This November’s elections promise to be a big moment for marijuana on the ballot. Nevadans will vote on a regulation initiative that would establish a system of legal distribution and sales. South Dakota could become the next state to legalize medical cannabis. And several drug-policy reformers will be seeking Senate seats and governorships. But there are seeds and stems in this year’s electoral bag as well, so consult your HIGH TIMES Voter’s Guide carefully before heading to the polls.

Pot on the Ballot

Nevada – The state of Nevada will vote on a Regulation of Marijuana Initiative that would decriminalize marijuana for adults and create a system of legal cultivation, distribution and sales—the first in the country.

South Dakota – South Dakotans will vote on a measure to “provide safe access to medical marijuana for certain qualified persons.” Should the measure pass, South Dakota will become the 12th state to legalize medical cannabis.

California – Santa Monicans will decide on a measure that would make adult marijuana use the lowest police priority. If passed, the SM Police Department would have to respond to such non-emergency crimes as littering and noise violations before adult possesion of pot.

Colorado – The organization SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) has championed a marijuana-legalization amendment for the 2006 ballot based on its recent success in the city of Denver. If approved, the amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes would legalize private use and possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for adults.

Michigan – An initiative to amend the state constitution that would have put to a vote the legalization and regulation of marijuana within Michigan failed to gather the necessary signatures to qualify for the 2006 ballot, highlighting the need for dedicated marijuana-law-reform activists to get involved early and stand up for our rights.

Pot-Friendly Candidates

Cliff Thornton (Green Party, CT)
Founder of the drug-law-reform group Efficacy, Cliff Thornton will make the wasteful War on Drugs a major issue in his campaign to become governor of Connecticut. A longtime advocate of medical marijuana, Thornton has pressured rival candidates to unambiguously declare their position on a state medical-marijuana law.

Kevin Zeese (Green Party, MD)
President of Common Sense for Drug Policy and former executive director of NORML, Kevin Zeese seeks to fill Maryland’s first open Senate seat in 20 years, having already won the nomination of the Green, Libertarian and Populist parties of Maryland—the first time the three parties have nominated the same candidate.

Bernie Sanders (Independent, VT)
Tired of partisan politics? So is Bernie Sanders, the sole independent congressman in the House of Representatives. Sanders has already helped Vermont become the ninth state to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and he also sponsored the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act to protect medical-cannabis users from federal prosecution. Now he’s running for a Senate seat, and he needs your support.

Steve Epstein (Libertarian Party, MA)
An attorney long featured in the HIGH TIMES legal directory and the founder of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, Steve Epstein passionately believes that responsible adults should have the right to consume marijuana without fear of prosecution. Epstein will attempt to enter local government with a bid for a seat on the board of selectmen in Georgetown, MA, providing an excellent example of how an individual reformer can make a difference.

Not-Friendly Candidates

Rick Santorum (Republican, PA)
Pennsylvania, you’re better than this guy. Rick Santorum’s running for reelection to a third term in the Senate, and the time has come to end his reign of puritanical idiocy. We’re talking about a man who doesn’t believe evolution should be taught in schools, but may think that gay marriage will lead to “man on dog” sex. On top of that, he favors spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the War on Drugs, and also raising penalties for drug offenses.

Donald Carcieri (Republican, RI)
In January 2006, Rhode Island became the 11th state to legalize the use of medical marijuana, but it wouldn’t have if Governor Donald Carcieri had his way. The incumbent governor, currently running for reelection, vetoed a medical-marijuana bill that represented the overwhelming will of the people. The veto, born of his fear that the law would “encourage criminal activity,” was kindly overridden by Rhode Island’s General Assembly.

Mark Souder (Republican, IN)
Strike up the orchestra and cue Darth Vader’s theme music: Mark Souder is pure evil. Creator of the Drug-Free Student Loan Amendment to the Higher Education Act, which suspends financial aid to college students convicted of drug-related offenses (but not murderers), Souder seeks reelection to Congress. An unabashed supporter of the War on Drugs, he currently chairs the House Drug Policy Subcommittee, giving him authorizing jurisdiction over the Drug Czar. Souder favors military border patrols to battle drug trafficking, random drug testing of federal employees and dangerous, genetically modified fungal sprays to combat foreign drug crops.

Jim Gibbons (Republican, NV)
With a marijuana taxation/regulation bill on the ballot for 2006, the last thing pot-smoking Nevadans want is for Jim Gibbons to become their new governor. Gibbons’s voting history as a congressman shows him to be opposed to medical marijuana, in favor of random drug testing, and for a strong military presence on the US border to fight the War on Drugs.

The Chill of the People
In the last decade, voter-approved initiatives have changed the face of medical marijuana.

1996: California voters pass Proposition 215, the landmark initiative allowing patients to use, possess and cultivate medical marijuana with a physician’s recommendation. On the same day, Arizona voters approve a similar but less far-reaching proposition. These seminal votes not only kick-start California’s incomparable dispensary system but also inspire other states to put medical marijuana on the ballot.

1998: Voters in Alaska approve Ballot Measure 8, effectively removing state penalties for use, possession and cultivation of medical marijuana by patients with written documentation from a physician.

1998: Oregon voters approve Measure 67, allowing patients with a signed recommendation from a physician to use, possess and
cultivate marijuana.

1998: Measure 692 in Washington removes state penalties for use, possession and cultivation of marijuana for patients suffering from debilitating conditions.

1999: Maine voters support Question 2, favoring the removal of state penalties for medical-marijuana use for patients with oral or written recommendation from a physician.

2000: In Colorado, Amendment 20 amends the state constitution to recognize medical marijuana and remove state penalties for those who “might benefit from the medical use of marijuana.”

2000: In Nevada, 65 percent of voters approve Question 9, amending the state’s constitution to recognize medical-marijuana use and removing state penalties for patients with documentation from a physician.

2004: Montana voters approve Initiative 148, allowing the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes and shielding patients and caregivers from state penalties.