Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Washington pushing to legalize Marijuana

SEATTLE (AP) - Five activists filed a ballot initiative Monday that
would legalize all adult marijuana possession, manufacturing and sales
under Washington state law - one of the most sweeping efforts at
marijuana reform playing out around the country this year.

Its sponsors include two Seattle lawyers and the director of Seattle's
annual Hempfest. They call themselves Sensible Washington, and say that
in a time of dire budget woes, the state's government should stop
spending money on police, court and jail costs for people who use or
produce marijuana.

Douglas Hiatt, a lawyer who represents medical marijuana patients, told
The Associated Press the proposal would remove all state criminal
penalties for adults who possess, grow and distribute pot - no matter
how much. Criminal penalties for juveniles who possess marijuana and for
those who provide the drug to juveniles would remain in place.

Driving under the influence of the drug also would still be against the
law. And marijuana would remain illegal under federal law.

"It basically tells the federal government, 'Hey it's your prohibition -
if you want it, you pay for it,"' Hiatt said. "We're tired of screwing
around and wasting all this dough."

Volunteers are lining up to collect the more than 241,000 signatures
required to place the initiative on the November ballot, Hiatt said.

The campaign has competition in Washington. One bill introduced here
would legalize and regulate marijuana, while another would decriminalize
possession of small amounts of pot, making it punishable by a fine
rather than jail time.

Legalization bills have also been introduced in California,
Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Nevada, and a group campaigning to
place a marijuana legalization measure before California voters said
last month that it has enough signatures to qualify for this year's

Alison Holcomb, drug policy director at the American Civil Liberties
Union of Washington, which is lobbying for the decriminalization bill,
said she supports any effort to engage the public in discussing
marijuana law reform, but she couldn't comment specifically on the
initiative without reading it.

"If there were decriminalization of transfers of small amounts of
marijuana not for profit, that might be one way to undermine the
cartels' bottom line," she said. "But I think the push-back would be,
are you just giving the gangsters a get-out-of-jail-free card in
Washington state? Are you setting up incentives for criminal elements to
come here and set up shop?"

Hiatt disputed that notion, saying the drug flourishes on the black
market only because it is illegal. Furthermore, federal agents wouldn't
stand for large-scale marijuana trafficking, he said.

He cited one recent study suggesting Washington could save tens of
millions of dollars a year on law enforcement costs if marijuana was

Hiatt said he was inspired to file the initiative in part by a recent
conversation with Mason County prosecutor Gary Burleson, who told him to
"put your money where your mouth is" and get an initiative before

In an interview Monday, Burleson said he doesn't necessarily support
legalizing marijuana - and certainly not in the unlimited, unregulated
way the initiative proposes. But he said he's frustrated with
Washington's complicated medical marijuana law, which authorizes
patients to possess marijuana but is vague about how they can obtain it.

"Wouldn't legalizing this answer a whole lot of questions?" he said.
"Aren't we just beating around the edges with all of these legal

"I don't have a problem with marijuana being legal, and I don't have a
problem with it being illegal," Burleson said. "But right now, I have a
big problem understanding what's legal and what's not."

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