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Feature: Washington Marijuana Legalization Initiative Aims for November Ballot

There is a chance, albeit an outside one, that the entire West Coast could go green in November. Last week we noted that the California tax and regulate initiative had made the ballot, and reported on the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act initiative's ongoing effort to make the ballot. This week, we turn our attention to Washington state, where yet another marijuana legalization initiative campaign is underway.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/hempfest2009-1.jpg
Seattle Hempfest, 2009
Sponsored by Seattle Hempfest head Vivian McPeak, marijuana defense attorneys Douglass Hiatt and Jeffrey Steinborn, and journalist-turned-activist Philip Dawdy and organized under the rubric of Sensible Washington, initiative I-1068 would legalize marijuana by removing marijuana offenses from the state's controlled substances act.

As the official ballot summary puts it:

"This measure would remove state civil and criminal penalties for persons eighteen years or older who cultivate, possess, transport, sell, or use marijuana. Marijuana would no longer be defined as a 'controlled substance.' Civil and criminal penalties relating to drug paraphernalia and provisions authorizing seizure or forfeiture of property would not apply to marijuana-related offenses committed by persons eighteen years or older. The measure would retain current restrictions and penalties applicable to persons under eighteen."

"We've had to go this route because the legislature isn't getting the job done," said Dawdy. "We had a decriminalization bill and a tax and regulate bill, and neither one could even get through committee. We've basically hit a brick wall in Olympia, and as activists, we're tired of waiting. The state is spending way too much on arresting, prosecuting, and sometimes jailing people for marijuana crimes. We have 12,000 people arrested for marijuana offenses every year. It's got to stop. If the legislature can't get it done, we have the initiative process."

The initiative campaign needs to gather 241,000 valid signatures by July 2. According to the campaign, they are shooting for 350,000 signatures and are about 20% of the way toward their goal. So far, it's an all-volunteer effort.

"We've been battling the weather, which has been horrible, and that makes it really difficult to work outdoor events," said Dawdy. "You can't gather very many signatures when it's raining. But we are starting to get inundated with signature petitions, and we remain confident we can get enough to make the ballot."

The campaign is finding support in some unusual places, Dawdy said. "The issue is really popular here, and one of our best hits was at a gun show. Libertarians and conservative Democrats go to those things. We're probably going to have a gun show coordinator for western Washington, and try to target those events. And we can use retired police officers instead of stinky hippies."

There are no signs yet of any organized opposition, but Dawdy said that was no surprise. "I would have been surprised if any popped up this early. I wouldn't expect it until we make the ballot, and then there will probably be some law enforcement group showing up to float the gateway theory and all that stuff."

"We're doing this on a shoestring," Dawdy explained. "We're getting online donations, a few in-kind donations, a few thousand-dollar checks, but funding from the national organizations hasn't really gelled yet. But the medical marijuana campaign in 1998 didn't get any big money until May, and they got on the ballot and one. I think we can do the same thing."

Unlike California and, to a lesser degree, Oregon, there is little money to be had from the Washington medical marijuana community, Dawdy said. "It isn't like California here," he said. "There are no $70 eighths, it's very much a nonprofit kind of system. What profits there are are small and underground, and they're underground for a reason."

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) executive director Allen St. Pierre said that the national NORML board of directors had endorsed the initiative and that local chapters were involved in the effort, but that NORML wouldn't do much more than that until -- and unless -- the initiative makes the ballot, something St. Pierre suggested he doubted would happen.

"I'm very skeptical about their prospects," he said. "These guys said from the beginning they didn't have any money, and no initiatives not funded by billionaires have actually made it, yet they still decided to move forward. I told them NORML can't do much until they get on the ballot -- it's not worth the time and effort to point people towards initiatives that haven't made the ballot."

"We're getting sick and tired of being written off by people 3,000 miles away," retorted Dawdy. "That's just not fair, and it suggests that they don't really know Washington state despite coming out for three days each summer for Hempfest. People here are sick and tired of the situation, and legalization and reform are issues that poll strongly. People back East don't appreciate this and they don't understand this is one of the few issues where you can actually make the ballot with an all-volunteer effort."

