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Voters in 3 states say no to legalizing marijuana

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Voters defeated three pro-marijuana measures Nov. 7 that would have legalized use of the drug in three states — Colorado, Nevada and South Dakota.

Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noted: “Despite the plays on people’s emotions, the majority of voters recognized that it is foolish to weaken laws on marijuana usage.

“Marijuana is a very dangerous drug. Anything we can do to help prevent access to it will result in many lives being spared its destructive effects,” Duke told Baptist Press.

In Colorado, Amendment 44, which would have allowed adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, lost by nearly a 2-1 margin. So unpopular was the initiative, it won only half the vote in traditionally liberal Boulder County.

Robert McGuire, spokesman for the Colorado Chapter of Save Our Society from Drugs and a leader of the opposition of Amendment 44, said he is pleased with the resoundingly negative response to the measure.

“Our goal was to beat it badly enough so we don’t see it again on the ballot,” McGuire said.

Even if it had passed, Amendment 44 wouldn’t have technically made smoking marijuana legal in Colorado. It is still a violation of federal drug laws — though federal drug enforcement officials said publicly they will not actively seek to arrest and convict users in possession of an ounce or less.

The Nevada initiative was similar to the one in Colorado. Question 7 would have allowed Nevada residents 21 years of age or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana but was being rejected by 56 percent of voters with 1,620 of 1,913 precincts statewide reporting late Wednesday morning.

If the initiatives had passed, they would have made Colorado and Nevada the first states to legalize marijuana use for recreational purposes. Previously, several states — including Colorado — passed medical marijuana initiatives that allowed for the distribution of the drug for those battling illness.

Rob Kampia, executive director for Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), touted the “huge progress” in Nevada since a 61-39 loss on a similar initiative four years ago. MPP is a pro-marijuana group that “works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana — both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use.”

In South Dakota, Initiated Measure 4 was patterned after laws in 11 states legalizing marijuana for medical usage. Passage looked doubtful Wednesday morning with 141,734 votes against legalized use compared with 127,713 votes in favor, a 53-47 margin, with 743 precincts out of 818 reporting.

Those who opposed the initiative had argued that approval of the measure would have led to open marijuana use, and the public might think that it is the only medicine effective for certain ailments.

Those in favor argued in part that marijuana can relieve seriously ill patients’ discomfort and even save lives. Currently under South Dakota law, patients who use marijuana can be sentenced to a year in prison and fined $2,000.

But there is something more subtle and sinister behind the push for legalizing pot for medical purposes, Duke said.

“I’m sure that many people who support the so-called medicinal use of marijuana are very genuine in their concern for people’s suffering. However, it is obvious that others see this issue as a first step toward complete legalization of the drug. We must recognize that the medical marijuana issue is the Trojan Horse of the marijuana legalization movement.

“To use people’s suffering as a subterfuge for such a sinister goal is despicable. I agree that we must do all we can to help people find ways to alleviate their pain and to deal with issues like appetite loss during therapy. I am not oblivious or insensitive to the pain and need of those who are suffering, but relaxing our guard against marijuana is not the answer. I encourage people to look for better, safer solutions.”

Several nonbinding pro-marijuana measures passed in two smaller municipalities in Massachusetts, in Missoula County, Mont., and three California cities — Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica. These measures direct law enforcement agencies to make arrests for marijuana possession their lowest priority.

Pro-marijuana advocates were encouraged by these smaller victories and say voters in Nevada, and possibly other states, will get another opportunity to vote on legalizing pot.

“The momentum is with us,” Kampia said. “We plan to try again with another marijuana initiative in Nevada in 2008 or 2010.”

Duke said he is troubled by the idea of making marijuana enforcement a low priority and sees it as a dangerous trend.

“Unfortunately, some communities have voted to ask their local law enforcement officials to look the other way on marijuana violations [which could] very well provide the slippery slope those who want to legalize marijuana are looking for,” Duke said.

“I encourage these communities to reevaluate this request and to reverse it at the earliest possible opportunity. If they do not, they may discover too late that their decision provided the opportunity for the forces of legalization to use their communities in their efforts to undermine the nation’s drug-control strategy.”

On drug legalization in general, Duke added, “I repeat my call for better enforcement of our drug laws, better treatment programs for people using drugs, more anti-drug education programs and harsher penalties for those who distribute drugs.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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