Backers of lenient pot law will try again in 2 years Associated Press Dec. 9, 2002 08:30 AM

Activists behind a marijuana ballot initiative that failed last month believe they can craft a liberalization policy in the near future that voters will approve.

"None of us are deterred," said Dr. Jeffrey Singer, a campaign promoter for Proposition 203, which would have liberalized Arizona's marijuana laws. "We've got to continue with this worthy cause."

But it's unclear what direction the activists will take. The next opportunity to place an initiative on the ballot is November 2004, so reform advocates said they're in no hurry to make plans.

"We haven't even had a meeting," said John Norton, chairman of the People Have Spoken, which backed Proposition 203.

Reformers are still trying to figure out why 57 percent of voters rejected the proposition, which would have created one of the nation's most liberal marijuana policies.

Pot possession would have become a civil offense, much like a traffic violation.

Another component of the initiative would have allowed physicians to recommend the drug to patients, who could then get it free from the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

The DPS provision created a great deal of publicity and ridicule. Opponents posted "free pot?" campaign signs and warned the state would become a top drug distributor.

Even some reform advocates, including Norton, said the DPS involvement was too radical at this point in the movement. "Politics is an incremental business," Norton said. "You have to move things a little bit at a time."

Marijuana initiatives were defeated nationwide in November, as voters in Ohio and Nevada rejected similar measures.

Decriminalization groups have won nearly all the 19 propositions they put on ballots in recent years, including a 1996 Arizona proposition that two-thirds of voters approved. That measure allowed medical marijuana with a doctor's prescription and made low-level drug users eligible for probation instead of jail.

Reformers blamed the losses in part on generic anti-drug campaigns.

But exit polls showed the overriding factor was a change in the nation's mood after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Singer said. "In light of Sept. 11, voters are tending to be less inclined to want any drastic changes," Singer said.

Reformers said they will develop a strategy based on the events of the next two years - and how those things affect public opinion.

"There's plenty of time," Singer said. "The dust is just beginning to settle."

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