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Reason Foundation

Good showing for decriminalization measures

Skaidra Smith-Heisters
November 4, 2008, 3:25pm

The ballot can be used to lessen the intrusion of law into private matters, not just add to the code enforcement rolls, as evidenced by the conclusions of three admirable decriminalization campaigns yesterday. In San Francisco, Proposition K, which would have decriminalized prostitution, won 42 percent of the vote. The measure came closer to victory than a similar decriminalization effort in Berkeley in 2004. A recent article in The Economist puts this decriminalization effort into international perspective, and notes, "In the United States, trading in sex is a misdemeanour, at least, almost everywhere, with the exceptions of Rhode Island (where it can take place only indoors, but not in brothels); and, most famously and brashly, in parts of Nevada." The tally represented votes from 44 percent of San Francisco's registered voters, in an election year when San Francisco bucked national trends of record voter turnout by reporting at only 50 percent. Washington followed Oregon to become the second state in the nation to allow physician-assisted suicide, approving Initiative 1000 with 59 percent in favor. Finally, Massachusetts won a marijuana decriminalization measure, Question 2, with 65 percent in favor. Under the old law, possession of a small amount of marijuana (up to an ounce) could result in penalties including up to six months in jail, a $500 fine, and a record of marijuana arrest could jeopardize eligibility for certain jobs, housing and school loans. Under the new law, adults possessing an ounce or less of marijuana for personal use would receive a simple $100 fine.

Skaidra Smith-Heisters is Policy Analyst


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