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Washington Voters to Decide Marijuana Legalization

An initiative that would legalize the limited possession of marijuana in the state of Washington and tax and regulate its commerce is headed for the November ballot to be decided by the voters after the state legislature punted on the matter last Thursday.

Initiative 502 campaigners handed in more than the 241,153 valid voter signatures required to be certified for the ballot by state officials. But under Washington law, such initiatives are first considered by the legislature, which has the chance to approve them itself.

The initiative was before the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee, but its chair, Rep. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia) said Thursday the committee, and thus the legislature, would take no action.

Passage would have been difficult in the legislature under ordinary circumstances, but was even more difficult because the initiative includes provisions raising taxes (in this case, on marijuana). Any initiative with tax increases requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature.

If passed, the measure would make Washington the first state to legalize the possession and commerce in marijuana and would put it on a collision course with the federal government.

The measure would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot or a pound of marijuana edibles, and they could buy it through state-run stores, much the same way the state handles liquor sales. The state stores would obtain their product from state-licensed growers and processors, with a 25% excise tax at each stage.

The initiative campaign is being run by New Approach Washington, which has brought together an impressive roster of endorsers and supporters, including TV personality and travel writer Rick Steves, former US Attorney for Western Washington, and a number of current and former state elected officials.

"Locking people up and putting handcuffs on them is not the way to resolve our society's issues with regard to marijuana," McKay, told legislators Thursday.

While most of the opposition to the initiative so far is coming from the usual suspects -- law enforcement, drug treatment providers -- some of it is coming from a segment of the state's medical marijuana community, which worries that the measure's setting a limit on THC levels to determine impairment in drivers could result in non-impaired patients being prosecuted.

But Dr. Kim Thorburn, Spokane County's former top public-health official, who spoke in support of the initiative, said those concerns were overblown. "In order to be stopped for impaired driving you have to show impairment," she said. "This is not a concern for medical-marijuana users and has been kind of a red herring that has been raised."

Now, it will be up to the voters to decide whether Washington becomes the first state to legalize marijuana, although by election time, they may not be alone. A similar initiative in Colorado is busy seeking a final 2,500 signatures to qualify for the ballot, while legalization initiative efforts are ongoing in California, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, and Nebraska.

Olympia, WA
United States

Marijuana Law Reform at the Statehouse 2012 [FEATURE]

State legislatures have convened or are convening all around the country, and once again this year, marijuana decriminalization or legalization are hot topics at the statehouse. Legalization bills are pending in three states (as well as on the ballot as initiatives in Washington and almost certainly Colorado), decriminalization bills are alive in nine states, and bills that would improve existing decriminalization laws have been filed in two states.

And this is still early in the legislative season. Bills can still be introduced in many states, and bills that have already been introduced can advance or be killed. By around the beginning of May, a clearer picture should emerge, but 2012 is already looking to be even more active than last year when it comes to decriminalization and legalization bills.

There's a reason for that, said leading reformers.

"We're seeing more bills introduced, and they're having stronger and more sponsors," said Karen O'Keefe, state policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "We're also seeing more and more public support for decriminalization and legalization. We're approaching critical mass as more and more people see marijuana prohibition as a failed public policy, and in legislatures because of fiscal constraints and changing public sentiment."

"Each year, these bills are easier to introduce, there is less controversy, and the media reaction is generally neutral to positive," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. "Baby boomers, medical marijuana, the Internet, and the state of the economy have all had an impact, even, finally, on legislators and their staffs," he explained.

"Before 1996, nobody invited NORML; now our staff is regularly going to meetings requested by legislators around the country," St. Pierre recalled. "First, we couldn't get them to return our phone calls; now they're calling us. Everything is in play because of activists around the country doing years of work."

That contact with legislators has led to results, St. Pierre said. "We've been involved in almost all of this legislation. Either we helped write it or legislators contacted us for deep background and we're testifying at public hearings on these bills."

MPP has been busy, too, O'Keefe said. "We have paid lobbyists in Rhode Island and Vermont, and one of our legislative analysts, Matt Simon, is from New Hampshire and has been working on bills up there," she said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, O'Keefe thought the prospects of passage were best in Rhode Island and Vermont. "In Rhode Island, more than half of both chambers are cosponsors of the decriminalization bill, while in Vermont, Gov. Shumlin has been very supportive, and for the first time we have a Republican sponsor in the Senate -- we already had one in the House," she said.

