Portland, Ore. The Bush administration's war on drugs stretches deep into Asia and Latin America, yet one of its most crucial campaigns, in the eyes of drug czar John Walters, is being waged this fall among voters in Oregon, Alaska and Montana.
In each state, advocates seeking to ease drug laws have placed a marijuana-related proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot as part of a long-running quest for alternatives to federal drug policies they consider harsh and ineffective.
If all three measures are approved, Montana would become the 10th state to legalize pot for medical purposes, Oregon would dramatically expand its existing medical-marijuana program, and Alaska would become the first state to decriminalize marijuana.
Walters has been campaigning in person against the measures, taking a particularly aggressive role in opposing Oregon's Measure 33. It would create state-regulated dispensaries to supply marijuana, let authorized growers sell pot to patients for a profit, and allow patients to possess a pound of it at a time instead of the current 3-ounce limit.
"They use medical marijuana as a Trojan horse," Walters said of the measure's supporters.
Oregon and Alaska are among nine states which, since 1996, have adopted laws allowing qualified patients to use medical marijuana. The others are California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Vermont and Washington.
The U.S. House defeated a proposal in July to stop the federal government from prosecuting people who use marijuana for medical reasons in states that allow it. A case raising that same issue is to be considered soon by the Supreme Court.
Oregon and Alaska activists say their ballot measures would eliminate problems patients now face in obtaining enough marijuana to ease their suffering.
In Oregon, for example, the 10,000 patients enrolled in the current program must grow their own pot or get it from designated "caregivers" who cannot be paid.
"It takes knowledge, money and everything going right to grow high-quality marijuana," said John Sajo, 48, a longtime drug-reform activist who runs the Measure 33 campaign from a cramped office. "Most patients suffering debilitating medical conditions just aren't able to grow their own."
Alaskans will vote on a measure even more far-reaching than Oregon's -- to prohibit prosecution of anyone 21 or older who consumes, grows or distributes pot for private personal use. It would allow authorities to regulate marijuana along the lines of alcohol and tobacco -- for example, barring its use in public.