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Washington Marijuana Initiative Gains Support

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #709)

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.

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.


Steve Sarich (not verified)

Yes....they are raising a ton of money and attracting lots of former law enforcement folks that used to prosecute medical marijuana folks.  (It's too bad it took them so long to figure out what they were doing to marijuana users was the wrong policy for all those years.)  

The fact that NAW can raise money and political endorsements does not excuse their willingness to criminalize every medical cannabis patient in Washington State with their inclusion of heinous THC-DUI provision that has no scientific basis whatsoever.  While they admit that it will result in the arrest of innocent patients who are not "intoxicated", that doesn't seem to worry them very much...actually it doesn't bother them at all.  

They feel that those of us who are legal patients should just jump in front of the bus to protect their idea of the "greater good"....which is to raise millions of dollars in tax money to allow our state officials to keep spending like drunken sailors. They claim they can't get their initiative passed if we don't allow ourselves to be sacrificed in order to legalize pot for the general public.  Screw them all....every last "big name", "big donor" one of them!  

Why don't we start by first having the state (especially law enforcement) treat cannabis as a "medicine"....which is what the voters confirmed 14 years ago?  Today there were raids on medical cannabis dispensaries in Thurston County, Pierce County and even in Seattle.  Let's see if these "big names" step up in the press and publicly denounce these people who would deprive patients their safe access to medication.  They're all for "legalization", but where do they stand on the rights of legal patients?  Will they be just as vocal in defending us as they are pushing for legalization?


Steve Sarich

Tue, 11/15/2011 - 10:07pm Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In addition to what Steve wrote above I-502 is horrid in other ways as well.  Under current WA law (passed by the VOTERS), medical cannabis patients are allowed to have in their possession 28 OUNCES of usable cannabis AND 15 plants, they are allowed to grow their own medicine if they so prefer.  They can also buy it from a dispensary and there are lots of dispensaries so that likely there is one close enough for almost any patient to visit without a lot of trouble or time involved.  Under I-502, no one will be allowed to grow their own, instead there will be limited, licensed growers, dispensaries and caregivers are to be licensed under some pretty severe limitations, too.  Additionally, the amount anyone (including patients) will be allowed to possess at any one time is limited to 23 GRAMS (and zero plants).  This is NOT the kind of law anyone, patient or recreational user, wants to see pass.  Please do not put your support in this initiative.  Instead please support I-505 or whatever initiative number Sensible Washington will be gathering signatures for beginning in January (signatures gathered between January and July put the initiative before the voters, signatures gathered now will put the initiative before the legislature, I-502 will go before the legislature not the people (and we all know how politicians, as opposed to statesmen like Ron Paul, love their prohibition and draconian rules and punishments). 

Wed, 11/16/2011 - 2:45am Permalink
Tj (not verified)

I see two ideas here.  1. Is recreational use of Marijuana.  2. Is medical use of Marijuana.

Why can't Initiative 502 support recreational use of Marijuana (1) and keep (2) the current regulations for Medical Marijuana in effect?  That is, with a medical card, you can grow up to 15 plants and have a good supply on hand for medical use.  Also, there would be no 'tax' on your own harvest.

I realize some who oppose 502 do so because of the DUID portion.  They are concerned about the low THC level in the blood to convict for driving violations.  However, very few people will support 'no' penalty for people medically or recreationally driving erratically under the influence of cannabis.  

Keep in mind the police need a reason to stop your driving and apply a blood test.  And the test has to be done by a doctor or medical professional!  This is a process.  The police will NOT be drawing your blood.

Will we ever have perfect law?  LOL!!  Not on this planet.

So, what do we do?  I can tell you United We Stand - divided we do not.

There will still be the Feds messing with things we cannot yet see.

This thing is a process.  If we can get 502 or 505 to pass that is a great victory.  

We need to come together on this.

If we could have a choice between 502 and 505 on the ballot that would be awesome.  However, if voting splits the vote for legalization that will definitely reduce the chance for either one to pass.  Then we have nothing.

I beseech you brothers and sisters speak your mind and share your opinion but do NOT attack each other.

