The war to end the war on pot: Latest dispatches

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Paul Danish/Sue France

Here are some of the latest dispatches in the war to end the war on marijuana.
The news from the eastern front is encouraging. New polls from Massachusetts and Maine show 53 percent support for each state’s legalization initiatives, versus 40 percent opposition in Massachusetts and 38 percent in Maine.

The Massachusetts results are particularly encouraging, because they show the initiative gaining support in the face of organized opposition coming from Governor Charlie Baker, the mayor of Boston and assorted business and law enforcement groups. A poll taken in early September showed the initiative passing, but by a closer 50-45 percent margin. And a poll taken last summer showed it losing.

The other news from the two eastern states is that the pro-legalization forces started running TV ads this week. The ads show former law enforcement officers speaking out in favor of legalization, which suggests the supporters consider the opposition coming from law enforcement groups more threatening than that coming from political notables.

It is a good thing they’re starting to run ads, because it is near certain they will be a strong anti-legalization campaign mounted against them in Massachusetts. That can be taken almost as a given in light of the links to Massachusetts of multi-billionaire and legalization foe Sheldon Adelson and ex-Rhode Island Congressman and legalization opponent Patrick Kennedy. Chances are the Massachusetts campaign will turn into a hell of a donnybrook.

A similar situation is shaping up in Arizona. The pro-legalization forces started their media campaign for Proposition 205 this week, with an ad citing Colorado’s success in legalizing pot while avoiding an increase in underage use and raising millions for schools. A poll taken in early September for the Arizona Republic showed the initiative had 50 percent support with 40 percent opposed, which is good news, but old news by now.

The bad news is that the opponents of the Arizona initiative have built up a $2 million war chest, so there will be a major media blitz against it, and it is questionable whether the pro-legalization forces will have the wherewithal to counter it. While they have raised $3 million in all, they had to spend most of it just getting on the ballot. The outcome may hinge on whether the pro-forces can get a late infusion of cash and on how well organized they are.

In Nevada, two polls showed the pro-legalization initiative on a roll. A Suffolk University poll released September 30 found 57 percent support for legalization, up dramatically from 48 percent support in August. And a Rasmussen poll released September 26 pegged support for the state’s legalization initiative at 53 percent, up two percentage points from a similar poll taken last summer. Rasmussen results are sometimes skewed Republican, so the number may understate support a bit. No word on how the campaign is unfolding in Nevada, but casino magnate Adelson has a big presence in the state, and he recently bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal and switched its position on legalization from pro to anti.

In California, polling released last week showed Proposition 64 had 60 percent support. There hasn’t been a lot of new news regarding the campaign in the past week — except for the press discovering that some of the opponents of legalization are marijuana growers.

The growers offer a grab-bag of reasons for their opposition, ranging from having to deal with too much government red tape to being wiped out by competition from well-heeled “big” marijuana start-ups.

“I don’t want to replace a criminal injustice with an economic injustice,” said Hezekiah Allen, president of The California Growers Association, a trade group.

His group declared itself neutral on Proposition 64 after a recent poll of its 750 members found that 31 percent supported it, 31 percent opposed it and 38 percent were undecided.
The most striking thing about the outlaw growers’ opposition (they prefer to be described as outlaws rather than criminals) is that they evidently don’t have much fear of getting arrested — which gives them the luxury of being able to oppose legalization.

Last week it was announced that marijuana arrests nationally had sunk to a 20-year low — 643,122 unlucky individuals who didn’t have the same luxury as the 750 growers. Which may explain why proposition 64 has 60 percent support.