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Drug law reformers court voters on both coasts

September 4, 2008
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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As much of the nation begins to focus on the hotly contested presidential race, voters in California and Massachusetts also are being asked to pay attention to controversial ballot questions related to substance use and criminality.

California voters in November will weigh in on a diversion-to-treatment initiative that far exceeds the then groundbreaking Proposition 36 measure they approved eight years ago. Proposition 5 on this year’s ballot would allocate a staggering $460 million a year in funding for offender treatment and would classify the money as permanent funding not subject to legislators’ annual budget shifting. (Look for a complete analysis of Prop. 5 in the September/October issue of Addiction Professional.)

Opposition to the measure, primarily from law enforcement representatives who believe both Prop. 36 and the new proposal give offenders too much leeway in meeting program requirements, has begun to surface in recent weeks. Yet Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the Drug Policy Alliance Network’s coordinator for the Prop. 5 effort, says that in general, the protracted delay in adopting a state budget in California this year has taken attention from almost every other policy issue to this point.

“There’s been no polling on the measure yet,” Dooley-Sammuli says. “But we have a strong and growing coalition, and this time all of the public health advocates appear to be in favor of it.”

In Massachusetts, voters are being asked to make the state the 13th in the nation to ease penalties on marijuana possession. The ballot measure, which if approved would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a civil infraction punishable by a $100 fine, is being financed nearly in full by billionaire and drug policy reform advocate George Soros.

An early August poll conducted by a Boston television station indicated that nearly three-quarters of Massachusetts voters supported the measure at that time.