Getting a marijuana bill through a state legislature is a frustrating, time-consuming process, and there is a chance that none of these bills will pass this year. But there is also a chance some will, and some will pass eventually, if not this year, next year, or the year after.

Here is what is currently going on around marijuana law reform at the state house (compiled from our Legislative Center, with additional information from MPP's list of bills and from cantaxreg.com):

Legalization Bills

Massachusetts


Thirteen months ago, Rep. Ellen Story introduced House Bill 1371, which would allow the legal and regulated sale of marijuana to adults. It was referred to the Joint Committee on Judiciary then, and it is still pending. A hearing is scheduled on March 6.

New Hampshire

Last month, Rep. Calvin Pratt (R) introduced HB 1705, which would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and allow for regulated retail and wholesale sales. Marijuana would be taxed at a rate of $45 an ounce at wholesale and at 19% of the wholesale price at retail. The bill is now before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Washington

Last year, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D) and 13 cosponsors introduced House Bill 1550, which would replace prohibition with regulation. It and a companion bill, Senate Bill 5598, are still both alive. Dickerson's bill is pending in the House Committee on Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness.

Decriminalization Bills

Arizona


On January 9, Rep. John Fillmore (R) filed House Bill 2044, which would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a petty offense punishable by up to a $400 fine. Simple possession is currently a Class 6 felony in Arizona.

Hawaii

In March 2011, the Hawaii Senate passed Senate Bill 1460, which would reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce to a civil fine capped at $100. The current law specifies a jail stay of up to 30 days and a $1,000 fine. That bill was carried over and is now before the House Health, Public and Military Affairs, and Judiciary committees. Also carried over is House Bill 544, which would make possession of less than an ounce a violation instead of a misdemeanor and impose a maximum $500 fine. That bill is before the House Judiciary Committee.

Illinois

In January 2011, Rep. LaShawn Ford introduced House Bill 100, which would reduce the penalty for possession of up to 28.35 grams of marijuana to a $500 fine for a first offense, $750 for the second, and $1,000 for a subsequent offense. It would also reduce the charge from a misdemeanor to a petty offense. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce can be penalized with up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine. The bill has been referred to House Rules Committee, and is still alive in Illinois' two-year session.

Indiana

Last month, Sen. Karen Tallian introduced Senate Bill 347, which would reduce several marijuana-related penalties, including by making possession of up to three ounces of marijuana a civil infraction, punishable by up to a $500 fine and court costs. SB 347 was referred to the Committee on Corrections, Criminal, and Civil Matters.

New Hampshire

Last week, House Bill 1526, which would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce, got a hearing in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Sponsored by Rep. William Panek (R),the bill would mandate a maximum $100 fine. It also provides for notification of parents of minor offenders, who could be ordered to attend a drug awareness program.

New Jersey

Last month, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D) introduced Assembly Bill 1465, which would reduce the penalty for 15 grams or less of marijuana to a civil penalty. The first violation would be punishable by a $150 fine, $200 fine for a second offense, and $500 after that. Any adult caught three times would be ordered to undertake a drug education program, as would any minor regardless of prior offenses. The bill is currently before the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Rhode Island

Last month, more than half of the Rhode Island House of Representatives cosponsored Rep. John Edwards' bill to fine adults for simple possession of marijuana and to sentence minors to drug awareness classes. The bill, House Bill 7092, was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Current law provides for up to a year in jail and $500 fine; the bill would make it a civil offense with a maximum $150 fine.

Tennessee

In February 2011, Rep. Mike Kernell introduced House Bill 1737, which would reduce the penalty for less than 1/8 of an ounce of marijuana to a fine between $250 and $2,500. Possession would remain a Class A misdemeanor, but the bill would remove the possibility of a year-long jail sentence. Fines would remain the same.  A companion bill, Senate Bill 1597, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both bills remain alive in the state's two-year legislative session.

