it,” Duke continued. “This experimentation will certainly lead to increases in drug use by all age groups, and especially by youth.”

Then, he said, “all of the negative consequences of drug abuse will be sure to increase.”

“What is more, as any former or current drug user knows, marijuana is only the starting point. It is the gateway that has led to the destruction of the lives and futures of millions of people who moved on to other drugs in search of greater highs.

“Both of these ballot measures are losing propositions for everyone except those who are determined to legalize marijuana use in our nation and those who will profit from the cultivation and sale of this drug,” Duke said.

In San Francisco, the Nov. 5 issue has been framed as a vote to authorize city officials to study the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. If the study yields favorable findings, the board of supervisors could enact legislation detailing the locations and procedures for city-grown marijuana as well as how it would be distributed to those who meet the criteria for medicinal need.

Such steps would be in defiance of federal law, as noted by a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s regional office in San Francisco.

“Cultivation, possession and distribution of marijuana is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act — federal law,” the DEA’s Richard Meyer told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Unless Congress changes the law and makes marijuana a legal substance, then we have to do our job and enforce the law, whether or not it’s popular.”

The proposal’s chief proponent, Supervisor Mark Leno, launched the initiative as a response to federal closures of clubs that distribute medicinal marijuana in California.

“If the federal government insists on standing in our way locally, we must take matters into our own hands,” the Chronicle quoted Leno as saying, “and protect the lives of our community members and protect their right to access life-saving medicine.” Leno has said vacant properties in the city could be utilized and agriculture job training could be provided to the unemployed.

“Challenging federal law is a significant step for a city to take,” Leno said. “If 60 or 70 percent of voters say ‘yes,’ the supervisors would be on very solid ground knowing that voters would be with us.”

Various proponents also claim that Canada and the Netherlands currently grow and distribute medical marijuana.

Duke, of the ERLC, noted to Baptist Press: “While I certainly sympathize with people who are suffering with severe pain and other physical ailments, better and safer drugs are already available to ease and treat their suffering. And while I pray that God will help the medical community to discover even more effective solutions for the very real suffering that many people must live with, marijuana is not the answer.

“Any relief that the sick and suffering might experience will be lost in the haze of problems that legalized marijuana will create for them and millions of their fellow citizens,” Duke said.

In Nevada, the proposed legalization of 3 ounces of marijuana qualified for the ballot in 14 counties, just one over the minimum 13. Petitioners tallied just four signatures over the minimum in Esmeralda County and 19 signatures over the minimum in Eureka County, the Associated Press reported. The petition drive was fueled by more than $300,000 spent by a group named Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement.

White House drug czar John Walters will actively oppose the ballot measure, spokesman Tom Riley told the Las Vegas Sun, noting that Walters “feels that it will make Nevada the nation’s marketplace for marijuana.

The Nevada District Attorney’s Association announced its opposition in mid-July, with its president, Arthur Mallory of Churchill County, describing marijuana as a gateway drug for more serious narcotics. In view of federal law placing marijuana among controlled substances, Mallory told the Sun that the Nov. 5 vote is simply “tilting at windmills.”

The ballot measure is a constitutional amendment that will require passage this year and in 2004, the Sun reported.

While permitting private possession of 3 ounces of marijuana, the ballot measure would prohibit minors from possessing marijuana. It also would be illegal for anyone to sell to minors; use marijuana in public, in schools, parks, prisons or casinos; drive a vehicle while under its influence; or ship the drug out of the state. Marijuana would be taxed like cigarettes and sold in state-licensed shops.

Last year, state lawmakers reduced possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a felony punishable by a year or more in prison — one of the nation’s toughest stances — to one of the most lenient, a misdemeanor carrying a $600 fine for a first offense. Possession becomes a felony on the fourth offense, according to the new state law.

One district attorney, Richard Gammick of Reno and surrounding Washoe County, took note of statewide votes for medicinal marijuana in 2000 and 1998, for which the state is now setting up a distribution program for low-cost medical marijuana — and applying to the federal government to create a seed lab for Nevadans who qualify as seriously ill to grow up to seven marijuana plants.

“There is a national coalition and their goal is the legalization of all illegal drugs,” Gammick told the Sun. “I said two years ago that they’re coming back again, because they will not quit.”