TIME 2014 Election

The Marijuana Legalization Votes That Will Matter in 2014

First Legal Marijuana Sales in Colorado
Strains of marijuana at Denver Kush Club in Denver, Colorado on January 1, 2014. Seth McConnell—Denver Post/Getty Images

Referendums across the country set the stage for an even bigger fight in 2016

Election Day this year will be big on pot.

The battle over legalizing recreational marijuana in California—the big enchilada that may tilt legalization not only in the U.S. but other countries—is already being set for 2016. But while many reformers’ eyes are focused on the next presidential election, this year’s votes on marijuana initiatives have the power to shape that fight.

Here are the races to watch in November.

Alaska: Legalization with tax and regulation

A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling found that the right to privacy in the state included the right to grow and possess a small amount of marijuana at home. Though opponents have still fought over whether possessing marijuana is legal—sometimes in court—reformers are hoping that a long history of quasi-legalization and a noted libertarian streak will lead Alaskans to vote yes on Ballot Measure 2: It would concretely legalize retail pot, giving the the state the power to tax and regulate like in Colorado and Washington state.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the pro-marijuana reform group NORML, called this measure a “wobbler,” with support long hovering around 50%. That sentiment is echoed by Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, which spearheaded legalization in Colorado and has contributed heavily to the campaign in Alaska. “A lot of it will depend on the campaign getting its message out,” Tvert said. The message got a boost this month when a local on-anchor quit her job live on TV to support the legalization effort.

Oregon: Legalization with tax and regulation

Oregon almost went along with Colorado and Washington on their experimental journey in 2012, when residents narrowly rejected a pot legalization measure 56% to 44%. This year, more activists—and more organized ones at that—have been on the scene, working with groups like the deep-pocketed Drug Policy Alliance. Still, the prospects for Measure 91 are far from a lock; a recent poll found that while 44% of likely voters support legalization, 40% oppose it.

Like Alaska, the Beaver State has a long history when it comes to marijuana, having become the first state to decriminalize it in 1973. St. Pierre said Oregon’s proximity to Washington state, where creating a legal market has so far gone pretty smoothly, will help push people to vote “yes.” He said Oregon is the “most viable in terms of moving the national needle,” keeping up the momentum for drug-law reform that Washington and Colorado started. “Oregon will likely help lead the way for more states to follow,” said Anthony Johnson, who launched the campaign for Measure 91.

Washington, D.C.: “Soft legalization”

Those are the words of St. Pierre, describing a measure that falls short of creating a full-on regulated, taxable pot market. Initiative 71 would, however, allow people to possess up to 2 oz. of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants at home without fear of criminal or civil penalty—at least in theory. If the initiative does pass, there remains a hazy line between the reaches of the local and federal governments in the District, and Congress could choose to intervene, passing laws that supersede the actions of D.C. officials.

The initiative will very likely pass: Locals support it by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. The big question is whether Congress will continue to stand down, as it did while D.C. legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized marijuana. Allowing pot plants to flourish in backyard gardens down the road from the White House could force a more serious conversation about the conflict between federal drug laws that still view marijuana as an illegal substance and newer laws that do not.

Florida: Medical marijuana

At a time when states are legalizing pot for recreational purposes, it might not seem that significant whether Florida joins the growing list of about two-dozen states that allow medical marijuana. But St. Pierre said that nothing marijuana-related is taken lightly when it comes to political bellwether states like this one. So far, polling on support for Amendment 2 has been all over the place. And the political frenzy over the initiative has drawn huge spenders like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who shelled out at least $98 million in the 2012 elections.

Amendment 2 has a steep hill to climb, requiring a 60% supermajority to pass; neither Colorado nor Washington got past the 55% range. “Florida is a national battleground,” St. Pierre said, noting how uncommon it is for people to be dropping $2.5 million checks to oppose such measures or $3.7 million checks to support them. “We’ve never seen a green rush like we’re seeing in Florida.”

Looking ahead to 2016

There are also a handful of municipalities that are going to vote on “soft legalization” measures of sorts, including the Maine towns of Lewiston and South Portland. Portland, Maine’s biggest city, passed a similar measure in 2013, giving authorities the ability not to punish pot-possessors with civil or criminal penalties.