Vermont

Last year, a tri-partisan group of legislators led by Rep. Jason Lorber filed House Bill 427, which would reduce the penalty for adults' possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to civil fine of up to $150. Minors would be sent to drug education and community service for a first offense, as would adults under 21 convicted of a second or subsequent offense. The current penalty for first offense possession of marijuana is a fine of up to $500 and/or up to six months in jail. Second offense possession is currently punishable by up to two years in prison and/or up to a $1,000 fine. The bill is still alive in the state's two-year legislative session. Last month, Sen. Joe Benning (R) and Sen. Philip Baruth (D) filed Senate Bill 134, which would reduce marijuana penalties, including by reducing the penalty for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana to a civil fine of up to $100. It has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Decriminalization Improvement Bills

New York


Last year, legislators filed bills aimed at removing New York City's reputation as the world's marijuana arrest capital. The state's current decriminalization law creates an exception for marijuana possessed in a public place and which is burning or open to the public view. The NYPD has used that exception to arrest more than 50,000 people a year on misdemeanor charges instead of issuing them tickets. In May, Sen. Mark Grisanti (R) filed Senate Bill 5187, while Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries introduced a companion bill, A 7620. Both bills were referred to their chambers’ Codes Committees and are still alive.

North Carolina

A bill that would reclassify possession of an ounce as an infraction instead of a misdemeanor has been filed in North Carolina. HB 324 increases the decrim amount from a half-ounce, but removes the automatic suspended sentence for a first offense.

Twelve states have decriminalized marijuana possession so far (and possession in small amounts at home is legal under the Alaska constitution), but between an initial burst of reform activity in the 1970s and Nevada's decriminalization in 2002, there were three decades of stagnation. Since then, three more states- -- California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts -- have come on board, and chances are more will follow shortly, Legalization remains a tougher nut to crack, but so far, there are opportunities in five states this year.

California Medical Marijuana Initiative Polls at Nearly 60%

A medical marijuana initiative aiming at the November ballot found nearly 60% support in a poll conducted last week. The Probolsky Research poll reported that 34.5% of respondents would "definitely vote yes," 22.5% would "probably vote yes," and 2.3% were "leaning toward" a yes vote.That comes out to 59.8% saying they favor the initiative

The initiative, the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Tax Act (MMRCTA) would impose comprehensive, statewide regulations on medical marijuana distribution. The act would create a state medical marijuana board, require all dispensaries and commercial cultivation operations to be licensed after July 1, 2013, and impose a 2.5% state medical marijuana sales tax. (For more detail on the initiative, see our recent feature article here.)

Only 23.6% of respondents would definitely vote no, with another 9.7% who would probably vote no, and an additional 2.0% who were leaning toward no, for a total "no" vote of 34.3%. Some 5.5% of respondents were either decisively uncertain or refused to answer.

The question respondents answered was directly about the MMRCTA: "The California Medical Marijuana Regulation Act may appear on the November ballot in California. It reads: 'Creates a state enforcement division to regulate and control all entities involved in the commercial cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana in California; requires their mandatory registration with the state; and establishes a state excise tax of upon all medical marijuana grown for sale in California.' If the election were held today, would you vote Yes to approve or No to reject this initiative? And would you say that you would definitely vote [yes/no] or probably vote [yes/no]? If unsure, would you say that you lean one way or another?"

Only limited additional polling data is available at this point, but Probolsky did provide data on where support for the initiative was strongest: among Democrats (65.8%), unaffiliated voters (67.4%), foreign-born voters (67.5%), Asian voters (66.7%), and those who feel California is on the right track (68.4%). Democratic voters over age 55 are especially supportive at 70.0%.

The poll was conducted last week in English and Spanish using landline and cell phones. A total of 750 surveys were recorded, yielding a margin of error of +-3.7%.

The MMRTC campaign has a self-imposed goal of raising a million dollars by February 9 and estimates it could take twice that much for a successful signature-gathering campaign. This poll should help push them toward that goal. The conventional wisdom is that initiatives need to be polling at 60% or above before the campaign begins, and MMRTC is very, very close.

CA
United States

Washington Marijuana Initiative Makes Ballot

The Washington secretary of state's office announced last Friday that an initiative to legalize, license, and regulate marijuana has been certified for the November ballot. Washington is the first state this year to have a marijuana measure qualify for the ballot.

