National Families in Action
A Guide to Drug-Related State Ballot Initiatives





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Using the Initiative Process to Legalize Drugs Incrementally

"Our polling shows that only a small minority of Americans wants to change drug policy. . .20 percent at best when you talk about legalizing drugs," Bill Zimmerman, director of Americans for Medical Rights, told the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws annual conference in Washington D.C. in February 2000.

"So you need to educate them, help them understand that the position they're taking is wrong, ill-informed, misguided, whatever."

Zimmerman is chief strategist behind the successful passage in one-fifth of the states so far of ballot initiatives that overturn one provision or another of the nation's drug laws.

He admonishes others who sponsor more obvious legalization initiatives, saying that given public opinion, they are not only doomed to fail, but also make his job tougher.

The way "to move people where we want them to go," he explains, is to put forward initiatives that "have been crafted by public opinion polling and focus group research so that we know exactly how far people are willing to go."

Approaching legalization incrementally, he argues, works. It allows us "to project that 'we win every time on this issue,'" which is important, he says, "because that puts increasing pressure on the federal government (to repeal the drug laws)."

Americans for Medical Rights is financed by a trio of wealthy individuals who live in none of the states where they are writing laws, except Arizona.

In his book Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money, David S. Broder names the trio, George Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling and says they are financing these initiatives because they have "convinced themselves that the national 'war on drugs' is a dreadful mistake in policy."

Some 24 states permit voters to participate in the initiative process, originally designed, nearly a century ago, to give ordinary citizens a voice in proposing legislation.

Broder laments the corruption of that process by big money.

Today, it takes a minimum of $1 million to hire consultants to collect enough signatures to place an initiative on the ballot, more to promote it.

Citizens without such means have lost their voice.

Americans for Medical Rights and Campaign for New Drug Policies, the parallel organization it founded in 2000, have spent nearly that much or more on each initiative that has passed.

National Families in Action believes the public has a right to know that the state ballot initiatives sponsored by these organizations and the people who are funding them are not what they appear to be on the surface.

Sponsors seem willing to manipulate--even lie to--voters about the initiatives' true intent.

We present this guide to help voters make more informed decisions.

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