- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Among the seismic shifts of Nov. 5 was the quashing of a phalanx of pro-drug electoral ruses. A well-financed, meticulously organized nationwide effort by advocates of drug decriminalization went down to stinging defeat in a number of state contests.
Nevada voters rejected (61 percent) an effort to legalize the sale and use of three ounces or less of Marijuana.
Ohio voters rejected (67 percent) a so-called right-to-drug-treatment initiative that would have been a decriminalization of drug use.
Arizona voters rejected (57 percent) a proposal advancing so-called "medical" marijuana smoking.
South Dakotans rejected (63 percent) a proposal to legalize, process, and market hemp.
The debacle for the legalization movement was even more disastrous than election day implied. Earlier in the year, the "reform" movement withdrew in disarray from Florida after a year of heavy spending, having failed to obtain more than 20 percent of the signatures necessary to put a mislabeled "right to treatment" amendment on the ballot. Interestingly, the entire treatment community in Florida rejected this thinly camouflaged decriminalization overture, and Florida's governor had already increased funding for genuine treatment by 60 percent over the prior three years.
Meanwhile, in Michigan, where the decriminalization cabal had purchased the requisite signatures to advance another right to treatment initiative, the Michigan Supreme Court correctly spotted technical errors in the proposal's wording and barred it from the ballot. Despite a massive and organized effort, a high-financed campaign (outspending the opposition 12-1 in Nevada, 4-1 in Ohio, etc.) could not effect one state law that would have weakened existing anti-drug laws. The legalizers were reduced to city fighting (i.e., Washington where the initiative remains unfunded; San Francisco, etc.).
The net result was a broad-based rejection of the drug normalization campaign begun in the mid-1990s. Beginning in 1996 in the nation's West, drug decriminalization advocates found the opening that they had long sought to wage a "war on the war on drugs." Perceiving a political opening created by a supposed sense of exhaustion on the part of an uninformed public, a trio of wealthy social gadflies (financier George Soros, businessman John Sperling and insurance maven Peter Lewis) teamed well-heeled brain trusts with street soldiers readily available from the old pro-drug movement to establish a beachhead in the nation's political and legal system by over-running dispirited and under-funded, and over-worked "outposts" of law enforcement, social health organizations, and public officials.
Advancing boldly into America's heartland in 2001 with their marijuana and right to treatment initiatives, the drug legalizers now find their new offensive smashed, perhaps irretrievably. How did this happen? They ran into a broad resistance movement by an emerging national coalition of grass-roots prevention, education and treatment specialists allied with concerned parents, neighborhood leaders and public officials dedicated to halting the spread of illicit drug use.
Although the anti-drug coalitions were outspent everywhere by the pro-drug crowd, fundamental truths combined with passion and conviction to trump a large campaign chest.
The tactics of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws use opinion polling to craft "acceptable" initiatives, convince the mass of voters that they are wrong to oppose legalization, approach drug legalization incrementally, line up a string of victories, invoke "medical" sympathy, exaggerate numbers of "peaceful" pot smokers behind bars, and so on failed. They failed because legalizers based their campaign on the flawed premise that a gullible electorate could be misled by smoke and mirrors.
In the end, the mirrors cracked and the smoke cleared: No medicine is smoked; only a handful of "peaceful" marijuana users end up with a prison sentence (e.g., 0.14 percent of the Florida prison system, or 107 out of 74,000 and each of them a plea bargain); the overwhelming harm is done by the drugs, not the laws to protect against them. The barrage of lies and half-truths backfired, and the voters voted accordingly.
No wonder Rob Kampia, the head of the Marijuana Policy Project, admitted the morning after the election that he could not try "to dress up a pig" (in his words). They had tried that for too long and it no longer worked. They vow to come back next time. But if camouflage, incrementalism and exaggeration continue to fail, they will find it hard to overcome the innate good sense of the American voter.

Jim McDonough is the director of the Florida Office of Drug Control. He previously served as director of strategic planning at the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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