Going to the Polls on Drugs

Despite urgent warnings from the Clinton Administration, drug czar Barry McCaffrey, and a host of other heavy-hitters including three former Presidents and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, voters in California and Arizona went to the polls in November to approve referendums that signal a potential sharp turn in attitudes toward drugs, and have officials speculating about the initiatives’ message and impact.

The controversial initiatives, known as Proposition 200 in Arizona and Proposition 215 in California, both legalize marijuana  and in Arizona’s case, other drugs as well  for medicinal uses.

McCaffrey spoke at a rally in Phoenix in October where he ripped into Proposition 200, saying it would pave the way for increased use of other drugs, such as LSD and heroin. The measure mandates treatment rather than jail time for first-time offenders, and under the Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act of 1996, legalizes medicinal use of Schedule I drugs, including marijuana, heroin and LSD, if physicians can show scientific proof of the drug’s medicinal use.

The measure also stipulated that those who commit violent offenses while on drugs would serve their full prison terms.

“What kind of message does this send to our children to say that heroin and methamphetamine are legal?” asked McCaffrey, a retired Army general. “We see this as the legalization of illegal drugs in Arizona.”

Voters in California passed Proposition 215, which legalizes marijuana for medical use, with 56 percent of the vote.

Despite the voters’ mandate in both states, however, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno insisted that Federal marijuana laws will still be enforced. It also does not appear that pharmacists will be dispensing marijuana prescriptions anytime soon. The Arizona Pharmacy Association opposed the measure, and no major medical association has approved marijuana as a painkiller.

Arizona voters also endorsed Proposition 102, a juvenile justice referendum that requires adult treatment for juvenile offenders age 15 and older who are accused of certain violent crimes.

In New York, meanwhile, Nassau County residents weighed in with what some say was a resounding statement on gun control when they overwhelmingly elected to Congress Carolyn McCarthy, a Mineola housewife whose family was shattered when a gunman killed her husband and seriously wounded her son on a commuter train in December 1993.

The Long Island Rail Road tragedy turned McCarthy, a 52-year-old nurse, into an outspoken advocate of gun control. She decided to challenge Dan Frisa, the one-term Republican incumbent, after he voted roll back the Federal ban on assault weapons.


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Published in Law Enforcement News
Dec. 31, 1996.
© 1996, LEN Inc.  [ Subscribe.]