|If you live in Washington, you may get a chance to vote on legalizing marijuana this November.|
Five marijuana activists have filed a ballot initiative that would legalize adult cannabis possession in Washington state.
Its sponsors include two Seattle lawyers as well as Vivian McPeak, director of the annual Seattle Hempfest, probably the largest marijuana gathering on the planet.
The group, calling itself Sensible Washington, said it is time that Washington’s state government stop wasting tax money on police, court and jail costs for people who use or grow marijuana.
Douglas Hiatt, a lawyer who represents medical marijuana patients, told The Associated Press after filing the initiative Monday that the bill would remove all state penalties for adult possession of marijuana.
|Photo: Douglas Hiatt|
|Activist/attorney Douglas Hiatt: “Volunteers are lining up”|
According to Hiatt, “volunteers are lining up” to collect the more than 241,000 valid signatures required to place the initiative on November’s ballot in Washington.
“It’s time for a bold move, Hiatt said. “The state legislature has proven year after year that it cannot and will not protect the rights of medical marijuana patients and the rights of average citizens who use marijuana recreationally and responsibly. So it is now time to put the question of marijuana legal reform directly to the voters.”
Hiatt added that Washington has had a voter-approved medical marijuana law since 1998, and yet hundreds of patients a year in the state run afoul of law enforcement, have property seized and their lives disrupted, even while they are following the law.
|Photo: Joe Mabel|
|Vivian McPeak: “The citizens of this state deserve a better policy”|
In his first public comments on the subject, initiative co-sponsor Vivian McPeak told Toke of the Town that Washington’s marijuana laws, as they are currently stand, simply make no sense.
“There were 630,000 annual marijuana users in Washington during 2007, of which 397,000 reported marijuana use in the past month,” McPeak said Monday night. “Washington State’s current marijuana laws would seek to make criminals out of each and every one of those citizens, despite the fact that there is no empirical data to demonstrate that they pose any kind of threat to themselves or to the other citizens of this state.”
”We crafted this initiative because the citizens of this state deserve a better policy, one that looks after the state’s best interests,” McPeak told Toke of the Town. “Diverting precious law enforcement resources in order to lock up marijuana users is an irresponsible use of taxpayer money which could be better spent targeting violent offenders, and on harm-reduction education and awareness.”
Not to be overlooked, according to McPeak, are the clear and immediate economic benefits of legalization. “In this economic downturn Washington State needs the unrealized revenue that could be gained through the taxation and regulation of marijuana and from statewide production of industrial hemp,” Vivian told us.
“This initiative paves the way for that kind of sensible legislation by taking us back to the drawing board and undoing these current well-intended but counterproductive policies,” McPeak said.
“Washington State’s marijuana laws are fixing a problem that doesn’t exist and the process is denying citizens precious civil liberties,” McPeak said. “This initiative is an effort to fix that.”
Approval of the initiative, according to Sensible Washington, would force the Legislature to enact “sensible regulation” of marijuana during its 2011 session.
“Everybody knows it’s a stupid law,” said Jeffrey Steinborn, a Seattle attorney specializing in marijuana cases. “This is a simple straightforward solution.”
Other authors of the initiative include Ric Smith, a longtime medical marijuana patient and activist from Seattle; and Philip Dawdy, a Seattle journalist and former Seattle Weekly reporter.
Criminal penalties for juvenile possession and for providing the drug to juveniles would remain in place, according to AP.
Marijuana would also remain illegal under federal drug laws.
Sensible Washington said it hopes to have the initiative approved for petition circulation by March 1. Under Washington law, the group would have until early July to collect 241,153 valid signatures from registered voters.
How To Help
Contributions to help with the work of gathering signatures may be sent to:
3161 Elliott Avenue, Suite 340
Seattle, WA 98121
Make checks payable to Sensible Washington.