The measure, Initiative 502, would legalize marijuana for adults and regulate and tax it much like liquor. I-502 is sponsored by New Approach Washington, which has garnered an impressive list of sponsors and endorsements.

But not everybody in the Washington marijuana community is happy with it. Sensible Washington, which has twice tried unsuccessfully to get its own initiative on the ballot, is critical of I-502, and so are some elements of the medical marijuana community.

Friday's announcement came after the State Elections Division, using a random sample, determined that sponsors had nearly 278,000 valid signatures, easily enough to cover the minimum 241,153 required. The initiative campaign had turned in 354,608 signatures.

The initiative now goes to the state legislature, which can pass it, reject it, or ignore it. If the legislature rejects or ignores it, it then goes to the voters in November.

At least one state will have a chance to legalize marijuana this year, and it could soon be two. In Colorado, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has turned in nearly double the number of signatures needed for its initiative to make the ballot and is awaiting certification from state officials.

Marijuana legalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns are also currently underway in California, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, and Oregon.

Olympia, WA
United States

Missouri Drive to End Marijuana Prohibition Gets Going [FEATURE]

A Missouri campaign to place an initiative to end marijuana prohibition on the November ballot has entered the signature-gathering phase, and petition-toting volunteers across the Show Me state are hunting for registered voters as the campaign looks for funds to help it get over the top. The effort is off to an enthusiastic start.

"Nearly 500 trained petitioners have now hit the streets," said campaign director and Kansas City area coordinator Amber Langston. "I'm happily overwhelmed with the enormous response we've received since launching our initiative."

The campaign is called Show-Me Cannabis Regulation (SMCR), and was put together by attorney Dan Viets, a long-time marijuana reformer and a member of the national NORML Legal Committee and board of directors, Missouri NORML chapters, and other marijuana legalization advocates and supporters.

The initiative, a constitutional amendment, calls for marijuana legalization for persons 21 and over, a process for licensing marijuana production and sales establishments, and allows the legislature to enact a tax of $100 a pound on retail sales. It also includes a provision lifting criminal justice system sanctions against people imprisoned or under state supervision for nonviolent marijuana offenses that would no longer be illegal and the expunging of all criminal records for such offenses. The initiatives would also allow for the use of marijuana for medical reasons by minors (with parental consent).

Petitioners must obtain the signatures of a number of registered voters equal to 8% of the total votes cast in the 2008 governor's race from six of the state's nine congressional districts. The campaign said that comes out to about 144,000 valid signatures, which means it needs to collect 200,000 or more to have a reasonable margin of comfort. Signatures must be turned in by May 6.

"We just started training volunteers in December, and we've been hitting it hard for the last three weeks," said St. Louis-area campaign coordinator John Payne. "We've gathered about 10,000 signatures already, and we're confident we're on pace to meet our targets," he added.

"It's an all-volunteer effort at this point," but SMCR doesn't intend for it to stay that way, said Payne. "We think we can get this on the ballot for a half a million dollars or so, and then, it's just a matter of getting the right message across."

The campaign doesn't yet have any state-level polling to bolster its case, but plans to do so shortly. In the meantime, it points to last October's Gallup poll, which showed, for the first time in history, a majority of Americans support legalizing cannabis for personal use with 50% in favor nationwide and 54% in the Midwest.

"We've raised a few thousand dollars already and have some funders who will hopefully be putting a fairly large sum of money in our account," Payne said. "We've been operating on a shoe string, but we're gearing up for more. We have an established campaign and a lot to show for what we've done so far on the cheap. If there are any donors out there looking for a good place to invest, they should take a look at us."

The campaign reports no sign of organized opposition at this point, but is casting a wary eye on one of the state's bigger economic interests: the beer brewers.

"We know the beer lobby put up money against Proposition 19. If we see any organized opposition, we expect it to come from the brewers," Payne said. "But if Bud and Busch get involved, we think most people will see through that as self-interested."

The campaign is also keeping an eye on the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association, whose Jason Grellner seems to be the go-to guy on drug issues for the media, including the initiative campaign, said Payne. But maybe law enforcement opposition can be blunted, he suggested.

