Many local and national issues await our decision on November 6. One of those guaranteed to resonate on many levels is Initiative 502, the measure to legalize marijuana. Its controversial presence on the ballot may be the final lap for legalization- but what a long and strange trip it has been.
Forget about jobs and the economy; that bitter and acrimonious debate is as full of rhetoric as it is never-ending. For shocking surprises, surreal parallels and unholy relationships, no issue has more political drama than the pre-election flap over legalized pot.
If the road up to this point has been full of bizarre twists, the folks down in Olympia are largely to blame. For years our state legislators have spun a confusing web of laws, based on varying public opinion regarding marijuana. The disparate agendas have created a legal free-for-all for medical patients, casual users, municipalities and law enforcement. Our current marijuana statute, courtesy of our political proxy in Olympia, is a confusing and untenable mess.
Say what you want about I-502, but at least it puts the decision into the hands of the voting public, where it should have been all along. With the election looming, let’s take a look at some of the people behind both the opposing campaigns.
In the “Yes” camp are the doctors, attorneys, patients and groups who have a vested interest in making medical marijuana a simple and easily accessed product. There are also the long term legalization advocates, such as PBS’ Rick Steves (America’s khaki-wearing European travel guru) who gave $450,000 to the “Yes on I-502″ campaign. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition,an advocacy group with police ties, has supported the initiative, along with politicians like State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate..
On the opposing side are a much larger bloc of politicians (most running for office), including gubernatorial candidates Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee. Local law enforcement agencies, at least those with the temerity to speak on the record, arre opposed to I-502, as arre several federal law enforcement officials who sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, requesting a firm denouncement of I-502’s placement on Washington’s ballot (similar measures are also up for a vote in Oregon and Colorado).
All of the aforementioned opposition have been exceptionally quiet, however, leaving the heavy-lifting to a few individuals. One is a former narcotics detective (whom I knew twenty years ago) named Pat Slack. Though his name sounds like a character from a Cheech and Chong movie, Slack is the head of the Snohomish County Drug Task Force, a position which gives him a degree of credibility as an opponent. The only “No” voices loudly joining his are recreational marijuana users who don’t like I-502’s restrictions because they are – how would one put it? – restrictive.
It is the only initiative where individuals from the same campaign may have met on the opposite sides of handcuffs. Irony, thy name is I-502.
Should this initiative pass, the biggest question mark will be the reaction from the federal government. Would the Department of Justice immediately start raiding mom and pop grow-ops?; Would it block federal grant money?; Or would it exert pressure on our uppity state by filing an injunction against I-502’s passage? Given the current lack of communication from D.C., “Yes,” “Maybe” and “No” would all reasonable answers to these questions.
Time is ticking away and November 6 is fast approaching. When it arrives we will know if Washington will become the first state to legalize marijuana (and cross constitutional swords with the feds), or whether advocates will be heading back to the drawing board. Either way, it will be interesting to see if the strange bedfellows, who have made an unnatural peace in their respective “Yes” and “No” camps, will drift away, never to see each other again.
What a long, strange trip it has been.