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I-1068 seeks to legalize marijuana for Washington adults

June 9, 2010

Hempfest founder, former Weekly writer, others push to decriminalize marijuana in Washington

By Sam Kettering

Published: Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Updated: Saturday, June 5, 2010

05222010_News_WestlakeProtest_MJB_02 Matthew Brady | The Spectator

Skyler Farmer holds up a sign supporting I-1068, an initiative that would remove state penalties for marijuana. He collected signatures in Westlake this weekend to put the measure on the ballot.

A voter initiative authored by several Seattle activists could effectively legalize marijuana in the state of Washington. However I-1068 must first make it onto the November ballot via more than 200,000 petition signatures.

I-1068 aims to decriminalize the use, possession, distribution, transport and growth of marijuana in Washington for people ages 18 and older by removing the state’s authority to enforce civil or criminal penalties. It would remain illegal for Washington minors to use, possess, distribute, transport and grow the plant.

The initiative was written by public defender Douglass Hiatt, attorney Jeffrey Steinborn, Seattle Hempfest founder Vivian McPeak, medicinal marijuana patient Ric Smith and former Seattle Weekly writer Philip Dawdy.

I-1068’s main sponsor is a group called Sensible Washington, which Dawdy cofounded earlier this year. Sensible Washington focuses on collecting the 241,153 valid signatures necessary to put the initiative on November’s ballot. As of May 26, volunteers have collected more than 100,000 signatures.

According to Dawdy, there are a number of reasons to support I-1068. One of the most important, he says, is that marijuana is not a dangerous drug.

“It’s time for society to stop treating it like something naughty,” he said. “If marijuana was evil and scary, Seattle would have ceased to function a long time ago.”

Although Washington’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union supports the legalization of marijuana, the group opposes I-1068 on the grounds that it lacks a workable regulatory system.

“Marijuana should be placed under controls that not only remove criminal penalties for adult marijuana use but also address the public’s concerns about health and safety,” said the ACLU of Washington in a Feb. 25 statement.

Initial plans for I-1068 began in January when Dawdy and Hiatt were concerned by two other pieces of marijuana legislation, House Bill 1177 and its companion Senate Bill 5615. Both bills would turn the possession of 40 grams or less of marijuana by a legal adult into a civil infraction punishable by a $100 fine.

While Dawdy and Hiatt agreed with the reasoning behind HB 1177 and SB 5615, they didn’t think either bill did enough to protect those in need of medicinal marijuana as well as those who grew, transported and distributed the plant for medical purposes.

“The legislature has neither the votes nor the will to pass this,” Dawdy said. “An initiative is the appropriate way to handle this.”

Under Washington state law, I-1068 can only seek to decriminalize activities related to marijuana consumption. It does not make provisions for the state’s government to tax marijuana, which the ACLU also takes issue with.

In the same Feb. 25 statement, the ACLU of Washington explained many people in Washington seem open to removing criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana, but fewer voters support full legalization of marijuana.

“Those who do support full legalization understand that legalization means treating marijuana similarly to alcohol, taxing and regulating it,” the ACLU said in the statement.
The group also wrote that voters would be less likely to pass a law disallowing the taxation of marijuana. If voters fail to pass I-1068 in November, then it would become more difficult for pro-marijuana legislation to be passed in the future.

Dawdy remains confident that Sensible Washington voters will collect the necessary signatures to put the initiative on the ballot.

Despite the rain, volunteers hit the pavement last weekend at the Northwest Folklife Festival. By 1 p.m. Monday afternoon, they collected roughly 9,000 signatures.
“We’ll get it done,” Dawdy said.

Sam can be reached at skettering@su-spectator.com

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