Maine is one of the states the Marijuana Policy Project will be working hard to push the way of Colorado and Washington come 2016, and even symbolic local wins could boost that effort. “Ultimately our plan is to bring a tax-and-regulate initiative statewide in 2016, so these campaigns are a way to get the message out,” said David Boyer, MPP’s Maine political director.

In addition to California, Tvert said his group is already hard at work in Nevada, collecting petition signatures. And he said campaigns will be ramping up in Arizona and Massachusetts soon. Generally, marijuana initiatives do better when there is larger voter turnout, and voter turnout is typically bigger in presidential election years.

“This is the penultimate year for marijuana law reform,” St. Pierre said of 2014. “California is totally on reformers’ menu. … No one else moves if they don’t move.”

TIME States

NY Gov. Cuomo Makes Surprise Afghanistan Visit

Governor Cuomo Attends A Get Out The Vote Rally In Times Square Ahead Of State's Primary
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to hotel workers at the Hotel Trade Council during a reelection campaign event on September 8, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

The New York governor will be meeting senior officials for counterterrorism briefings

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo arrived in Afghanistan Saturday on a surprise trip with other governors and Defense Department officials. While in the country, Cuomo will receive briefings on counterterrorism and meet with American troops in the country.

Cuomo, who is traveling with Gov. William E. Haslam (Tennessee), Gov. Jeremiah W. Nixon (Missouri) and Gov. Brian E. Sandoval (Nevada), will be briefed by senior U.S. Department of Defense officials on counterterrorism issues that affect New York’s security, Cuomo’s office said. He’ll also be visiting some of the 270 members of the New York National Guard who are currently deployed in Afghanistan.

“During a period of heightened security concerns, we are working closely with our federal partners to increase preparedness at home in New York and protect our citizens from the threat of global terrorism,” said Governor Cuomo. “At the same time, we must never forget the continuing courage and sacrifice of the members of our military serving overseas, who have dedicated their lives to defending our country.”

This is Cuomo’s second trip abroad in recent months, coming after his August visit to Israel.

 

TIME States

These Governors Return Their Salary To The State

Every state appropriates its governor a salary, but not every governor accepts it. Some return a percentage to the state, while others forgo any compensation whatsoever.

Not all governors take full pay for the job.

Some take a small salary cut for symbolic reasons. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, took a 5 percent salary reduction in 2011. “Change starts at the top and we will lead by example,” he said in a press conference announcing the cut. “Families and business owners in every corner of the state have learned to do more with less in order to live within their means and government must do the same.”

Others, like Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder with a net worth of about $200 million, simply don’t need the money.

Curious to see every other governor who forgoes all or part of their salary? See the list compiled by research engine FindTheBest with data from the National Governors Association below.

First on the list is Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who takes a salary reduction for neither symbolic or wealth reasons, but has simply refused several cost-of-living adjustments during his time in office, keeping the $175,000 salary he had when he started in 2011. If Gov. Corbett took his full $187,256 salary, he’d be the highest-paid governor in the nation. Instead, he’s tied for second with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Next up are Governors Steve Beshear and Peter Shumlin. Like Gov. Cuomo, they initially took salary reductions to represent solidarity with constituents during tough times. Gov. Beshear, for example, took his reduction in 2009 to share the burden of Kentucky state budget cuts, and Gov. Shumlin took his in light of a $150 million deficit in Vermont in 2010.

Then there’s Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who—like Gov. Snyder—refuses his salary because he’s amassed so much wealth elsewhere, reporting a net worth of $132 million last year. And while it’s unclear what kind of wealth Gov. Bill Haslam has, his brother Jimmy Haslam—CEO of Pilot Flying J and owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns—is worth about $1.45 billion.

In fact, the only governor to sacrifice his entire salary who does not fit the uber wealthy mold is Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama. Bentley reported a high, but not extremely high, income of $372,687 in 2013, none of which came from his $119,950 governor’s salary. $119,950 would be a noticeable contribution to his bottom line, but Gov. Bentley refuses to collect a dime until Alabama reaches a full employment rate, meaning the unemployment rate drops to 5.2 percent.

FindTheBest is a research website that’s collected all the data on governors and Congress members, and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it. Join FindTheBest to get all the information on governors, Congress members, and thousands of other topics.

