Marijuana legalization on 9 state ballots, including Florida

Nine states will vote Nov. 8 on marijuana legalization, reflecting its advocates' continued nationwide push at the ballot box.

Voters in five states—Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada—will cast ballots on Election Day for or against initiatives that will legalize the recreational use of marijuana, or cannabis as it is sometimes known. Another four states—Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota—will vote on measures to legalize medical use of marijuana.

The latest decisions will be made at the close of a 20-year stretch in which 25 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Ohio and Pennsylvania became the latest states to do so when their legislatures approved medical marijuana earlier this year. Of those 25 states, four—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington—and D.C. also have made recreational use legal.

Southern Baptists are speaking against marijuana's legalization for recreational and medical purposes as the next round of decision-making nears.

"Every state should seek to protect its people from the trafficking of addictive, mind-altering drugs," said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "Legalizing drugs leaves neighborhoods and schools vulnerable for exploitation.

"My hope is that these states vote down marijuana legalization and continue to put legal barriers between addiction and the communities it devastates," Moore told Baptist Press in written comments.

Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, called for pastors to encourage church members to vote against the state's medical marijuana initiative.

Writing on behalf of the convention's State Board of Missions in late September, Green said the board empathizes with those suffering from debilitating diseases but does not "believe legalizing an addictive drug without strong regulatory oversight is an appropriate solution."

"[T]he effort to legalize marijuana is contrary to the interests of the public health, safety and welfare, and will adversely affect the rights of citizens to live and work in a community where drug abuse is not accepted and citizens are not subjected to the adverse effects of the drug abuse," Green wrote in a column published in the Florida Baptist Witness, the convention's newsjournal.

The Arkansas Baptist State Convention approved a resolution urging voters to oppose the state's medical marijuana proposal during its Oct. 25-26 annual meeting.

In their resolution, messengers rejected "the reckless notion that smoked and ingested marijuana is bona fide medicine as reflected by the absence of any major, legitimate health organization's endorsement of marijuana in those forms."

Proponents of marijuana legalization see initiatives in so many states as victories.

"These ballot measures are all big steps forward for the marijuana policy reform movement regardless of their outcome on Election Day," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a Nov. 4 news release. "The debate is steadily shifting from whether marijuana should be 'legalized' to how it can best be regulated and taxed for medical and adult use."

The Cannabist, which describes itself as "legal marijuana's paper of record" and is a department of The Denver Post, acknowledged in an Oct. 14 article the legalization of marijuana "has been moving at a breakneck speed in recent years."

The trend began when California legalized medical marijuana in 1996. Each state that has legalized recreational use of the drug first made its medical use legal.

State actions to legalize marijuana have occurred despite the federal government's refusal to do so. The Drug Enforcement Administration announced in August the drug will remain on Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it is illegal for all purposes.

In the states that have legalized the medical use of cannabis, it typically is made available for certain conditions—such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV, multiple sclerosis, nausea and chronic pain. A doctor cannot prescribe marijuana because of federal regulation but can make a recommendation for use of the drug.

All the medical marijuana initiatives are about something more than treatments for people with diseases, said Larry Page, a leader of the effort to defeat the Arkansas ballot measure.

"It's really not about medical marijuana. It's about recreational marijuana," said Page, executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, an entity related to the state Baptist convention.

Page cited evidence in at least some medical marijuana states that chronic or severe pain is the reason an overwhelming number of people give for seeking to use the drug. That condition is "totally subjective," he said. In addition, the financial backers of medical marijuana initiatives "stand to benefit" from the sale of recreational cannabis, he said.

"That's why we say it's recreational marijuana disguised as medical marijuana," Page told BP in a phone interview.

Page acknowledges there "probably are some components of marijuana that have some medicinal application. But it needs to be made into medicine."

The advocates for marijuana legalization "don't want that," Page said. "They want the right to grow, market ... and smoke and eat marijuana. That is what this is about. That's what it's always been about. It's about the money, and it's about cultural transformation on levels we haven't often seen."

A similar ballot initiative in Arkansas barely failed in 2012. This year, polls show a close division. Backers of the measure have outraised opponents by more than four to one, about $885,000 to about $207,000 as of Nov. 2, according to Ballotpedia.

"The problem is there is an obscene amount of advertising that is being conducted for the measure, and it is as deceptive as can be," Page said.

In addition to Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, the states that have legalized medical marijuana are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press (bpnews.net), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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