Although several bills seeking to legalize pot went up in smoke this legislative session, supporters of a similar citizens’ initiative are moving ahead to bring their measure before voters on November’s ballot.
Calling their campaign “Sensible Washington,” backers of Initiative 1068 issued a press release today announcing they’ve cleared the statutory hurdles to set the wording for a marijuana decriminalization measure and plan to soon start gathering signatures to qualify the initiative for this year’s general election.
(Dan Sytman, a spokesman for state Attorney General Rob McKenna, confirmed today the AG’s office issued a ballot title and summary for the initiative on Feb. 10. But Sytman noted the period for any voter to file an appeal of the ballot language doesn’t actually expire until the end of the day tomorrow).
“It’s clear that the Legislature has failed to deal with this issue once again,” the I-1068 press release quotes initiative co-author and Seattle attorney Doug Hiatt, as saying. “We’re in the middle of a severe budget crisis in Olympia and yet the Legislature can’t get it together to stop wasting tens of millions of dollars a year on arresting, prosecuting and jailing regular citizens for marijuana possession. That’s ridiculous.”
(We previously blogged about one of this year’s unsuccessful legislative bills, HB 2401, headed by Seattle Democrat and Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson.)
If I-1068 makes it to the ballot and wins voter approval, it “would remove state civil and criminal penalties for persons eighteen years or older who cultivate, possess, transport, sell, or use marijuana,” according to the measure’s summary. “Restrictions and penalties for persons under eighteen would be retained.”
The measure’s co-authors include Hiatt, a crusading lawyer for medical marijuana issues; Seattle Hempfest founder Vivian McPeak; longtime medical marijuana patient and Cannabis Defense Coalition spokesman Ric Smith; Seattle attorney Jeffrey Steinborn and former Seattle Weekly scribe/mental health issues muckraker Philip Dawdy.
Dawdy told me today that he and Hiatt hatched the idea for the initiative while watching the Rose Bowl this year (While at the Weekly, Dawdy wrote about Hiatt’s legal crusades for medical marijuana patients in this 2006 piece). Now pals, the two were discussing the various then-active legislative bills. Dawdy said he told Hiatt he doubted that even if any of the proposals made it through the statehouse that former AG-turned-Gov. Chris Gregoire would sign a pot decriminalization bill into law.
“What we really need to do is take this straight to the voters,” Dawdy recalled telling Hiatt. And the all-volunteer initiative campaign was born.
I-1068 supporters will need to collect 241,153 valid signatures by July 2, 2010 to get the measure on the November ballot. But just to be safe, campaigners will aim to deliver more than that — about 320,000 signatures — to the Secretary of State’s office by the deadline, Dawdy said. He added he doesn’t think signature-gathering will be a problem.
“The polling on (marijuana legalization in Washington) is good,” said Dawdy, noting that recent ACLU and KING TV/SurveyUSA polls have voters easily favoring pot-decriminalization in this state. “I think we’re grabbing onto this issue at the right place at the right time. There’s a lot of public sentiment for this, both in terms of polling and with people’s enthusiasm. ”
The I-1068 camp plans to hold a press conference tomorrow afternoon in Seattle.