TIME States

Kansas Will Be Prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse

FRANCE-CINEMA-FANTASTIC-ZOMBIE
People dressed as zombies take part in the Zombie Walk event on Sept. 13, 2014, in the eastern French city of Strasbourg Frederick Florin—AFP/Getty

Or any other disaster, for that matter

If the zombie apocalypse arrives, one U.S. state will be ahead of the game.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has signed a “proclamation” naming October the state’s “Zombie Preparedness Month.”

The announcement, to be signed Sept. 26 in the governor’s ceremonial office in the Kansas statehouse, urges state residents to prepare an emergency plan and survival supplies that can last at least three days.

Of course, gathering up water, nonperishables and batteries to wait out a zombie siege sounds an awful lot like how a Kansas resident might prepare for a range of natural disasters — which, officials say, is exactly the point.

“We came up with the idea of Zombie Preparedness Month because it is an engaging way to get people on board with emergency preparedness,” the governor’s office says. “If you’re equipped to handle the zombie apocalypse then you’re prepared for tornadoes, severe storms, fire and any other natural disaster Kansas usually faces.”

It added: “If you’re prepared for zombies, you’re prepared for anything.”

TIME Guns

Texas’ Plan to Allow Alcohol Sales at Gun Shows Gets Shot Down

US-POLITICS-GUNS-NRA
Convention goers check out handguns equipped with Crimson Trace laser sights at the143rd NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana on April 25, 2014. Karen Bleier —AFP/Getty Images

Gun show operators felt the combination of booze and bullets was unsafe

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) withdrew Tuesday a proposal to allow sales of alcohol at some gun shows after receiving a barrage of public comments against the plan.

The plan would have enforced strict conditions, including a ban on live ammunition and requiring the show’s venue to have a liquor license, the Associated Press reports. Still, many critics, including gun show operators, felt that mixing guns and alcohol was dangerous.

“I am a licensed gun dealer. I think the sale of alcohol at gun shows is unwise,” wrote one person commenting on the plan. “As an industry, we are already under a microscope. From a safety view point, the sale of alcohol at gun shows is pure folly. I am against this.”

Under current laws, a liquor-licensed venue hosting a gun show is forbidden to sell alcohol during the show as well as during the set up and take down processes, according to the TABC website.

[AP]

 

TIME Drugs

Chicago Mayor Pushes Illinois To Decriminalize Pot

Cites law enforcement time and money spent on low-level drug arrests

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked the Illinois state legislature Tuesday to decriminalize marijuana possession and to make all arrests for those caught with one gram or less of any drug a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

“It’s time, in my view, to free up our criminal justice system to address our real public safety challenges and build on the progress that has been made,” Emmanuel told lawmakers, the Chicago Tribune reports. Emanuel is looking to expand upon a Chicago law passed in 2012 that made possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana a ticketable offense.

Emanuel, who’s up for reelection next year, said the plan will save taxpayer money. Emanuel’s office estimates that Chicago police officers spent almost 275,000 hours on low-level narcotics arrests, even though less than 10% resulted in guilty verdicts. Emanuel’s office says about 7,000 people are arrested every year in Chicago for possession of one gram or less of drugs.

[Chicago Tribune]

TIME States

A Quarter of Americans Want to Secede From the U.S.

Pins in a United States map show where students have come from to take classes at Oaksterdam University, the nation's first marijuana trade school, on Sept. 23, 2010 in Oakland.
Pins in a United States map show where students have come from to take classes at Oaksterdam University, the nation's first marijuana trade school, on Sept. 23, 2010 in Oakland. Tony Avelar—The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

Which is extremely unlikely

The Scottish referendum on secession from the United Kingdom may have failed to pass, but it succeeded in stirring secessionist sentiment in that country and beyond—specifically, in the United States.

Nearly a quarter of Americans, 23.9%, said they strongly supported or tended to support the idea of their state leaving the United States and forming its own country, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken between August 23 and September 16 released Friday.

Support for secession was weakest in the northeast and strongest in the southwest. It cut across party lines, though Republicans (29.7%) are somewhat more keen on the idea than Democrats (21%). A majority, 53.3%, said they strongly opposed or tended to oppose the idea.

