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Teahouse Collective

Climate favorable for WA state ballot measure

By Alison Holcomb,
Director, New Approach Washington campaign

A new initiative to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in Washington state kicked off its signature-gathering drive at this year’s 20th annual Seattle Hempfest.

Initiative 502 (I-502) would legalize production, processing and retail distribution of cannabis to adults 21 and over through stand-alone, marijuana-only stores analogous to Washington’s current state-run liquor stores. However, the state would not own or operate these businesses. Instead, the state Liquor Control Board would adopt regulations and issue licenses, similarly to how some state departments of health license and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. Roughly 80% of a new excise tax would be earmarked for prevention, research, education, and healthcare. The rest, plus state and local retail sales taxes, would go to the state general fund and local budgets.

The I-502 sponsors are an impressive array of leaders: Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes; PBS travel correspondent Rick Steves; former US Attorney for the Western District of WA John McKay, a Republican Bush appointee; State Representative Mary Lou Dickerson; former director of the Spokane Regional Health District Kim Marie Thorburn, MD, MPH; clinical professor of medicine at the U of WA and former director of the HIV/AIDS Program of Public Health for Seattle and King County Robert Wood, MD, FAPC; immediate past president of the WA State Bar Assn. (WSBA) Salvador Mungia; WSBA past president Mark Johnson; and U of WA professor emeritus Roger Roffman, DSW, of the School of Social Work and director of its Innovative Programs Research Group.

The measure would not end the ban on home growing for non-medical use, but it would not change Washington’s medical marijuana law. Qualifying patients and their designated providers still would be allowed to grow private, non-commercial gardens. The initiative also decriminalizes industrial hemp under Washington state law by changing the definition of marijuana to apply only to cannabis containing greater than 0.3% THC concentration.

New Approach Washington, the political action committee behind I-502, has until Dec. 30 to gather 241,153 signatures to qualify for the ballot. Once they are filed, the initiative will go to the legislature for consideration during its 2012 session, beginning Jan. 9. If the legislature takes no action, the proposal goes before the voters in the November 2012 general election.

Polling of WA voters shows a small majority of support for the proposal and a margin over opposition greater than 10 points. The initiative has been crafted to shore up soft support and give voters the comfort they need to pass I-502 in 2012. Until then, New Approach will focus on a strategic public education campaign to reassure Washington’s majority that they are right – it is time to take the first step in a new direction on marijuana policy.

For more information, visit NewApproachWA.org.

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