Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Here We Go, Washington

The Stranger - Seattle

Posted by on Tue, Jun 21, 2011 at 4:40 PM

By the look of things, we're about to become ground zero in the national battle to legalize marijuana. Tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m. in the Downtown Seattle Library, a well-organized new campaign called New Approach Washington will roll out the details of a still-partly-mysterious marijuana legalization initiative. So far they're only saying it would "authorize the Liquor Control Board to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana for sale to adults 21 and over in state-licensed stores."

It appears to be an unprecedented attempt to replace marijuana prohibition with a fully regulated marijuana industry.

Past measures that failed have been, in general, decriminalization proposals that left many questions unanswered. For instance, Sensible Washington has run a petition drive two years in a row for a measure that simply removes criminal penalties but makes law enforcement and other critics wonder what happens to a loose-cannon, unregulated supply chain. I asked the leaders of Sensible Washington yesterday if their petition, which is due in early July, had a chance of making the ballot. They never replied, but their website says they've collected only 56,000 signatures (less than a quarter of the number they'll need).

This new initiative is cut from a different cloth. The backers look powerful. And given that it will be filed in mid-summer, this would be an initiative to the legislature (which goes to lawmakers in Olympia early next year and to the ballot in 2012). That will allow New Approach Washington to petition all summer and fall, gather funding for over a year before reaching the November 2012 ballot, enjoy the progressive electorate of a presidential year, be an asset to Democrats and unions that want to draw young pro-pot voters to the polls, and win next year.

Polling shows most Washington voters support marijuana legalization.

Let me say it again: This could win. This could be the big fight with the federal government. It will certainly stir the debate. It may go to the Supreme Court in a challenge of federal preemption. And these guys are serious.

Look at the lineup of the initiative's sponsors:

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes
  • John McKay, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington (2001-2007)
  • Travel writer Rick Steves
  • Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, Washington state legislator, 36th District, prime sponsor of HB 2401 (2010) and HB 1550 (2011)
  • Kim Marie Thorburn, MD, MPH, former director of the Spokane Regional Health District (1997-2006)
  • Salvador A. Mungia, immediate past president of the Washington State Bar Association
  • Mark Johnson, past president of the Washington State Bar Association (2008-2009)
  • Robert W. Wood, MD, former director of the HIV/AIDS Program of Public Health — Seattle & King County (1986-2010)
  • Roger Roffman, DSW, professor emeritus, University of Washington School of Social Work
  • Alison Holcomb, New Approach Washington campaign director

That's right: A former US Attorney is a co-sponsor of a campaign to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana. Here we go.


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