"Our most effective argument has been the public safety argument -- every minute a police officer spends arresting someone for smoking a joint is a minute not spent on rape or murder or armed robbery," said Payne. "We need to focus our law enforcement resources on more important things; lots of people get that, even if they're not sympathetic."

Economic arguments are also part of the arsenal, Payne said.

"This is a state where we've repeatedly had to cut the budget because of tax shortfalls, and we can show we could be saving about $100 million a year," he explained, citing economist Jeffrey Miron's report on the budgetary implications of prohibition for the states. "That resonates."

Then there are potential tax revenues.  A $100 a pound tax on retail sales could generate not insignificant funds for the state, but some consumers grumble a bit at the prospect, Payne said.

"The potential revenues are a selling point for some people," he said; "for others, it's a bit of a turnoff, but they don't not sign the petitions."

SMCR and its army of volunteers has 14 weeks to get the job done, or to snare major funding to ensure the job gets done. But there's some serious competition for big donor dollars out there. Legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington have already handed in enough signatures to appear set to make the ballot, and there are also legalization initiative campaigns in California, Michigan, and Oregon, as well as a new California medical marijuana initiative.

Can Show-Me Cannabis Regulation show the rest of us how to get it done? Stay tuned.

MO
United States

Statewide Colorado Marijuana Initiative Turns in Signatures

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/breckenridge.jpg
the ski town Breckenridge, Colorado (which voted for legalization in 2009)
Proponents of a Colorado marijuana legalization initiative turned in more than 159,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office Wednesday, nearly twice as many as the 86,500 required for the measure to be approved for the November ballot. The state has 30 days to verify the signatures and approve the measure for the ballot.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce or six plants (three mature plants) by people 21 or over. It would also compel the state of Colorado to come up with regulations for commercial marijuana cultivation and sales by July 1, 2013.

The campaign for the initiative is being spearheaded by two well-known, Colorado-based activist organizations, SAFER Colorado, led by Mason Tvert, and Sensible Colorado, led by Brian Vicente. The campaign estimates that legalizing and regulating marijuana would save the state $80 million a year in law enforcement costs and generate $40 billion a year in tax revenues.

Rep. Jared Polis, a prominent legalization supporter, at National Cannabis Industry Association press conference, April 2011
"This is a job well done and a crucial first step to ensure Coloradans have a chance to make history," said Art Way, Colorado Manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports the measure. "There's simply no denying the intense groundswell for change. This initiative is another indication that Colorado is moving away from non-sustainable drug policies that don't benefit society at large," said Way. "The selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition and the often undue collateral consequences associated with prohibition should impel all who believe in individual liberty to support this initiative."

Initiative organizers will have their work cut out for them. A Public Policy Polling survey of Colorado residents in December asked "in general, do you think marijuana usage should be legal or illegal," and legal won by a margin of 49% to 40%. Earlier polls had slightly higher levels of support, but the conventional wisdom among initiative experts is that initiatives should be polling at 60% or above before the campaign begins.

Still, it now appears that voters in at least two states -- Colorado and Washington -- will have the opportunity to legalize marijuana this year.

Denver, CO
United States

Washington Marijuana Legalization Initiative Hands in Signatures

New Approach Washington, the organizers of the I-502 marijuana legalization and regulation initiative, last week handed in 350,000 voter signatures to try to qualify for the November ballot. They turned in 341,000 last Thursday and another 10,000 last Friday, the last day to hand them in.

The campaign needs 241,153 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. With some 350,000 signatures handed in, the campaign has a considerable cushion to account for duplicate and other invalid signatures, meaning it is likely to qualify for the ballot, but it will take state officials several weeks to make that determination.

If the measure meets the valid signature threshold, it then goes before the state legislature. If the legislature doesn't approve it, it then goes before the voters in November.

I-502 would allow Washington adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, which would be sold at pot-only stores licensed and regulated by the state Liquor Control Board. Marijuana cultivation for the state stores would also be licensed and regulated by the board. Estimated excise, business, and sales revenues of $215 million a year would be split between the state's general fund and certain earmarked public health and prevention programs.

