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Crusade to legalize pot — medical or not


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Efforts to explicitly allow the sale of marijuana — whether medical or recreational — have so far failed to make it out of Olympia. Voters statewide might just have the final word.

A measure to make Washington the first state to legalize marijuana is trying to reach the ballot this year. A potentially bigger, better-funded campaign is on the horizon for next year.

"We're very interested in the possibility of something being on the ballot in 2012," said Alison Holcomb, drug policy director for the state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter, which is talking to potential supporters in Washington and elsewhere.

This year's Initiative 1149 would seek to legalize pot for adults 18 and older if it reaches the statewide ballot for the November election. Volunteers are passing petitions around but had tallied just 17,093 between March 18 and last week.

Organizers need 241,000 valid signatures and are hoping for warmer weather that would make it easier to find signers. They also hope for a warmer reception from donors.

The group raised $18,600 between December and March and spent most of it. It was enough to pay for printing and mailing petitions but not enough to hire professional signature gatherers.

"Somebody with a big checkbook could simply pay us onto the ballot," said I-1149 co-author Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle attorney. "That would be super, but right now we're doing it the hard way."

The ACLU has political and policy objections to I-1149: It's being tried in a year when turnout could be relatively low, and it legalizes marijuana while leaving regulation of the drug up to the Legislature.

The lack of regulations "poses a big problem with voter comfort," Holcomb said. If lawmakers can't agree on rules, she added: "Then we have an unprecedented Wild West."

The 2012 initiative is still in its early stages but would include regulations.

Holcomb said the younger voters who could turn out in support of President Barack Obama's re-election would support legalization.

"Obviously among those people in the movement nationally that tend to fund these sort of efforts, they believe there is historically a precedent that you have a greater likelihood of success with these sort of measures when they appear on the ballot in presidential election years," said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws,

A 2012 effort could also benefit from a multi-state approach. Supporters of legalizing marijuana are trying to get measures onto the California and Colorado ballots next year.

Last year, voters rejected a legalization measure in California.

Coalitions are reviewing draft proposals in California and Colorado, while there's "very preliminary talk" about a similar one in Washington, Armentano said.

First, the Legislature may be asked again next year to consider legalization, he said.

But legalization proposals by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, never gained any traction in 2010 or again this year.

And the separate proposal to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries couldn't get the most important signature it needed: Gregoire's.

It's unclear how much the high-profile debate over the laws for patients will affect the drive for outright legalization.

There's plenty of overlap in supporters of both.

Frank Colletti was once a recreational user of marijuana but now uses it much more frequently as medicine. The drug eases the nausea and vomiting caused by his gastroparesis, a complication of diabetes, he said.

Colletti, a 28-year-old East Side Tacoma resident, said medical use of the drug "changed my life," but he figures everyone can benefit from it, patient or not. "The No. 1 killer in America right now is stress," he said, "and if people don't do something to alleviate that stress and unwind, they can die from it."

Advocates said the logjam over the patient bill in Olympia shows it's up to the voters.

"We think that it illustrates why the people of the state need to establish the laws," Sensible Washington spokesman Lee Rosenberg said, "because our politicians really aren't capable of standing up to the feds."

Read more: Crusade to legalize pot – medical or not | Government / Politics - The News Tribune
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