That's not the only flak the initiative campaign is getting. One of the leading drug reform groups in the state, the ACLU of Washington has refused to endorse the initiative on the grounds that it does not include a regulatory system for marijuana. In a February statement, the Washington ACLU's lead person on drug policy, Allison Holcomb, laid out its arguments:

"The ACLU supports marijuana legalization and will continue to work toward that goal. However, we will not be supporting I-1068 because it does not provide a responsible regulatory system."

"We believe that full marijuana legalization will be accomplished only through implementation of a controlled regulatory system. Marijuana should be placed under controls that not only remove criminal penalties for adult marijuana use but also address the public's concerns about health and safety. It is unrealistic to regulate it less than tobacco or alcohol."

"We're aware that some believe that I-1068's passage would force the legislature to adopt such regulations in 2011."

"However, the ACLU isn't willing to support an incomplete initiative in hopes that the Legislature will fix it. We believe that when seeking support of such an important and complicated issue, the public should be presented with a carefully considered and well-vetted proposal."

But the initiative campaign argues that Washington's stringent single-issue rule for initiatives blocks it from concocting an elaborate regulatory scheme. Passage of the initiative would force the legislature to then enact regulations, they said.

"All our initiative does is remove criminal penalties for adult use, possession, and cultivation," Dawdy explained. "That will put it back in the hands of the legislature to come up with sensible civil regulations. We would have loved to do regulations in the initiative, but the single issue rule on initiatives in our state is very strict."

The Washington ACLU also argued that support for legalization is less than solid and that a defeat at the polls would be "a significant setback" for the drug reform movement.

And so things stand as April begins. Initiative campaigners have about 90 days to gather the requisite signatures and make the ballot. Maybe then they'll begin to get some respect. And maybe then they can join California, and hopefully, Oregon, in turning the West Coast green.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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The Evergreen State

I'm a bit surprised with NORML's less than encouraging comments regarding the grassroots effort from the Seattle group. I think the culture in Seattle is such that they can get the signatures they need. They have a lot of hard working passionate activists, they've hosted the "World's Largest Hempfest" for the past 18 consecutive years and have good leadership. The Marijuana News Channel fully endorses I-1068.

Uzz Baldrin
Producer MNC

I oppose any imposed regulation

after the fact of passage of this initiative. The initiative, as it is written, is really all that is needed. Regulation will just allow government to find all kinds of reasons and ways to restrict one or more of the aspects legalized by this effort, such as how and where and how many for cultivation, transfer, use, paraphernalia, or other things like where one may use or not, etc.; and add taxes (WA is one of the most highly taxing States in the union, they've just notified citizens that we no longer can expect to get away with driving 1-5 mph over the limit because they are avid for more revenue, thanks to our massively overspending governor who got her office the same way Bush got his -- recounting the votes over and over until it finally came out the way she wanted, with her the winner). Uzz is also correct, WA is very pro-legalization, so I-1068 will pass if it gets on the ballot (and I don't see any chance of failure for getting enough signatures, either, even people who don't indulge are signing the petitions).

I'm pro-choice on EVERYTHING!

Jean Boyd's picture

RESPECT

We are starting to get it here in Washington. Does not make sense what ACLU is saying. Some legislators at the court house are saying it too. "You gotta go thru legislation..."
This is not about money anymore.
We now have 20% of the alloted signatures for the ballot. It has been about a month since the signature gatherers started. And that is 20% of the higher number not even required.
The ACLU was good. Will the ACLU re-consider their decision to support I-1068?
The response to this petition is enormous. It seems to be narrowed down to the sane and the insane. The west coast will be green...again.

