- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Bush administration’s war on drugs stretches deep into Asia and Latin America, yet one of its most crucial campaigns — in the eyes of White House drug czar John Walters — is being waged this fall among voters in Alaska, Montana and Oregon.

In each state, activists seeking to ease drug laws have placed a marijuana-related proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot as part of a long-running quest for alternatives to federal drug policies that they consider harsh and ineffective.

If all three measures are approved, Montana would become the 10th state to legalize pot for medical purposes, Oregon would dramatically expand its existing medical-marijuana program, and Alaska would become the first state to decriminalize marijuana altogether.

Mr. Walters has been campaigning in person against the measures, taking a particularly aggressive role in opposing Oregon’s Measure 33. It would create state-regulated dispensaries to supply marijuana, let authorized growers sell pot to patients for a profit, and allow patients to possess a pound of marijuana at a time.

“They use medical marijuana as a Trojan horse,” Mr. Walters said of the measure’s supporters. “People’s suffering is being used for legalizing drug use beginning with marijuana and moving forward.”

Oregon and Alaska are among nine states that, since 1996, have adopted laws allowing qualified patients to use medical marijuana. The others are California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Vermont and Washington.

The U.S. House defeated a proposal in July to stop the federal government from prosecuting people who use marijuana for medical reasons in states that allow it. A case raising that same issue is to be considered soon by the Supreme Court.

Oregon and Alaska activists say their ballot measures would eliminate problems that patients face in obtaining enough marijuana to ease their suffering.

In Oregon, for example, the 10,000 patients enrolled in the program must grow their own marijuana or get it from designated “caregivers,” who cannot be paid.

“It takes knowledge, money and everything going right to grow high-quality marijuana,” said John Sajo, 48, a longtime drug reform activist who runs the Measure 33 campaign.

Alaskans will vote on a measure even more far-reaching than Oregon’s — to prohibit prosecution of anyone 21 or older who consumes, grows or distributes pot for private personal use.

Even a leading foe of the measure, former U.S. Attorney Wev Shea, believes it might pass, thanks partly to sophisticated advertising backed by national marijuana reform organizations.

“They’ve got a lot of money behind them and they’re running a very professional campaign,” Mr. Shea said.

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