I-502 would also create a per se DUID standard of five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, which has become a contentious issue in the state's marijuana and medical marijuana communities. According to the Associated Press, those divisions were on display Thursday as New Approach Washington members handed in signatures.

The AP reported that about a dozen demonstrators carrying signs reading "Legalize, Don't Penalize" shouted and chanted as the signatures were turned in. "New Approach, telling lies, we don't want your DUIs," the protesters chanted.

The "lies" to which the protestors referred are New Approach Washington's arguments that including the per se DUID language is a pragmatic measure designed to blunt fears of drugged driving among voters, that Washington already has a drugged driving law, and that the measure is unlikely to result in a wave of DUID arrests of medical marijuana patients due to the "probable cause" requirement that a driver demonstrate signs of impairment before a police officer may order a drug test.

The unhappy patients have organized as Patients Against I-502. The initiative is also drawing opposition from the folks at Sensible Washington, who echo the anti-DUID argument and also argue for a measure that would allow for personal home cultivation and with fewer restrictions overall. Sensible Washington tried unsuccessfully for two years to get its initiative on the ballot and failed for lack of funding. New Approach Washington, on the other hand, has managed to garner the support and raise the funds to gather the necessary signatures.

It looks like marijuana legalization is going to be on the ballot in Washington this year. It also looks like Washington won't be alone; a Colorado legalization initiative is well-advanced in its signature gathering phase and appears set to make the ballot after turning in nearly twice the required signatures this week. But competing legalization initiatives in California and Oregon don't appear nearly as well positioned to break through the signature ceiling, although that could change if some funding angel appears.

Olympia, WA
United States

Washington Marijuana Initiative Gains Support

Initiative 502, the Washington state initiative to tax and regulate marijuana, is gaining both financial and political support. In the past week, the effort has picked up some important endorsements from former law enforcement figures, and a good sized cash contribution that will invigorate its signature-gathering efforts.

The initiative is sponsored by New Approach Washington, which hopes to gather sufficient signatures to put the measure before the legislature in January. If the legislature fails to approve it, it would then go before voters in November 2012.

In a joint statement that appeared as an op-ed in the Seattle Times, former US Attorney for Western Washington Katrina Pflaumer, former Seattle deputy mayor and municipal court Judge Anne Levinson, and retired state Superior Court Judge Robert Alsdorf announced they were endorsing I-502. Another former US Attorney for Western Washington, John McKay, endorsed the effort earlier.

"We have not only observed but also enforced marijuana laws at the federal, state, and local levels," wrote the trio of legal establishment figures. "We ask that these laws be changed. It is time for a different, more effective approach. That's why we endorse Initiative 502, which would decriminalize marijuana in our state and make a long-overdue change for the better in public policy."

Regulating marijuana would allow state and local governments to refocus criminal justice system resources on more serious offenses and would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues, the trio argued. It would also restore respect for law enforcement and "decrease the disproportionate criminalization of people of color who have historically been harmed most by the existing laws," they wrote.

On Monday, yet another former law enforcement figure climbed aboard. Charles Mandigo, former Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle FBI office, issued a statement announcing he was endorsing the initiative, if not the drug itself.

"I do not support or condone the use of marijuana. Rather, I think it is time for us to try a regulatory approach that frees criminal justice resources for more appropriate priorities and strikes a better cost-benefit balance than the strategy we've been pursuing for the past 40 years," he said in the statement.

"It concerns me a great deal that our minority communities are over-represented among marijuana defendants, and that 40,000 have died in Mexico in the past four years due to fighting over control of drug trafficking to the United States, a significant part of which involves marijuana," the 27-year FBI veteran added.

The new law enforcement endorsements come as the campaign is enjoying a late surge in financial support. Campaign director Alison Holcomb reported at the beginning of the month that it had just received a $100,000 donation from philanthropist Harriett Bullitt, had earlier received $50,000 from Progressive Insurance chairman Peter Lewis, and expected Lewis to kick in another $200,000 this month.

New Approach Washington has already collected more than 180,000 of the 241,000 valid signatures in needs to go before the legislature. It has until year's end to collect the rest, and the big name endorsements and donations are putting that goal within reach.

