Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lack of cash could snuff pot measure

SEATTLE — An effort to legalize marijuana for adults in Washington
is in danger of not making the ballot this year, after support from the
state's progressive establishment failed to materialize.

Initiative 1068 would remove all state penalties for marijuana
possession, cultivation, use and sale. It's one of the most sweeping
marijuana reform efforts playing out around the country this year, and
polls have suggested it would pass — if it makes the ballot.

Campaign chairman Douglas Hiatt on Monday told The Associated Press more
than 100,000 people have signed a petition to get the initiative on the
ballot. The group needs 241,000 signatures by July 2.

The campaign can't afford to hire paid signature gatherers, and has
recently been counting on financial support from the Service Employees
International Union — a big player in liberal politics.

But Monday, the labor union said no such support would be forthcoming.

"It's really unfortunate, but you cannot do this without
money," Hiatt said when the AP informed him of the SEIU's
decision. "I never intended I-1068 to be an all-volunteer effort.
We'll make a decision in a couple days about whether we're going
to go forward."

Hiatt and a few other activists filed the initiative with the Secretary
of State's Office in January, calling their group Sensible
Washington. They argued that in a time of dire budget woes, the
state's government should stop spending millions of dollars a year
on police, court and jail costs for people who use or produce marijuana.

But they failed to line up establishment support in advance, and the
state Democratic Party declined to contribute to the effort.

"There's a lot of support for this within the party, but
it's just not a high priority," state party chairman Dwight Pelz
said Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington also declined to
endorse the initiative, saying it supports marijuana legalization but
thinks legalizing the drug without providing a regulatory framework
governing its cultivation and distribution is irresponsible.

The campaign responded by saying that since initiatives can cover only
one subject in Washington, there was no way to both remove criminal
penalties and create a regulatory system.

The Legislature would rush to regulate marijuana if the initiative
passed, supporters argued.

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