Even in states with the with the highest level of support for seceding from the Union, the possibility that it could actually be done is extremely farfetched. In modern American history even attempts at simply seceding from a state have proven impossible—seceding from the country entirely is a different matter altogether. No state since the Civil War has come anywhere close enough to force the courts to issue a final word on the legality of secession, but any such argument would, at the very least, face a very steep climb.

[Reuters]

TIME Research

Gun Fatality Rates Vary Wildly By State, Study Finds

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y. at a photo op in the Cannon House Office Building with mayors from around the country participating in the 2007 National Summit of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y. at a photo op in the Cannon House Office Building with mayors from around the country participating in the 2007 National Summit of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Scott J. Ferrell—CQ-Roll Call,Inc./Getty Images

While the national mortality rate stayed level between 2000 and 2010, death rates rose in Massachusetts and Florida and declined in states like California

The rate of death by firearm remained constant in the United States over the 2000s, according to a new study in health journal BMJ — but the situation varied dramatically between states.

Research found that the rates of gun fatalities rose in Massachusetts and Florida between 2000 and 2010 and declined in states like California, North Carolina and Arizona.

“We showed no change in national firearm mortality rates during 2000–2010, but showed distinct state-specific patterns with racial and ethnic variation and by intent,” the study reads.

State gun restrictions appeared to have a varying effect on gun fatality rates, according to the study. California, for instance, has some of the most stringent laws regarding gun ownership and saw a decline in violence. But Massachusetts enacted tough gun laws in 1998, just before the beginning of the study, and still saw an increase in the rate of gun deaths. The study suggests that the increase can be attributed to an influx in firearms from surrounding states.

Looking at the overall numbers over the 11-year period, the chance of dying from a firearm varied dramatically between states, from a death rate of 3 per 100,000 in Hawaii to more than 18 per 100,000 in Louisiana.

The study also found that racial disparities persist across the country. African Americans are twice as likely to die of a gun death than their white counterparts.

TIME States

California Declares a State of Emergency as Wildfires Spread

"It's been an explosive couple of days"

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday in two northern counties as wildfires spread with explosive speed.

A fire in El Dorado County east of Sacramento more than doubled in size Wednesday night, from 44 square miles to 111 square miles, the Los Angeles Times reports, and was just 5% contained by Thursday morning. A separate fire in the northern Siskiyou County that started late Monday has damaged more than 150 structures, including a churches, and was about 65% contained.

“It’s been an explosive couple of days,” CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant told the Associated Press. Thousands of firefighters are helping to tackle the blazes, which threaten some 4,000 homes.

Federal aid has been apportioned to cover the cost of fighting the fire that began Monday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted a request Wednesday for additional aid to combat the fire in El Dorado.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME States

Californians Turn to Private Security to Police Pot Country

Lear Marijuana Pot Weed Private Security California
Lear personnel during a raid on an illegal trespassing marijuana operation. Lear

The workings of law enforcement are hard to track in the wildlands of California's pot country

On a recent Sunday, a local gardening club gathered with their local sheriff in Laytonville, Calif., a hamlet of 1,227 people in Mendocino County, America’s cannabis cultivation capital. By some estimates, up to 90% of the town’s residents are tied to the pot industry, and the event was a chance to ask about the county’s enforcement policies. Instead, some members of the community wanted to talk about a rumor that had been making the rounds.

Over the summer, residents claimed men in military gear had been dropping onto private property from unmarked helicopters and cutting down the medicinal pot gardens of local residents. Local law enforcement have conducted helicopter raids in the area, but some worried the culprit this time was different: a private-security firm called Lear Asset Management.

The confusion was easy to understand. In the wildlands of California’s pot country, the workings of law enforcement are hard to track, and the rules for growing pot are often contradictory. To add to the mess, the various local, county, state and federal enforcement efforts don’t always communicate with each other about their efforts. The added possibility of private mercenaries, with faceless employers, fast-roping from helicopters raised alarm bells for many farmers.

