Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pot fight

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2012 at 4:20 PM

The only thing that could stop the outright legalization of marijuana in Washington state is the medical marijuana industry. Yes, you read that correctly.

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In a new story titled "Pot Activists vs. Pot Activists" by The Stranger's Dominic Holden, he outlines the paradoxical circumstances at play in Washington's very passable Initiative 502. The initiative, which will appear on the November ballot, calls for marijuana laws to basically mimic alcohol's — legal to those 21 and over, taxed, sold over the counter, etc. One poll shows 57% in favor of it. Here's how Holden describes I-502's political momentum:

In nearly all respects—from setting specific new penalties for driving while intoxicated to placing excise taxes at each stage of production—I-502 copies the template we use for alcohol. And unlike other failed pot initiatives that have come before, heralded by pot activists with little money, this campaign has national funding and a credible phalanx of backers. The initiative's sponsor, New Approach Washington, has raised more than $1.1 million thus far and is led by former US Attorney John McKay, Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes, travel icon Rick Steves, and former health department officials and bar association presidents. The campaign is managed by ACLU of Washington's Alison Holcomb, a former marijuana defense attorney, and it has the financing of out-of-state billionaires George Soros and Peter Lewis.

The only thing currently standing in the way: the medical marijuana community. I-502 doesn't touch Washington's medical marijuana law, but still doctors, caregivers and patients believe it will muck up an already sensitive issue. They've organized campaigns against the initiative.

Even though I-502 doesn't meddle in the medical pot law passed by voters in 1998, the booming medical marijuana industry that's grown up around the medical marijuana rules as they currently exist has a lot of complaints about I-502: that federal courts will strike down parts of it and leave a legal mess, that the initiative's 25 percent excise taxes at each stage of production would be too high, and—again, even though it leaves the medical marijuana law intact—that it will "potentially interfere with a patient's right to grow their own medicine," according to a flyer distributed by THC List, a website that runs ads for 140 local medical marijuana dispensaries. But more than anything, the No on I-502 activists are deeply concerned that a DUI provision in I-502 will penalize medical marijuana patients who drive with active THC in their blood, even a day or a week after the last time they got high.

There's plenty more to the story, and Holden slogs through it, but he ultimately lands on the conclusion that I-502 has more positives than negatives, and should pass. That would put our neighbors to the west at the forefront of the national movement to end pot prohibition.

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