Not that everyone in the Washington state marijuana community is happy about that. The folks at Sensible Washington, who were twice unable to raise the money to gather enough signatures to make the ballot for their marijuana prohibition repeal initiative, are not supporting I-502, in part because it contains "a bitter pill" imposing per se drugged driving limits.

Sensible Washington is not alone in that criticism. Segments of the state's medical marijuana community also worry that the initiative's drugged driving provision could end up penalizing them.

Dr. Gil Mobley, who runs a Federal Way clinic catering to medical-marijuana patients, told the Seattle Times he recently tested several patients and found they passed cognitive tests even with THC concentrations of up to 47 nanograms. Nearly four hours after one patient medicated, they still tested at 6 nanograms. The initiative would set the per se level at 5 nanograms.

"I told them they'd be legally unable to drive if this law passes," said Mobley. "It's philosophically, morally and legally wrong."

And Nora Callahan of the November Coalition, a drug reform group that concentrates on drug war prisoners is also unenthusiastic about I-502. It would be "continuing prohibition," she said. "We want a law for the people. I don't know if this law cuts it. But we know there is money behind it."

I-502 supporters have countered the criticisms, saying the drugged driving provision would be rarely used and that signs of impairment would first have to be evident. They also point to states with per se drugged driving laws, noting there has not been a rash of prosecutions in them. And they argue that if an initiative is going to have a chance with voters concerned about the prospect of highways filled with stoned drivers, it must be pragmatic and address those fears.

New Approach Washington has created a fact sheet on driving under the influence of THC in a bid to defend the drugged driving provision. It notes that Washington already has a per se DUI law for alcohol, and that its proposed per se marijuana-impaired driving level of 5 nanograms of THC per millileter of whole blood is both "analagous" to the per se DUI law for alcohol and supported by existing science.

"I-502 does not change the fact that officers still must have probable cause for arrest and reasonable grounds to believe a driver is impaired before requiring a blood or breath test," the fact sheet says, addressing concerns that large numbers of drivers could be charged under the provision. "Nor does it change the fact that blood tests can only be administered by medical professionals."

Pot activist-turned-journalist Dominic Holden sharply criticized the friendly fire against I-502 coming from within the movement. In a column published in the Seattle Stranger, Holden wrote, "[I]t's dishonest to declare this this measure will subject people to more blood testing or result in a change of policing protocol. If voters pass I-502, 02, officers would be held to the same standards as they are today: They would still require probable cause to stop a car, evidence of driver impairment, and any tests would have to be conducted by a medical professional (typically at a medical clinic or an ER). Those are the standards now, they wouldn't change, and we hardly ever see those consequences for medical marijuana patients now because they aren't impaired and cops don't have probable cause to stop their vehicles. If cops didn't have probable cause or evidence of impairment, but took action anyway, a defense attorney could move to have the whole thing tossed out -- just like today."

Holden also cited polling for the campaign finding the initiative winning with the provision vs. losing badly without it. According the polling, Holden wrote, 62% of respondents were more likely to vote for an initiative with that provision, vs. 11% less likely.

New Approach Washington may not have succeeded in uniting all of the state's marijuana movement behind it, but it is getting enough big names and big bucks to have a very good shot at making the signature-gathering threshold. And if the campaigners and their polling are correct, they will then have a good shot at victory at the polling booth in November 2012 -- if the legislature doesn't approve it first.

WA
United States

Colorado Marijuana Initiative Campaign Gets Underway

Signature gathering began last Thursday for an initiative that would end marijuana prohibition in Colorado and create a system in which its sale would be taxed and regulated. Sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the initiative could be only the first of several competing marijuana initiatives aiming at Colorado's November 2012 ballot.

The initiative would allow you to grow six of these or go the pot shop and buy some. (image via wikimedia.org)
But this initiative is not only the first one out of the gate -- its language was approved by state officials yesterday -- it is also backed by leading state and national groups. The initiative's backers include Mason Tvert and SAFER Colorado and Brian Vicente and Sensible Colorado, as well as national players the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, NORML, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

That means it is likely to come up with the resources to hurdle the relatively low bar of gathering 86,000 valid voter signatures in the next 180 days and actually be on the ballot next year.