Wed, 11/16/2011 - 4:24am Permalink
Troy Barber (not verified)

In reply to by Tj (not verified)

@TJ - I agree with you on the need for marijuana law reformers to unify. Please understand, we are in the middle of a debate, especially in regard to the low THC counts proposed under I-502 (5ng per mL for 21+, or ZERO for under 21 yrs. of age). It doesn't take much for a patient to fail the 5ng limit while sober. 18 to 25 yr. olds are the largest segment of cannabis users, even trace amounts of THC can be measured and render a young adult as guilty, with no defense. Second hand smoke could make a young person test above 0.00, even if they don't use.

The importance of keeping the proposed DUIC from becoming law cannot be overstated. This is not about a right to drive stoned, no one is suggesting that be tolerable behavior. This is about keeping a scientifically unproven statute from becoming law. New Approach Washington inflated the concern for DUI based on California's failure of Prop 19, where in 54% that voted against, 13% of those polled stated concern for stoned driving. They don't show what the percentage of concern was from the 46% that voted in favor. I suspect that number was considerably lower than 13%, which is not a large number to begin with. Washington State approved medical cannabis laws in 1998, if cannabis DUI was a valid concern, shouldn't it have been addressed then?

The fact is, the current RCW already allows for Green DUI's. NAW did not go far enough to educate the voting public on this matter. Under the current RCW, impairment has to be proven, this will not be the case with a per se statute. Guilt will be automatic for those unfortunate enough to test above the 0.00/5ng limits.

Cannabis is not analogous to alcohol, the concentrations, effects, and metabolization are completely different. The blood alcohol content (BAC) model is well defined, we can calculate with predictable certainty, the level of impairment from the amount consumed. The same cannot be said for THC, as these proposed blood limits do not prove impairment.

If these levels are allowed to be written into law, they stand to set a precedent that other states might follow. This endangers the rights of people all over the US. Providing law enforcement with another tool to profile and target cannabis users is reckless and irresponsible.

All indications point to federal preemption of I-502. At minimum, the legal 28 grams may still be allowed, but consumers will be left with no legal means to obtain cannabis. This creates a recipe for disaster in a growing illegal black-market, while providing law enforcement with a new tool to find, arrest, and prosecute suspect cannabis consumers, medical, or recreational.

I-502 has to be defeated. The authors need to consult with the remainder of the legalization community to craft a better bill. This is not the only chance, there will be others. We must take the time to ensure we end prohibition in a reasonable and responsible manner. Too much is at stake, and the movement to end cannabis prohibition could be set back by several years. Once this debate is over, it is my hope that we all come out as friends on the other side, until then we will be forced to denounce this "bitter pill" of a bill.

Mon, 11/28/2011 - 2:00pm Permalink
Jeff Brown (not verified)

Even if it passes you will still have the feds to deal with. Its time for the state to stand up to the feds and make them remove cannabis from schedule I . For it to remain in federal schedule I it can have no medical use in the United States. Clearly it does as Washington State and other states say it does. The people of the State of Washington need to force their elected leaders to stand up to the feds.

Thu, 11/17/2011 - 2:43pm Permalink
Steve Sarich (not verified)

In reply to by Jeff Brown (not verified)

I think it's time to start holding our legislators accountable.  Medical marijuana has more than an 80% approval rating among voters in Washington.  That's better poll numbers than any of these idiots running our legislature will come close to getting in the next election.  Fourteen years and they still can't give us a good piece of medical marijuana legislation or even schedule a hearing to consider whether marijuana qualifies as a Schedule 1 drug?  I think we're all getting a little sick of their lame excuses and it's time to show our displeasure at the polls in 2012.

Thu, 11/17/2011 - 3:51pm Permalink
Steve Sarich (not verified)

You want us to all stand together?  Tell the folks at NAW to write a bill the DOES NOT criminalize every patient in Washington that drives!  Are you saying that we should bend over and "take one for the team"...for the sake of "unity"?  Go screw yourself.  I'm not going to jail on bogus DUI charges when I'm not "impaired" whatsoever just so your average stoner on the street can go and buy over-priced pot from his local state licensed pot store....and the state can make a killing on the tax revenue.  Do you really think there are patients that would go along with this?  If you do, you don't know many patients.

Why is it that every time Alison Holcomb and the Washington ACLU writes a bill regarding cannabis we're told that we have to give up more of our rights?  Holcomb keeps referring to this as "baby steps".  Only if you count steps backward as progress.  How many more rights does Holcomb think we have to give up before we've finally "won" the battle?  Her definition of "winning" sounds a lot like everyone else's idea of "losing".