Founded in 2012, Lear (the name stands for Logistical Environmental Asset Remediation) is a creature of the area’s unique cannabis culture. The company employs about 15 people, who are mostly former military: ex-U.S. Special Forces, Army Rangers and other combat veterans. They fly out on rented helicopters, wearing camouflage fatigues, body armor and keffiyehs around their necks. They are hired by large land owners to do the work of clearing trespass gardens from private property, and perform forest reclamation, sometimes funded by government grant. Deep in the woods, they cut down illegal pot plants and scrub the environmental footprint produced by the backwoods drug trade. They carry AR-15 rifles, lest they meet armed watchmen bent on defending their plots.

Paul Trouette, Lear’s CEO, says his firm was not responsible for the helicopter raids that the town’s residents complained about. “We do not do any kind of vigilante, black ops, Blackwater stuff,” he says, noting the company is licensed and regulated by the state of California, and only works on private land when summoned by the owner. Trouette is neither cop nor soldier; he is a longtime Fish and Game commissioner in Mendocino County, and the head of an organization devoted to preserving local herds of blacktail deer. Security contracting, he says, grew out of volunteer environmental reclamation. “It was a natural for our company to move into security contracting,” he says. “It’s just too much to handle for private ownership.”

 Marijuana Pot Weed Private Security California
Highly trained personnel drop into a marijuana raid. Lear

The firm’s business model is rooted in the region’s complicated relationship with weed. Rich Russell, the commander of Mendocino’s major crimes task force, has estimated that about half of the county’s residents work in the marijuana economy. Many longtime growers are remnants of the back-to-the-land movement of the Sixties, who operate within the county’s legal cultivation limits. But the county’s dense forests and ideal cultivation conditions have also been a magnet for more dangerous elements.

In recent years, small bands of criminals colonized the county’s forests, concealing grow sites on vast parcels hidden deep in the woods. In 2011, Operation Full Court Press—a three-week raid jointly carried out by local, state and federal anti-drug agencies—netted some 632,000 marijuana plants in and around the Mendocino National Forest, with a street value in the neighborhood of $1 billion. Illegal growers have a record of shooting at hikers and law enforcement; in 2011, a former local mayor was killed while looking for a marijuana plot.

The perps also produce environmental disaster. They strew trash through the woods, poison wildlife and pollute streams. The environmental devastation is an even greater problem this year. As California copes with a crippling drought, thirsty pot plants from illegal gardens are sucking up the water supply, creating a “holocaust” for fish, Trouette says.

More recently, the trespass grow sites have migrated from public land onto the vast plots owned by private citizens and timber companies. Some of them have hired Lear to deal with the problem. The company has run about nine missions across California’s pot country this year, with more planned this fall, Trouette says. And while the company’s special-ops aspect gets much of the attention, most of the work focuses on environmental reclamation.

While some of Mendocino’s challenges are unique to the region, others highlight the legal tangle that threatens the industry’s growth at a moment when boosters are trying to take marijuana mainstream. Residents are permitted to cultivate up to 25 marijuana plants for medicinal use, about four times the standard for much of the rest of the state. Federal law still prohibits pot, classifying it as a Schedule I drug on part with heroin and ecstasy. The clashing statutes produce a patchwork system of justice, with enforcement sometimes varying from county to county even within states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal. Federal money-laundering law prevent most legitimate pot businesses from banking their proceeds, forcing them to endure the safety hazards and logistical hassles of handling huge sums of cash.

In Mendocino, officials have tried to sort out the murkiness. In 2012, an experimental program that attempted to license legitimate cannabis cultivation under the supervision of the county sheriff was shut down under pressure from the local U.S. Attorney. Meanwhile, the county district attorney has pioneered a controversial program that offers reduced sentences for certain growers who are willing to pay hefty restitution charges: $500 per pound of seized pot and $50 per plant. While the approach has helped clear a case backlog and restocked the department’s coffers, critics say it allows wealthier clients to purchase leniency.

Reports of vigilante marijuana raids on private property may simply stem from a lack of legal clarity. Under the so-called “open fields doctrine” set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fourth Amendment does not protect undeveloped property from warrantless searches. As a result, police may be permitted to cut down private gardens without a warrant.

In the meantime, Lear has flourished, despite the concern among some local growers. But like most people in the Emerald Triangle, Trouette thinks the best thing for the locals would be for the feds to sort out all the confusion. “I think the federal government would do everybody a big favor,” he says, “by regulating this industry.”

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