"Voters in Colorado are ready to end marijuana prohibition and begin regulating and taxing it in a manner similar to alcohol," said Vicente, one of the initiative's two formal proponents. "By regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol Colorado can tightly control its production and sale, generate tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue, and redirect our limited law enforcement resources toward serious crimes."

According to the campaign, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 would:

  • Remove criminal penalties for the private possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, and for the home-growing of up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed locked space, similar to the number allowed under current medical marijuana laws;
  • Direct the Department of Revenue to establish a tightly regulated system through which it licenses retail stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities;
  • Require the general assembly to enact an excise tax of up to 15% on the wholesale sale of marijuana applied at the point of transfer from the cultivation facility to a retail store or product manufacturer (sales tax will also be applied at the point of retail sales);
  • Direct the general assembly to establish a system of regulating the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp;
  • Give cities or counties the right to ban marijuana establishments either through elected officials or via citizen initiative;
  • Leave current impaired driving laws intact; and
  • Preserve the right of employers to maintain their current employment policies (meaning those employers who use drug tests could still fire someone who tests positive).

"This will be a high-energy, volunteer-powered grassroots campaign," said initiative proponent Tvert. "We're excited to begin petitioning and speaking to voters one-on-one about the benefits of repealing the wasteful prohibition of marijuana and replacing it with a tightly controlled system in which it is regulated and taxed like alcohol."

The system the initiative would set up is more restrictive in some ways than today's alcohol regulation. For example, there are no legal limits on the amount of alcohol someone can possess. That means possession of more than an ounce or more than one's harvest would still be a criminal offense, as would growing more than six plants. 

The initiative's less-than-absolutist position has in turn helped motivate advocates of a more radical approach. One group working to bring what they call a "true legalization" initiative to the ballot is Legalize 2012, led by long-time Colorado activist Lauro Kriho. Kriho and company are still working on the language for their initiative, but have attacked the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative as not "legalization" and not "similar to alcohol."

Whether Legalize 2012 acts as a drag on the Like Alcohol initiative like Stoners Against Prop. 19 did in California last year or whether it boosts its prospects by making it appear that much more pragmatic and palatable to Colorado voters remains to be seen. It's going to be an interesting next year and a half in Colorado pot politics.

Denver, CO
United States

Indiana Lawmakers to Study Marijuana Legalization

Lawmakers in Indiana will convene between legislative sessions to study whether the Hoosier State should change its marijuana laws. Under a bill passed into law earlier this year, the General Assembly's Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy study committee is charged with reexamining the state's approach to pot.

The commission's first meeting is set for next week, although it's not clear if marijuana policy will be on the agenda then or during future meetings.

The bill, Senate Bill 192, gives the commission a broad mandate. It asks the commission to report back on whether the use and possession of marijuana should continue to be illegal in Indiana, and if so, what penalties and quantities related to its possession are appropriate. It also asks the commission to assess whether marijuana should be regulated and taxed like alcohol, whether Indiana should implement a medical marijuana program, and "any other issue related to marijuana."

Under current Indiana law, possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, although conditional discharge is possible for a first offense. Possession or sale of more than 30 grams is a felony, with a sentence of up to three years. A second pot paraphernalia offense can also earn a three year sentence. There is no provision for medical marijuana under Indiana law.

Indiana has "draconian" pot laws, state Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes), who pushed for the study commission, told the Associated Press. "One day, I watched three young kids plead cases on possession of small amounts," Tallian said. "I thought, 'Why are we spending all of the time and money to do this?' Frankly, I put marijuana in the same category as alcohol."

Tallian said she is lining up speakers for the meeting when marijuana law reform is on the agenda.

"I've got testimony from all different groups," she said. "They keep calling me wondering when it's going to be. I had them lined up when the bill was in the senate -- medical people, criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement. There are a wide range of people interested in the topic."

One of the Republicans who supported the study commission was Rep. Tom Knollman -- who aptly hails from the town Liberty -- a multiple sclerosis sufferer. He told his colleagues during debate earlier this year that he wished he could try medical marijuana to ease his pain. Knollman described himself as among the most conservative of state legislators, but said he hoped he could be a law-abiding citizen and make use of one of "God's plants."

Indianapolis, IN
United States

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