APNewsBreak: Organizers say measure to legalize pot under Wash. law won’t qualify for ballot

By Gene Johnson, AP
Thursday, July 1, 2010

Organizers: Wash. legal pot measure won’t qualify

SEATTLE — An initiative to legalize marijuana for adults in Washington state will not qualify for the fall ballot, an organizer said Thursday.

Seattle medical marijuana attorney Douglas Hiatt told The Associated Press that the effort fell about 40,000 to 50,000 signatures short of the 241,000 that must be turned in by Friday. Hiatt said his group, Sensible Washington, will try again next year.

Initiative 1068 would have removed all state penalties for marijuana possession, cultivation, use and sale. It was one of the most sweeping marijuana reform efforts playing out around the country this year.

It was prompted in part by Hiatt’s frustration at seeing medical marijuana patients arrested in the state. Proponents also argued that in a time of severe budget woes, it would save the state millions of dollars a year in state law enforcement and prison costs.

The state Democratic Party endorsed it during its convention last weekend — too late to do the campaign much good, Hiatt said.

“We’ve been the little engine that could, and we didn’t,” he said.

The campaign was beset by problems from the beginning. Hiatt and other activists filed it on the spur of the moment in January, with scant support lined up from the state’s progressive establishment.

A printing error cut part of the initiative’s text and forced the recall of many of the petitions it first issued, and eight banks refused to handle the campaign’s online contributions because of its association with marijuana, Hiatt said.

Eventually, a Bank of America branch agreed to handle the campaign donations, and a team of campaign volunteers wrote software code for securely processing the transactions.

Hiatt said he wouldn’t use PayPal because it once froze the account of Seattle’s annual marijuana law reform rally, Hempfest.

Fundraising efforts proved futile, and the campaign couldn’t afford to hire professional signature gatherers.

The Service Employees International Union, a big player in state liberal politics, expressed an interest in hiring enough gatherers to ensure its place on the ballot — both because the union believed it to be good policy and because research showed it could significantly boost progressive turnout in November, Local 775 Vice President Adam Glickman said earlier this month.

But the union ultimately stayed on the sidelines because the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington declined to support the measure. The ACLU argued that it was irresponsible to remove criminal penalties for marijuana without also creating a state regulatory system, but initiative backers said there was no way to legalize marijuana and create a regulatory system without violating state law saying that initiatives can only cover one subject.

Hiatt said the campaign had figured that if the initiative passed, state lawmakers would rush to regulate and tax marijuana.

“This is the No. 1 populist issue in the country right now,” Hiatt said. “It’s a shame we wound up having to fight the ACLU. If it hadn’d been for them, we’d be on the ballot.”

Doug Honig, a spokesman for the ACLU of Washington, defended the organization’s decision, saying “we strongly support the idea of legalization, and we’ll work for that.”

“With campaigns that don’t get enough signatures, it’s a good idea to look inwardly instead of blaming others,” he added.

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