I guess if you raise enough money, get enough former prosecutors, and a goofy travel writer, to tell the patients that this bill is actually a "win" for them, we're just supposed to believe that.  Fat chance.  If NAW thought that they could sell this to the patients in Washington, they've certainly found out that there were no buyers in the patient community.

And where in the world did you get the idea that patient's aren't going to get their blood drawn....and go to jail for DUI?  Or is your specious argument that it won't be the COPS drawing the blood?  Well, duh!  While the doctor is drawing you blood, your car is on its way to an impound lot.  Then you're on your way to jail.  The average cost of a DUI charge is around $10,000 for the first offense.  Do you know many patients with a spare $10,000?  The really nice thing is that you will be charged each and every time you get pulled over and tested because you will always have 5 ng/ml in your blood if you're a patient and you'll have no legal defense.  But I guess we just have to suck it up and sacrifice our freedom on the alter of legalization, right?

If someone wants to write a legalization bill, and they expect us to support it, they might want to write one that doesn't automatically make us criminals.  They may have enough money to get this heinous bill on the ballot, but they will NOT win.  We will fight this like our lives depend on it....because our lives do depend on it.  The folks at NAW stated that they needed this DUI provision to win over a few more uniformed voters. Rather than educating those voters, they decided it was easier to just give those voters what they wanted; no matter what negative consequences it has for all of us patients.

The bean counters at NAW should have anticipated the 50,000 votes of patients in this state who will definitely be voting AGAINST 502.

Take your "unity" and shove it.  Next time you think someone has to sacrifice themselves for the sake of unity, try starting with yourself and leave us out of the equation.  If we ever decide we're willing to sacrifice ourselves, we'll be sure and let you know well in advance.  In the meantime you really don't get to decide that for us. Sorry if you think we're spoiled sports for not sacrificing ourselves for you.

And before you get all excited about being able to go into one of these stores to get your weed, try using NAW's taxation model to see that it's going to cost you for that ounce of ganja.  I did.  It came out to $629 per ounce.  I've challenged NAW to argue with my calculations and prove me wrong.  No one responded.  Imagine that!

Do you think that $629 an ounce pot is going to kill the black market for pot....or grow it exponentially?  If I was selling pot on the street, I'd be out gathering signatures for 502!  What a boon for my business!  I could up my prices by 50% and still significantly undercut the state stores.  Let's be serious here....who in their right mind is going to spend that much for an ounce of legal pot?  And this assumes that the Feds are going to allow this to happen in the first place.  The events here in Seattle this week certainly don't make that a likely scenario.  I think that NAW should have included the DEA in their polling.  Judging by their actions this week; I'm guessing they won't be supporting it.

You're argument that we will never be able to write and pass a good bill, so we might as well pass a bad bill, is really interesting logic.  That seems to be NAW's argument as well.  I think most of us would rather hold out for a good bill....and 502 is not it.

Steve Sarich









Thu, 11/17/2011 - 3:44pm Permalink
borden (not verified)

Steve is leaving out the 90% of the relevant law that makes DUID marijuana busts unlikely to be an issue. In the meantime, he seems heedless of the vast avoidable harm that would come to countless marijuana users, including patients, and other low-level marijuana offenders, from a defeat. Dominic Holden laid out the issues well in some pieces in The Stranger:

I'm open to hearing further arguments and analysis on this question, and I don't claim to know everything. What is obvious to see is that much of the friendly-fire directed at the initiative, not all of it but much, has been hyperbolic and poorly reasoned at best.

Thu, 11/17/2011 - 6:56pm Permalink
Charles Queen (not verified)

It's way past time for this country to get out of the draconian mindset that is in the brains of those in washington.We need to take more drastic action in order to get our poits across.We can no longer allow congress to run the show,which it is.They have the major pharmacutical company's paying them off to keep pot illegal along with the alcahol ginats as well.Legalisation go's way beyond making it legal to use.It's positive aspects are so many that I just don't have the time lo list each and everyone of them.If they want to get rid of the national deficit within 3-4 years or sooner,then legalise,put every state in the black within 2-3 years easily.Take care of s.s./SSI/military disability and medicare and aide among a host of many other prgrams that are much neded.It would give washington lot's of time to come up with a real viable long term working plan to get the country back on it's fet again.Many other country's have already went legal with others preparing to do so and everyone of them have had nothing but positive results so it stands to reason that we would as well as we are no diferent than any of them are

Fri, 11/18/2011 - 2:10am Permalink

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