Former U.S. Attorney Sponsors Marijuana Legalization Drive


Photo: Mike Siegel/Seattle Times
Former U.S. Attorney John McKay is sponsoring a drive to legalize marijuana for adults in Washington state.

​Marc Emery’s Prosecutor Switches Sides; Joins ACLU, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, and TV Host Rick Steves in Backing Inititiave

The former U.S. Attorney for Seattle who prosecuted “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery said Tuesday that he is sponsoring an initiative to legalize and tax marijuana in Washington state. John McKay, who spent five years enforcing federal drug laws, said he hoped the measure would help “shame Congress” into ending cannabis prohibition nationwide.

McKay, who was fired by the Bush Administration in early 2007, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the laws criminalizing marijuana are destructive because they create a black market fueling international drug cartels and crime rings, reports Gene Johnson.
“That’s what drives my concern: The black market fuels the cartels, and that’s what allows them to buy the guns they use to kill people,” McKay told the AP. “A lot of Americans smoke pot and they’re willing to pay for it. I think prohibition is a dumb policy, and there are a lot of line federal prosecutors who share the view that the policy is suspect.”

Travel host Rick Steves joints former U.S. Attorney John McKay in backing the legalization initiative.

​McKay is joined by Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, TV travel host/writer and marijuana activist Rick Steves, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington in backing an initiative to the Legislature that would regulate the recreational use of cannabis similarly to how the state treats alcohol.
The measure would legalize marijuana for people over 21, authorize the state Liquor Control Board to regulate and tax it for sale in “standalone stores” (an important point to many cannabis consumers who don’t want to frequent liquor stores), and extend driving-under-the-influence laws to marijuana, with blood tests to determine how much of pot’s active ingredient is in a driver’s blood (a possibly troublesome point, since THC blood levels don’t always correlate with impairment, especially with experienced and medicinal users).
Activists would have until the end of 2011 to gather more than 240,000 signatures to get the initiative before the Legislature. Lawmakers could, at that point, either approve it, or allow it to go to the ballot (the more likely outcome).
According to City Attorney Holmes, taxing marijuana would bring the state at least $215 million a year.
McKay told the AP that he had long considered marijuana prohibition a failed policy, but that as U.S. Attorney his job was to enforce federal law, and he “had no problem” doing so. One of the most famous defendants McKay prosecuted was Marc Emery, who fought extradition to the United States after his 2005 arrest, but ended up getting five years in federal prison for selling marijuana seeds to U.S. residents.
“This bill might not be perfect, but it’s a good step forward,” McKay said. “I think it will eventually shame Congress into action.”
Another legalization initiative, I-1149, is still gathering signatures in hopes of making the ballot this November, but some reports are that their all-volunteer effort is badly short of its signature goal.