Ironies and Omissions: Setting The Record Straight About I-502


Joe Mabel
The medical marijuana industry in Washington state does not oppose legalization in the wholesale manner in which Dominic Holden, above, claims they do; they merely object to many of I-502’s provisions

By Philip Dawdy
Special to Toke of the Town
The road to cannabis legalization is certainly proving to be an odd one in Washington State, filled with so many ironies that I’ve lost count. Here comes another set of ironies.
On April 13th, the New York Times published an op-ed by Dominic Holden, “news” editor of The Stranger. Its contents prompted me to send the following letter to the editor, which the paper decided wasn’t important enough to share with its readers. In my opinion, Holden has been writing about I-502 in a way that is both deceptive and journalistically unprofessional.
Here’s what I sent the Times:
In journalism school, I was taught that journalists should strive to avoid conflicts of interest and should always reveal them in instances where they cannot be avoided. Interesting then that in his “Smokeless in Seattle” opinion piece on April 13 in which he lambasted the medical marijuana industry for opposing a legalization initiative in Washington State, Dominic Holden did not inform readers that he used to be an employee of the ACLU of Washington.

The ACLU of Washington is the prime backer of I-502, but has actively opposed earlier legalization initiatives in Washington. In 2010, when a group called Sensible Washington circulated an earlier legalization initiative it was supported by the medical marijuana industry, which was still in its infancy here, and by many medical marijuana patients in Washington State. But that initiative, which I co-authored, was actively opposed by the ACLU of Washington, which killed off Sensible Washington’s ability to raise money to get it on the ballot that year.

Philip Dawdy
Philip Dawdy authored this guest opinion piece for Toke of the Town. 

I know this because I was the group’s co-founder and campaign director at the time. Readers of the Times should know that the medical marijuana industry in this state does not oppose legalization in the wholesale manner in which Holden claims they do; they merely object to many of I-502’s provisions. Why Holden fails to make this point speaks to his undisclosed biases and lack of journalistic chops.
Speaking of biases, I’m involved in the medical marijuana industry and am neutral on 502. I favor legalization wholeheartedly but not the kind that potentially puts patients at risk of arrest. I’m also opposed to journalists who don’t reveal their conflicts of interest to editors and readers.
All of the above is true: Holden did work for the ACLU of Washington before he became a reporter and then a news editor at The Stranger. And, yes, the ACLU of Washington did actively oppose — or not support — I-1068 in 2010. That opposition effectively killed Sensible Washington’s ability to raise funds to get 1068 on the ballot that year, even though a very committed band of volunteers came within about 100,000 signatures of getting it on the ballot.
And, yes, the still nascent MMJ industry did support 1068, so Holden’s claims both in the Times and The Stranger that the MMJ industry is against legalization are nonsense and little more than sophomoric propaganda. Why the alleged paper of record wouldn’t think this kind of information might be of interest to its readers is far beyond me. As a journalist of 18 years’ experience, I find it embarrassing.
That’s not the only set of facts around the I-502 dust-up that Holden is withholding from readers. He continues to paint Dr. Gil Mobley, a physician in Federal Way, Washington, as a profiteering MMJ industry goon because Mobley has begun an active campaign against I-502. But Mobley hasn’t written medical cannabis authorizations since the middle of 2011, so he’s not part of the MMJ industry these days. And Holden knows this because, as Mobley told me yesterday, he told this to Holden directly a few weeks ago.
You all are welcome to sort out for yourselves why Holden might be playing games along these lines.
The marijuana legalization effort in Washington State is certainly party to some interesting ironies. It’s ironic that two years after 1068 kicked off the push for marijuana legalization in this state (along with a sell-pot-in-state-liquor-stores bill offered by State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson) that the ACLU of Washington has its own initiative headed for the November ballot and that there has been some really ugly blowback against I-502 — from legalization advocates, medical cannabis patients and, yes, many MMJ providers. (The Yes on 502 campaign is being run by New Approach Washington.)
It’s ironic that the ACLU was against legalization in 2010 but is now in favor of it. It’s ironic, too, that Holden didn’t call out the ACLU of Washington for opposing legalization in 2010 — he wrote about the conflict, but didn’t hammer on the ACLU anywhere near as hard as he’s been hammering on the MMJ community in the Times and The Stranger. In fact, Holden didn’t even criticize the ACLU for its opposition to 1068. You have to wonder why.
Want another irony, perfect for 4/20? In 2010, Sensible Washington had to drag NORML, kicking and screaming, into endorsing 1068 and, then, the group couldn’t be bothered to help publicize 1068’s existence — which would’ve been kind of helpful. But here we are two years later and NORML is enthusiastically promoting I-502. Go figure.
Have a happy, safe and non-ironic 4/20.
(For the sake of completeness, let me identify a few other conflicts I might have. I was once a staff writer at Seattle Weekly [its parent company, Village Voice Media, owns this website]. I was a co-founder of the (now-defunct) Washington Cannabis Association and was heavily involved in the creation of the medical cannabis bill that Gov. Christine Gregoire partially vetoed last year. I also was involved in other medical cannabis legislation, including a bill this year that failed to move out of the State Senate, under the umbrella of the Washington Alternative Medicine Alliance. I also work as a freelance writer for the 4Evergreen Group’s website and PDA magazine. 4Evergreen does medical cannabis authorizations. It has not taken a public position on I-502.)