I-1068 & More

As a libertarian I support anything that affects my freedom of choice.
……………..
We as Americans need to be aware that our freedoms are being progressively stripped away. It makes me sad that more people know who’s on American Idol or Dancing with the starts then are familiar with their own Bill of Rights or Constitution.
This goes beyond your right to smoke.
…………….
I encourage all of you to seek out alternative news sources. The main stream media is just as much a corporate puppet as the people you have voted for.
People have been trained to think that they have a choice in the matter.
We treat party lines like a personal religion and don’t look beyond that.
People its doesn’t matter if its Coke or Pepsi, your still getting COLA!!!
…………………….
I like the idea of going to gun shows. These people know that the 2nd amendment is not for you to have a gun and protect yourself from someone breaking in your home.
It’s so that you can protect yourself from your government!!!
Fallow the money… look at where your taxes go, State = roads and schools, Corporative = civil defense, Personal income tax goes to pay back the FED, the fed is not federal.
IT’S A PRIVATE BANK!!!
Please take time to look at more then the right to smoke, look at all your rights because they may not be here tomorrow.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1656880303867390173#

People have been trying to tell us this for years and no one is listening
It’s a very big thing. I am sure that during WWII that people thought they knew what was going on… but they didn’t and for some it was too late.
DON’T LET THEM TAKE FROM YOU WHAT IS RIGHTFULLY YOURS…
……… FREEDOM!!............
I hope that you will vote for personal freedoms when the opportunity arises and fight to keep the ones that are left before they are taken.
PS get to know BILL HICKS search for video on him.
Thank you

lack of NORML support

I'm disappointed by NORML's position to not even point people toward the initiative unless/until it qualifies for the ballot. Reminds me of 1972 when NORML did almost nothing for what became California's Proposition 19 until it was clearly going to qualify and NORML helped out a little to save face. I-1068's effect is the same as CA's 1972 Prop 19 with one major improvement and that initiative got about 39% of the vote. I don't know NORML's budget so won't criticize the lack of financial support but not creating great awareness of it and where Washington residents can go to learn how to help qualify it is short sighted and practically undermining it. I hope this isn't a repeat of 1972's lack of support for CA's Prop 19 that had a partial basis in the initiative being created by a different reform group, AMORPHIA, and fear of an initiative losing as a setback to reform which NORML was pretty much convinced would only come from lobbying legislators.

I hope NORML will rethink it's position on publicizing I-1068.

ACLU of Washington's position baffles me

"The ACLU supports marijuana legalization and will continue to work toward that goal. However, we will not be supporting I-1068 because it does not provide a responsible regulatory system."

"We believe that full marijuana legalization will be accomplished only through implementation of a controlled regulatory system. Marijuana should be placed under controls that not only remove criminal penalties for adult marijuana use but also address the public's concerns about health and safety. It is unrealistic to regulate it less than tobacco or alcohol."

"We're aware that some believe that I-1068's passage would force the legislature to adopt such regulations in 2011."

"However, the ACLU isn't willing to support an incomplete initiative in hopes that the Legislature will fix it. We believe that when seeking support of such an important and complicated issue, the public should be presented with a carefully considered and well-vetted proposal."

I-1068 provides as much of a reasonable regulatory system as the the Bill of Rights does. Actually a bit more as it specifies it doesn't remove criminal penalties for public safety issues like impaired driving and specifies an age limit for non-medical use. Is the Washington ACLU's lack of support because I-1068 doesn't create a regulated commercial system? Washington's alcohol regulation is badly flawed by the state monopoly on alcohol over a certain percentage IMO but that's hardly relevant to the American Civil Liberties Union anyway. Freedom is the issue.
The ACLU has stood up for protection of many liberties without insisting on regulations created by those who exercise the liberties. Indeed, it's protection of liberties has mainly been through opposition to oppressive regulations. The Washington chapter of the ACLU really needs to rethink it's position.

Jean Boyd's picture

Liked ACLU

The ACLU needs to get A CLUe.

BOYCOTT NORML

I am boycotting NORML.... I understand, and disagree with them on ALL issues!

They have taken our money and have been given tons of free support, THEY JUST LOST ALL OF MINE.

I will be taking they website link off my website and will no long donate any more money to them.

