Initiative I-502 to Legalize Marijuana, by New Approach Washington

When Proposition 19 was rejected by the voters of California in 2010, I figured that would pretty much mean the end of any legalization initiatives in Washington.  However, a group called New Approach Washington was created, and they are now gathering signatures for a legalization initiative for the November ballot in 2012.  The group is challenging the assumption that California is the only testing ground for such proposals.  How can this possibly pass in Washington?  The groups campaign director, attorney Alison Holcomb pretty much explained her thinking recently at Hempfest in Seattle.  (See video below) She explains that there is polling data that supports the idea that such an initiative could win.  “We are in this amazing moment of opportunity and also precariousness – there is no state (other than Washington) in the country that has a 55% …percent majority support for legalizing marijuana.”  The problem that happened in California, Holcomb explains, is that right before the election, voters started to get scared by concerns like “stoned drivers”, and that moderate voters like centrist democrats, independents, and college-educated women, got nervous and abandoned their support.  Holcomb explains:  “With I-502 we spent a lot of time figuring out the most conservative, safe, secure sounding, marijuana legalization initiative that we can draft, and that will get us closest to what our public opinion data tells us people will hang on to and pass.”  Her vision is that once we get such an initiative passed, that voters nationwide will “see that the sky doesn’t fall” and it will snowball to broader legalization and reforms throughout the U.S.   Alison Holcomb explained:

We have to be as disciplined as possible, and pulling together, for example, the sponsers that signed on to it.  Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes, former US Attorney John McKay, Rick Steeves, two medical doctors, two former Washington state bar presidents, a Washington state legislator.  We need all the main stream messengers possible, because I think a legalization initiative  that looks like it is coming from the choir, that looks like it is coming from the usual suspects, has a much harder row to hoe then one that is coming from a former US attorney, for example.

Is it ironic that she explains the need to gather “mainstream messengers” when she is speaking at Hempfest?  I guess a little.  I did note that you can hear the psychedelic rock of the festival playing in the background as she speaks.

I-502 has some detractors.  Some question the proposed law’s provision that drivers (even medical patients) cannot driver a motor vehicle with a THC level over 5 nanograms per milliliter in their blood.  Others question why drivers under 21 would be defined as committing DUI if they have THC in their system in any amount over .000.  One such critic is Edward Agazarm, who started a Facebook page entitled Patients Against I-502.  He sent a press release out last week excoriating the sponsors of I-502.”  See article.  But Alison Holcomb fired back in the comment section of that article accusing Edward Agazarm of being disingenuous in his criticisms of I-502.  Agazarm is a professional signature-gatherer, and president of Citizen Solutions, Inc.   Holcomb explained that Agazarm called her and pitched his company (to collect signatures) after she held a press conference in June.  Holcomb writes: “When I told him we had already contracted with PCI Consultants, Inc., he insulted them and hung up on me. Now, Eddie’s spamming people with emails equating I-502 to rape.”  Agazarm isn’t the only critic.  Steve Elliot, a writer for Tokeofthetown.com also is very critical of the proposed law.

I guess the million-dollar question is whether the initiative will pass.  Can New Approach Washington gather enough moderate voters to off-set the critics?  We will have to see.

One of my disappointments in observing the marijuana reform movement over the last 10 years is how egos and dollar signs seem to damage any real chance of reform.  If I had the energy to collect 100,000 signatures, I would first seek a simple initiative removing the mandatory 24-hour jail time for all marijuana.  I blogged about this here last year. As a practicing criminal defense lawyer, I do have concerns about I-502.  I do worry that a driver under 21 could be convicted for DUI even for trace amounts of marijuana in his or her system.  I also don’t believe that all drivers would necessarily be impaired at .05 nanograms per milliliter, as I addressed here.   I do believe that the law would likely contribute to patient harassment, and an increase in unwarranted marijuana DUI charges.  The “probable cause” that an officer would have to establish an arrest for marijuana DUI is often based on subjective and spurious observations, such as the “green tongue” phenomenon.  I am already seeing an increase in marijuana DUI charges in my practice.  The problem with enforcement with these new laws isn’t going to be in King County; the problem will be greatest in the hick towns of eastern Washington (where I live and practice law).  In these towns the judges are often hostile to even medical marijuana, and the jury pools are conservative.  The prosecutors are less susceptible to public pressure and bad publicity, and  the defense lawyers often lack the specialized training and resources to defend such charges.

What do you think?  Will you be signing the petition for I-502?  Is it worth the restrictions on driving to get a marijuana reform law passed?  Does I-502 ask for too much of a sacrifice from medical cannabis patients?  Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

 

2 Responses to “Initiative I-502 to Legalize Marijuana, by New Approach Washington”

  • Chuck Giger:

    I strongly believe the law should be passed. However, I do not agree with the DUI restrictions. Marijuana stays in the system for a long time. You could have smoked at home several days back and it would still be in your system say, 3 or 4 days later. I have a medical marijuana card even though I rarely smoke, but I could have to smoke for my pain or to help me sleep and go for a ride a week later. I f I am pulled over, I would probably have the THC in my system. Should I get a DUI for that, I don’t think so. And how would they test for THC?
    Again, I strongly agree with the initiative, but not the DUI laws proposed. The income from legalizing marijuana would bring in millions if not billions of dollars to the state.

  • It sure will be interesting to see what happens if I-502 passes. Thanks for visiting my blog Chuck.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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