by Alexander Cockburn
All was not darkness for radical campaigning, even though many progressives are still eagerly scanning Canadian immigration laws pertaining to landed immigrants. Heading toward the northern border in their Subarus, they might stop off in Montana, though there's a distressing tendency amid the bicoastal pwoggy types to write off the middle of the country as enemy territory. It's an ignorant and self-defeating generalization at all times.
Earlier in 2004, Montana's voters chased out a right-wing governor. On Nov. 2, in this Republican state, the Democrats seized control of the state legislature, the same way liberal Democrats and Progressives did in Vermont, land of the herbivores. And through the direct democracy of the ballot initiative, Montana voters legalized medical marijuana and most significantly beat back a multi-million dollar campaign by the gold-mining industry to overturn a ban on heap-leach mining, a process requiring large amounts of cyanide.
The ban had been narrowly approved, 51-49, by Montana voters four years ago. This time the mining companies, not without clout in Montana as a glance at Butte from the interstate will attest, threw themselves into the fray with torrents of cash and dire pictures of Montana plunged into destitution by the eviction of the mining companies.
The forces fighting to preserve the ban were led by the redoubtable Jim Jensen at the Montana Environmental Center. Steve Hendricks, an excellent reporter of the western scene who lives in Helena, tells me, "I credit Jensen almost entirely with the win, not only because he ran the campaign, but more importantly because he has taken hard line, hard-left positions on the environment, and I think it's his firmness in planting the flag out left that has shifted popular opinion." The voters upheld the ban 58-42.
So far as the marijuana initiative was concerned, the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group advocating liberalization of the marijuana laws across the country, spent about $600,000 pushing an initiative that sets low allowable quantities (six plants, one ounce) and offers two-tiered protection. Medical users who get registration cards are protected from arrest or prosecution. Medical users without cards can be arrested and tried (but can raise a "medical-use" defense if their doctor is willing to testify for them in open court). Diagnoses of depression and other mood disorders do not qualify patients for registration cards. The measure passed by a 62-38 margin, and Bruce Mirken of the MPP called it "a huge win."
Fred Gardner, author of a very popular and well-informed weekly column on our CounterPunch Website, "Pot Shots," has this to say about the restrictive nature of the initiative offered Montana voters: "Time will tell. The magnitude of the win depends on how many Montanans actually get to use cannabis as medicine under the law, and that depends on the willingness of doctors to issue approvals. Hundreds of thousands of Montanans would benefit if allowed cannabis as an alternative to the painkillers and anti-depressants they're currently taking. If the number of physician-approved cannabis users is below 100 a year from now, the win at the ballot in 2004 will not have been "huge." Colorado passed a restrictive medical marijuana initiative four years ago and to date has enrolled fewer than 400 patients in the state program. Hawaii's medical marijuana law -- which MPP uses as a model in drafting new ones -- has benefited 101 patients in three years.
In Gardner's view, once a marijuana law is on the books, it's hard to pass a more inclusive measure, so reformers had better make sure that the first one serves the interests of all in need. "The advocates of a weak reform measure will say, 'We'll improve on this down the road.' But they may not be able to, even when the effort is sincere and unstinting (like MPP's in Oregon). All too often the first step turns out to be the last."
And the Greens? The Greens, who rejected Nader and announced a decorous strategy of trying to ensure a Kerry victory, took a terrible thrashing as reward for their milquetoast prudence. The ticket of David Cobb and Pat MaMarche, (an autotelic version of Benedict Arnold who vowed to vote against herself if the Democratic ticket seemed imperiled in Maine) garnered only 130,000 votes nationwide. When they had Nader on the ticket in 2001, the Greens got 3.5 million. This time Nader pulled 550,000 even though he was kept off the ballot in six out of the 10 states where he racked up his biggest numbers in 2000. To put the Greens' performance in perspective, they were not only outvoted by the Libertarians, but by the Constitionalists.
Cobb had defended his "safe state" strategy by saying the game was all about party building. Maybe the idea was a variant of the Falluja strategy: to destroy the party we had to destroy it. As the ashes settled on Nov. 2 and the Green votes were counted, it emerged that Cobb's microscopic tally meant that the Greens lost their presidential ballot line status in more than one third of the states, including Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Montana, Connecticut, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Utah. The Greens can't even lay claim to one of the best showings of a green. In Moraga, Calif., Linda Deschambault was elected to the town council. Her ploy? It was a non-partisan race, so as Linda says, "I hid the fact I was a Green."
November 21, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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