It is simple, they ask for support and money for something many think is lost cause, and here was a chance to shine and help push a initiative that has more potential then any others previous in Washington.

****BOYCOTT NORMAL**** EMAIL THEM, LET THEM KNOW! They can't use US them turn away when we ask them for support!

MAKES ME VERY UPSET!

The momentum is finally swinging in the direction of common sens

sicntired@mac.com,Vancouver,B.C.CanadaHaving cannabis cafes and a medical marijuana system that is actually starting to help numbers of people,we here sometimes forget just how difficult the struggle in the States has been and still is.I still read of sentences in the numbers of years for possession of pot,mostly in the southern states and the bible belt.We are still waiting to hear when the heroin maintenance program will find the funding to get moving.Any philanthropist with a wish to see this program off the ground can write me and I'll put you in touch with the right people.Big pharma has jumped in with a synthetic thc program,costs in excess of anything a medical marijuana program would cost but being a test the drug costs are covered by pharmacare.I am on the cannabis side of this one.The THC either knocks you out for hours or it does nothing.Cannabis,on the other hand can be smoked to whatever level of medicated the client wants.Best of luck south of the border.It would be nice to be able to cross the border for the first time in 30 years.I hope an end to prohibition will put an end to the closing of the border to those of us with drug records,a lot of them as old as Nixon's drug war.

Re: Medical Marijuana on West Coast

How do I sign for this or vote for this, I would really like to help out and know of a lot of people who would as well. Please let me know.

People who are against Marijuana

It seems today that the only people who are actually against Marijuana have never tried it, and don't even know what they are talking about. Don't get me wrong, and brainless monkey can repeat what they are told, "Marijuana is bad" how? It seems that any one who is against it is doing nothing more than what they are told because they dont know any better. It's rather pathetic isn't it? So it is up to us, the few and the proud, to fight for our freedoms against the over whelming power of ignorance. Never give up hope and don't back down!!!!!!!! We will win in time. After all, even brainless monkeys know that they can't win forever.

How to help I-1068 in Washington

This is the URL for I-1068 sponsor, Sensible Washington.
http://sensiblewashington.org/
The site has info on meetings, where to sign, how to volunteer, how to donate, how to register to vote online, where to turn in petitions and such. A PDF copy of the petition can be downloaded. I burned it to a CD and went to a photocopy shop that could print petions from a PDF. It's very important to have it printed at the full 11" by 17" size as a double sided sheet that meets the legal requirements and make sure signers are registered voters in Washington before signing. Even a single signature will help if that is all you can manage.

The Secretary of State has information on Restoration of Voting Rights which has been greatly changed and local Elections Offices have copies of an ACLU pamphlet on this. A lot of people who can vote again don't know their right to vote has been restored. I picked up copies of the pamphlet along with voter registration forms at the courthouse to carry with petitions so people who want to sign but aren't registered voters can fill out the form and then sign the petition. Make sure they know the registration form has to be returned within 5 days to the address for their county and if mailed they have to put a stamp on it as well as fill out which address it goes to.

I've got a zippered translucent green plastic paper holder from an office supply store that I can easily carry petitions, pens and voter registration forms in. It protects them from rain and I have folded petitions arranged on each side so people can see the front top that says I-1068 and Marijuana Reform Act in large letters. I can be shopping or walking around with this and people may ask me about the petition and sign it even when I'm not actively petitioning.

Spreading the word about the initiative and the site is helpful also. Calm letters to the editor that are persuasive without offending people are also helpful. Visit the site at http://sensiblewashington.org/ and think about how you can help. If you own a store in Washington and willing to keep petitions there for people to sign that would be a great help, especially if you'll let the site list your business as a place to sign. If you belong to a band or something perhaps you could help create a free event where people can come to be entertained and to sign the petition.

These are just a few thoughts about how to help get the petition qualified. Wanting it to get on the ballot isn't enough, sign it and gather valid signatures. If you're not from Washington you can still help spread the word or donate, it's a volunteer effort but there are plenty of necessary expenses and things like advertising in local papers that would help but would also cost money to do.

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