Pubdate: Sat, 05 Nov 2011
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2011 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Jonathan Martin
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


A new marijuana-legalization campaign with deep pockets and prominent 
supporters is poised to force the state Legislature to vote on the 
issue or send it to the 2012 ballot.

Marijuana legalization in Washington has been an activist's pipe 
dream for decades, but a new campaign with deep pockets and prominent 
supporters is poised to force the state Legislature to vote on the 
issue or send it to the 2012 presidential ballot.

The group, New Approach Washington, is the strongest mainstream 
campaign to date. Since former federal prosecutor John McKay backed 
the campaign this summer, supporters with impressive resumes emerged, 
from wealthy investment analysts and businessmen to white-shoe 
attorneys and, this week, philanthropist Harriet Bullitt.

But absent from the list are some longtime advocates of legalization. 
In fact, a growing group of activists is pledging to campaign against 
New Approach's Initiative 502 if it makes it to the ballot.

I-502 would legalize possession of one ounce of marijuana and heavily 
tax a state-licensed production and distribution chain, from grower 
to newly created retail pot stores. It would generate an estimated 
$215 million a year, more than half of it dedicated to law 
enforcement and treatment.

In a bid to sway skeptical voters, I-502 would continue to ban pot 
possession for people under the age of 21 and set a new standard for 
driving while stoned, based on saliva tests for recently consumed THC.

Questions about the science behind that test, as well as the 
mechanics of the state regulation, drove Vivian McPeak, co-founder of 
Hempfest, to oppose I-502.

"I cannot, in good conscience, support New Approach Washington," he 
said this week.

Alison Holcomb, campaign director of New Approach, acknowledged the 
infighting, but said compromise is necessary to woo undecided voters 
toward a huge shift in social policy.

"When you're making big changes, you need to take incremental steps," she said.

Despite headwind from activists, New Approach appears to be 
succeeding where previous legalization campaigns failed. With more 
than $1 million in donations, the campaign hired fleets of paid 

Holcomb said the campaign is confident they'll get the required 
241,000 signatures and give voters a choice on legalization for the first time.

Differing approaches

Marijuana legalization has kicked around Olympia since at least 1971, 
when a Seattle Democrat named Michael Ross introduced a bill 
described in The Seattle Times as likely the first in the nation. It 
died in committee.

There was a follow-up effort in 1977, with the state House passing a 
bill decriminalizing small amounts, but it too died. Two years later, 
Gov. Dixy Lee Ray signed a bill allowing a small experimental 
medical-marijuana research project that died after two years. A full 
medical-marijuana law was passed by voters in 1998.

Legalization efforts in Washington, and elsewhere, often have aimed 
to simply decriminalize cannabis, rather than tax and regulate it, in 
part to avoid the threat of federal pre-emption.

That was the approach of the 2010 campaign by Sensible Washington, 
which fell short in signature gathering.

Key people involved in that campaign, including Seattle attorneys 
Doug Hiatt and Jeffrey Steinborn, have come out against New Approach.

Rivalries among activists are common, but Steve Fox of the Marijuana 
Policy Project, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., said "those 
end up fading over time" in the pursuit of common goals.

Fox said failed campaigns in other states, including in California in 
2010, have shown that legalization needs to be pushed during 
presidential elections when young voters turn out. And proposals to 
tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol - as I-502 does - are the 
best approach, he said.

"If you're going to pass a ballot-initiative measure and need 51 
percent, you need to propose policies that the middle segment of the 
electorate will be comfortable with," said Fox.

"It's about time"

Bill Clapp is not among the usual suspects of marijuana advocacy. His 
great-grandfather was a co-founder of Weyerhaeuser, and his father 
was chairman and president. Clapp himself is active in advocating 
microcredit lending in developing countries.

Clapp has never supported legalization efforts, but he donated 
$25,000 to New Approach in September after seeing the human toll of 
the drug war in Central America. "What we've been doing isn't 
working," Clapp said this week.

He, like other unconventional supporters, said he heard no criticism 
for signing on.

"Everyone in my circle has been very positive and the usual reaction 
is, 'It's about time,' " said Sal Mungia, partner in the law firm 
Gordon Thomas Honeywell and past president of the Washington State 
Bar Association.

Roger Roffman, a retired University of Washington professor, said New 
Approach is drawing different supporters in part because of 
endorsement from Rick Steves, the Edmonds-based travel guru, and 
McKay, former U.S. attorney in Seattle, the highest-ranking 
law-enforcement officer in the country to come out in favor of legalization.

But Roffman, who spent decades studying interventions for marijuana 
dependence, also credits aging baby boomers "who got through the 
teenage years with exposure to marijuana and came to see it as 
something that is possible to experience without it being devastating 
in its impact."

The Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs will consider 
taking a position on I-502 at its fall conference. Don Pierce, the 
group's executive director, said cops have been opposed in the past 
"based upon the absolute certainty that use will rise."

But the group has invited McKay to speak at the conference. "We don't 
think we're missing something, but we're willing to listen," Pierce said.

DUI controversy

Some legalization advocates, however, have heard enough.

They are primarily concerned about the impact on authorized 
medical-marijuana patients of the DUI provision, which defines 
impairment as 5 nanograms of active THC in the bloodstream based on 
2005 research. Although I-502 specifically does not pre-empt the 
state medical-marijuana law, activists believe the DUI provision 
would apply to existing patients.

Dr. Gil Mobley, who runs a Federal Way clinic catering to 
medical-marijuana patients, said he recently tested several patients 
and found they passed cognitive tests even with THC concentrations of 
up to 47 nanograms. Nearly four hours after medicating, one patient 
still tested at 6 nanograms.

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

Nora Callahan, who has campaigned for drug-law reform since 1997, 
said she supports regulating legalized marijuana, but says I-502 
would be "continuing prohibition."

"We want a law for the people. I don't know if this law cuts it," 
said Callahan, co-founder of the November Coalition, an advocacy 
group based in Colville, Stevens County.

"But we know there is money behind it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom