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Tacoma: Cannabis measure on verge of qualifying for November ballot

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on July 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
July 5, 2011 6:01 pm

With three days to go and some 114 petitions left to count, a proposed initiative that seeks to minimize enforcement of marijuana-related offenses in Tacoma appears headed for the November ballot.

Tacoma Initiative No. 1 still needs 352 valid  signatures to reach a 3,858-signature goal by July 8,  the Pierce County Auditor’s office reported at close of business Tuesday.

But initiative supporters, who turned in more than 1,500 additional signatures on Tuesday,  are confident they’ve already achieved the goal.

“This is a great day to be living in the City of Tacoma,” said Sherry Bockwinkel, a veteran signature gatherer who is a key volunteer for the campaign.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Pierce County elections officials had actually deemed more signatures as disqualified than valid from the stacks of petitions so far turned in by the pro-cannabis campaign.  In all, 4,594 signatures were thrown out, compared to 3,503 ruled valid.

More than 2,700 were disqualified because the people who signed them were not registered voters.  Another 1,224 were deemed invalid because those signing live in a voting district outside of Tacoma.

Other reasons for disqualification included signatures that were duplicates (318) , illegible (284),  printed instead of signed (42), or could not be matched to past signatures (42) or addresses (9) on file.  One signature was disqualified because the signer did not previously have a signature on file as a point of comparison; while another signature came from a  felon who is ineligible to vote,  the auditor’s office reported.

Still, with 114 petitions — each containing as many as 20 signatures — still to be checked, the numbers appear to be tilting in the campaign’s favor.  The auditor’s office will resume validation checks on Wednesday.

To qualify the measure for the city’s Nov. 8 ballot, supporters  must submit 3,858 valid signatures by July 8.  That number of signatures is “equal to 10 percent of the votes cast in the last mayoral election” — the requirement for qualifying citizen initiatives under the city’s charter.

Late last month, owners of two medical marijuana dispensaries submited 343 petitions containing thousands of signatures to the city clerk’s office, which in turn transferred them to the auditor’s office for validation. Meanwhile, supporters of the measure have continued to gather signatures and plan to submit more before Friday’s deadline.

Modeled after a 2003 Seattle law, Initiative No. 1 is aimed at making cannabis-related offenses “the lowest enforcement priority of the City of Tacoma.”

Even as they’ve pursued qualifying the measure for the ballot, supporters have hoped the City Council will approve Initiative No. 1 as an ordinance before then.  With the fate of 30 medical marijuana dispensaries in Tacoma now in limbo, city policymakers have twice delayed weighing in on the issue.

In hopes that this year’s Legislature would clarify Washington’s 1999 medical-marijuana law, the city postponed lingering appeals hearings for the dispensaries, which face losing city business licenses after a crackdown started last year that included one police raid and dozens of cease-and-desist letters.

State lawmakers did pass a measure this year calling for state-licensed dispensaries, but Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of it. Instead, the law she signed leaves dispensary regulation up to local jurisdictions.

The law takes effect July 22. A city conference call regarding the dispensaries’ license cases is set for July 25.

In the meantime, city staff members are reviewing the issue, but no proposal is set to go before the council, city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff said Tuesday.

“We hope to meet with some city council members next week to ask for a 6 month extension to Mayor (Marilyn) Strickland‘s last October promise not to shut down the coops,” Bockwinkel said.

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