Politics of Pot: Marijuana on Four Ballots Energizes Political Debate


"It's a really good political issue because it's the truth. It's the emperor wears no clothes," he said.

Initiatives opening up the passage of medical marijuana use will be up for a vote in three states -- Oregon, Arizona and South Dakota. If the measures pass, these three states would join 14 other states and Washington, D.C., where medical marijuana use is legal.

Support for medicinal use, unlike full legalization, is still strong. An ABC News/Washington Post poll in January found that 81 percent of Americans supported medical marijuana laws.

Proposition 19 Faces Difficult Road in California

Support for Proposition 19 is divided, with most recent surveys showing more support for it than opposition. But unlike other recent hot button issues, such as gay marriage, this has so far failed to attract the kind of grassroots attention among voters, especially young Californians, that proponents were hoping it would.

In fact, even some who support legalization of marijuana oppose Proposition 19 on the grounds that it doesn't achieve the goals it was designed to do.

"The taxation scheme is so convoluted that folks who are supposed to be the main beneficiaries are coming out against it," said Roger Salazar, spokesman for the "No On Proposition 19" campaign. "There are concerns across the board because the thing was so poorly written."

Supporters say the initiative will generate new revenue for the state and lessen the burden on law enforcement and prisons if it passes, but some argue that the idea that it will help cash-strapped California is a hoax.

"You can't get revenue for something that's a federal felony and a state law can't repeal federal law," said Mark Kleiman, professor of public policy at University of California, Los Angeles and director of the Drug Policy Analysis Program. "All the revenues have to be spent on drug prevention and treatment -- it does nothing for states' or localities' budget deficits."

"We have to be very, very, very stoned for that proposition to make sense," Kleiman added.

Regardless, supporters say the fact that such a measure is on the ballot is still a step forward. California is the second state to dabble in such a measure. Earlier this year a marijuana-legalization bill in Washington state was struck down by the legislature.

Proposition 19 is the "opening stage of the modern era of modern reform," said Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for legalization of marijuana.

"Whether Proposition 19 wins or loses, it's already a winner," Nadelmann told ABC News. "What it's done is legitimized and elevated a discussion about marijuana policy in a way that has never happened before. It's generated a level and seriousness and sophistication of dialogue and debate unlike what we've had before. This is the first time you have members of Congress saying they will vote for it."

Nadelmann and other proponents of the ballot initiative equate it to gay rights, in that "people are coming out of the closet and defeating the notion that they need to be punished for engaging in this 'deviant activity.'"

Slow Movement on the Federal Level

While support for decriminalizing marijuana has gained momentum, especially in Washington and California, at the federal level the subject remains a sensitive one.

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