Pubdate: Sat, 31 Dec 2011
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2011 The Denver Post Corp
Author: Rachel La Corte


OLYMPIA,Wash.-Backers of an effort to legalize and regulate recreational
marijuana use in Washington state submitted more than 340,000
signatures to try to qualify their initiative on Thursday, a move
protested by some legalization supporters who say the proposal harms
medical marijuana patients. About a dozen protesters carried signs
that read "Legalize, not penalize," and shouted as members of New
Approach turned in signatures for Initiative 502 to the

"New Approach, telling lies, we don't want your DUIs," the protesters
chanted, occasionally interrupting the supporters' efforts to speak to

The protesters took issue with an element of the initiative that would
make it illegal for a motorist to have more than 5 nanograms of THC
per milliliter of blood in their system. THC is the active ingredient
of cannabis.

They argued that medical marijuana patients' levels vary depending on
the body's tolerance, putting them at greater risk of arrest.

I-502 would create a system of state-licensed growers, processors and
stores, and impose a 25 percent excise tax at each stage. Those 21 and
over could buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana; one pound of
marijuana-infused product in solid form, such as brownies; or 72
ounces of marijuana-infused liquids.

Alison Holcomb, the initiative's campaign director, said that it cost
about $1 million to collect the signatures. The campaign turned in
341,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office, and plan to
submit another 10,000 on Friday.

An initiative to the Legislature requires at least 241,153 valid
signatures of registered state voters to be certified, though the
secretary of state's office suggests at least 320,000 in case of any
duplicate or invalid signatures. Brian Zylstra, a spokesman for the
secretary of state, said it would take the state a few weeks to verify

Once the initiative goes to the Legislature, lawmakers have to take
action during the upcoming 60-day legislative session that begins Jan.
9 or the measure automatically goes to the November ballot. The
initiative has several high-profile sponsors, including former Seattle
U.S. Attorney John McKay and travel guide Rick Steves?.

Initiative supporter Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, called it a
common-sense initiative, but said, "I believe that my colleagues in
the Legislature, however, will punt and have the voters vote on it,
rather than them voting on it themselves."

Dickerson said that the ability to tax marijuana would bring the state
about $200 million a year in revenue.

Initiative opponent Don Skakie, of Renton, said the law proposed by
the initiative will be pre-empted by federal law, and that he would
rather see the state eliminate all state penalties tied to marijuana.
The drug remains illegal for any use under the federal government.

"When you eliminate penalties, there's no new law to conflict with
federal law," he said.

Washington state already has a voter-approved medical marijuana law
that gives doctors the right to recommend-but not prescribe-marijuana
for people suffering from cancer and other conditions that cause
"intractable pain."

Several patients protesting the petition submission Thursday said that
they feared their driving rights would be taken away and that they
planned to start their own initiative effort to counter I-502. Mimi
Meiwes, a registered nurse who uses medical marijuana for her
terminal-stage kidney disease, said that the impact on medical
marijuana patients would be "absolutely devastating."

"It will make it illegal for cannabis patients to drive a motor
vehicle in the state of Washington," she said. Meiwes said that there
is no normal THC level for medical marijuana patients, and that it
varies from patient to patient.

"As you increase those dosages, the body gets used to it, then you can
take higher doses and still function with absolutely no impairment,"
she said.

Meiwes said that she and other opponents are considering collecting
signatures for their own initiative to counter I-502.

Washington isn't the only state considering marijuana legalization.
Colorado will vote next year if a similar measure there makes the
ballot. Supporters there are expected to turn in signatures in the
coming weeks to qualify for the November ballot.
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D