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Marijuana Legalization: Oregon, Washington Initiatives Fall Short

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #639)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

They will not be freeing the weed in the Pacific Northwest this November, at least not via ballot measures. Attempts to place marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in Oregon and Washington came up short as organizers were unable to gather sufficient signatures by last Friday's deadline.

In Oregon, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, sponsored by Oregon NORML and medical marijuana entrepreneur Paul Stanford, did not come close. It needed about 100,000 signatures, but only had 12,000 at the latest report.

In a message to supporters last Friday, Stanford said: "Unfortunately, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act initiative petition campaign in Oregon has fallen well short of qualifying for a vote this year. To all of you who gathered signatures, donated your hard earned money or supported OCTA 2010 in any way, we thank you for support! We are considering how to proceed in the future. If you have any ideas or concerns, please let us know."

In Washington, Sensible Washington, the sponsors of the I-1068 legalization initiative, conceded last week that they, too, would fail to make the November ballot. They needed 241,000 valid signatures, but estimated they would come up short by 40,000 to 50,000.

"It's my sad duty to inform you all that I-1068 will not make it," Sensible Washington's Philip Dawdy told supporters. "We're going to fall short. So I'm asking you all to stand down immediately, relax, regroup and let's all push on for the future. In the end, we couldn't overcome this spring's awful weather and the ACLU of Washington actively working against I-1068. [Seattle marijuana defense attorney] Douglas [Hiatt] and I and everyone else are all humbled by your efforts. The battle may be lost, but the war goes on."

The ACLU of Washington had refused to endorse the initiative because it contained no provisions for regulating marijuana -- it simply removed marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances and repealed penalties. Sensible Washington argued that Washington law prevented them from addressing regulation and that they sought to avoid conflict between the state and the federal government, but ACLU-WA disagreed.

The initiative suffered another mortal blow last month, when, after a brief courtship, the Service Employees International Union declined to help get it over the top. Washington SEIU spokesman Adam Glickman told Publicola last month the initiative would be "open to a lot of attacks -- attacks around law enforcement issues" and that "losing th[e] campaign wouldn't be very helpful."

[Ed: It's not clear to me why Washington law should have prevented Sensible Seattle from addressing regulation in the initiative text. The Washington medical marijuana initiative which passed in 1998, I-692, contained several pages of regulation, and it qualified for the ballot. Therefore Washington law does not disallow regulation within initiative language. The federal vs. state question is a more interesting one. - DB]

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Patrick O'Keeffe (not verified)

Even now, the arguing continues about whether the WA initiative would have been attacked as 'overly broad' and consequently struck down or whether it could have stood solid despite including regulatory language. However, arguing misses the point: there SHOULD NOT BE ANY criminal or civil penalties for adult users of cannabis and that was the point of our I-1068 campaign. It wasn't about concocting some grand government overall (if it had passed, regulation would be devised far quicker than it is currently); rather, to me, I-1068 was about righting the wrongs which are WA state penalties.

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 2:23pm Permalink
borden (not verified)


When an organization makes a claim repeatedly about what law in their state says -- and even after things are done to attack other organizations in their public statements (e.g. ACLU-WA) -- then of course the arguments are going to continue. And that response misses the point. Organizers chose to go a certain route, despite not having consensus buy-in from other concerned advocates in the state. And I am saying that as far as I can tell, the main argument they've presented publicly as to why appears to completely lack foundation. The other argument seems worthy of discussion, but it's not clear to me they're right about that either.

If I'm wrong about the first point, or if the proponents meant something different and it came out wrong in the media, I would certainly like to hear why and how and what was meant. But we certainly tried to get it right when we interviewed proponents about this for previous Chronicle articles. And I've already had one conversation with an organizer of the initiative, to whom I gave multiple opportunities opportunities to rebut my point or to clarify what they meant, and he didn't.

I also am going to say here (publicly for the first time, I didn't want to demoralize any volunteers who read us while signature-gathering was ongoing), that when I read the text of I-1068, I immediately had the same reaction that ACLU (and SEIU) had. In my opinion this approach to initiative language walks headlong into the most potent attacks the opposition would want to be able to make against it. Opponents would talk about drug dealers being able to sell any amount of marijuana anywhere, and the legislature not being able to do anything about it -- arguments that might not be valid when one reasons it out, but which would resonate far more strongly with enough voters to sink it then the counterarguments that proponents would make could do. The opposition would have had an absolute field day -- it would have gone down in flames at the ballot for exactly the reasons that the SEIU person said.

