Pro-marijuana ballots hit with defeat in 4 states

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--President Bush's war on drugs scored major victories in four states Nov. 5 after voters overwhelmingly defeated initiatives that would have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Pro-marijuana initiatives in San Francisco and the District of Columbia, meanwhile, were approved despite major opposition from the White House.

Voters in Nevada defeated a measure to legalize the possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana, by a 61-39 percent margin. More than 60 percent of South Dakotans defeated a measure that would have legalized industrial hemp by allowing the state's citizens to grow, process and market the drug. In Arizona, residents rejected an initiative that would have likened marijuana possession to a traffic violation by a 57-43 percent margin. And two-thirds of Ohioans defeated a proposal that would have required judges to order treatment instead of jail for some drug offenders.

"The major measures were defeated and we are very pleased," said Barrett Duke, vice president for research for the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "The results tell us that voters are voting with their heads and not their hearts."

Even though the marijuana initiatives failed, Duke said it's too early to declare victory on the war on drugs.

"While I am certainly heartened by the public's resistance to relaxed laws about marijuana availability, I still believe there is much to be done in making marijuana and all illicit drugs less available," Duke told Baptist Press. "We need to find effective means of lowering demand for elicit drugs in our country."

The measures were heavily financed by three billionaire philanthropists -- George Soros, John Sperling and Peter Lewis -- as part of a broader effort to roll back the federal war on drugs -- and according to a Southern Baptist legislator in Nevada, the trio's involvement led to the marijuana initiative's defeat there.

"We still have some of the qualities of the Wild West in Nevada," said Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, a member of Sonrise Baptist Church in Reno. "We don't like outsiders coming into our state and telling us what to do. This was an initiative that was spawned in Washington and paid for by outside interests."

Angel said she believes a combination of economics and the independent-minded spirit of Nevada's electorate resulted in the defeat.

"We have long been known as the state where sin abounds," Angle told Baptist Press. "In this case, grace much more abounds. People have reacted in a resounding way to what is right. They understand the economic and social problems that will come with the legalization of marijuana."

Thane E. Barnes, executive director of the 34,000-member Nevada Baptist Convention, called the vote "good news for the state."

"It's very positive to see something like this happen in a state where anything goes," Barnes said. "There's a bunch of us here that don't believe that legalizing marijuana is right."

President Bush's newly appointed drug czar, John Walters, campaigned in Nevada, Ohio and Arizona against the measures, joining with state law enforcement, judicial and political leaders in the effort.

Walters and his supporters characterized marijuana as a gateway drug that leads to increased drug abuse by youths and more traffic accidents, domestic violence and health problems.

Advocates were surprised by the force with which the White House fought them in this election.

"What we have seen tonight is how hard the drug war ideologues are willing to fight and how dirty they're willing to fight," Bruce Merken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, one of the groups that coordinated the campaigns, said in an Associated Press interview.

"I think we need to sit down and take a deep breath and take a look at how we can present the facts in a way that people can understand," Merken said.

In Arizona, Steve Bass, executive director of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, said he was thrilled with the initiative's defeat.

"My wife and I are foster parents and we see the impact of the drug culture and what it's done to a generation of Americans," Bass said. "We know because we care for their children.

"We are thrilled that our state will not be involved in passing out any form of drug and that's what we see marijuana as -- a drug," Bass added.

Advocates found some relief in the passage of two city-wide marijuana measures.

In San Francisco, officials received approval to explore establishing a distribution program for medical marijuana, and in the District of Columbia, voters approved a treatment-instead-of-jail measure for pot possession.

"That's an unfortunate decision by San Francisco voters," said the ERLC's Duke. "Most people recognize that marijuana is a dangerous drug. The more accessible it becomes, the more likely we will see increased drug problems.

"I think the pro-marijuana forces will continue to come back and keep looking for states that seem to provide them the best opportunity to make progress," Duke predicted. "It's likely we will see them come back year after year, just like we see pro-gambling forces come back year after year."

Critics, including Ohio's first lady say they will be prepared, just as they were for the Nov. 5 elections.

"We told them Ohio is not for sale," Hope Taft, a leader of Ohio's anti-pot campaign, told the Associated Press.


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