At least that is my opinion. Ultimately polling or focus group work on specific proposals is the only way to tell for sure who is right. But clearly ACLU and SEIU have the right to hold that opinion, and they expressed valid reasons for it -- reasons which in the absence of further analysis I believe are quite on target.

In another sense you are right though, the important points are different ones. 2012 will be here at some point. If organizers choose to go it alone again and go with language that other drug reformers in the state disagree with, I think that would be an extremely serious error in judgment, one which quite possibly will set back progress in this very important state, relative to what can otherwise be achieved there. This important cause, and the many dedicated volunteers in Washington, deserve a fully thought-out, broadly-supported measure, that all the concerned parties in the state will be able to line up and support. No one group in people in the state is going to get to dictate that to all the others and have it work out, no matter how convinced they are that they are right, as the events of recent months demonstrate.

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 3:01pm Permalink
Carl Darby (not verified)

In reply to by borden (not verified)

While it is important to be pragmatic and work with other sympathetic groups to accomplish the possible, it is not wrong to lay out a coherent vision for the future of marijuana policy and where it should ideally be headed.

Many in the reform movement are not enthralled with the tax and regulate model that is frequently posed as the only possible path forward. There are many paths forward and there might be considerable variability from state to state.

A strict deregulation model might lend itself to the criticism of "drug dealers being able to sell any amount of marijuana anywhere" but in serious reflection, sober minded citizens know that is the case anyway. Real concerns are money concerns. The pocket book issues are the price of incarceration, the mis-allocation of police resources to deal with non-violent "crime" and the economic damage done to individuals and their families by pursuing a criminal model.

At the end of the day what matters is public support and whether such an approach makes sense to voters. We will not get to find that out in Washington State now. Such a vote, even if a failure, would provide some insight into the general level of commitment to substantive reform.

The failure of the group was due less to their alliance with other groups or some failure to strive for consensus but rather their inability to acquire enough professional petitioners to get their measure on the ballot.

My recommendation would be that they consult some Libertarian petitioners. Those people have experience where it counts and are also sympathetic to the cause. They are also not too supportive of the "tax and regulate" model -- as ultimately it merely feeds the beast that needs to be starved.

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 8:30pm Permalink
borden (not verified)

In reply to by Carl Darby (not verified)

Where I come from, the ballot is not where one hopes to find out what the voters will or won't support. You determine that through research, at least to the extent possible, before getting into a situation where you're going to need a million dollars to win but might not be able to win. If research says that you can't win with the kind of language that you're willing to support, then you have the choice of not fielding an initiative and putting your time and resources into some other strategy for advancing the cause.

If not working with the other groups in-state to get buy-in was not a failure of the campaign, then do you at least agree that they should stop blaming those other groups for their own shortfall? They would have gotten funding for paid petitioners if they had taken a consensus approach. Either they did need other groups or they didn't, it doesn't work both ways at the same time.

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 9:20pm Permalink
Carl Darby (not verified)

Certainly it makes sense to try and see if you have a chance for winning before making a determination but that should not be the only consideration. The righteousness of ones cause and the passion with which you believe in it are very much determining factors. As for advancing "the cause" compromise and co-option are not necessarily positive options. Clearly freeing half the slaves is better than freeing none of them but sometimes dining with the devil just puts you off your whole dinner.

In any event, it is stated that they needed 241,000 signatures and fell short by 40 to 50 thousand. A good petitioner can get 250 to 300 signatures a day; excellent petitioners can do better than that. Taking the lower number and doing the math: it would take ten pros 20 days and could probably have been done for less than $25,000. This is a painful realization. Signatures come with names and addresses and can be used for outreach in many different ways.

It would have cost other organizations precious little to have lent moral support or even meager financial support to their efforts, even if they felt it was mis-guided. It would have enhanced feelings of solidarity and built bridges. It might have even led to more co-operation and maybe even laid the foundation for future more successful efforts. Instead we have understandable (from my perspective), hurt feelings and it makes the ACLU-Washington (and SEIU) look like ****. [gee, hope that doesn't get censored].

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 10:53pm Permalink
TrebleBass (not verified)

Or maybe they just took too long to start collecting signatures. I think in california they had started collecting signatures several months before in washington and oregon. Maybe with enough time, both states would have gotten on the ballot.

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 11:22pm Permalink

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