Legal pot initiative fails to make ballot

  • Thu Jul 1st, 2010 9:59pm
  • News

Herald Staff and The Associated Press

MARYSVILLE – Count Donna Messick of Marysville among the disappointed Thursday at learning an initiative to legalize marijuana won’t be on the ballot.

She signed a petition for Initiative 1068 but not enough others did as sponsors said they came up roughly 40,000 signatures shy of the 241,000 needed to qualify. Today is the deadline for initiative petitions to be filed.

“It was a disappointment because I think it is something we should address in this state,” she said. “We’re tying up our courts with enforcement of something that I feel isn’t that much different than alcohol.”

Messick, 61, figured voters deserved a chance to decide if the state should start treating marijuana use by adults in the manner it does liquor “but not enough others agreed.”

Initiative 1068 was one of the most sweeping marijuana reform efforts playing out around the country this year. It proposed to make it legal for those ages 21 and older to possess, grow, smoke and sell marijuana.

Sensible Washington, the group behind the effort, will try again next year, said Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle medical marijuana attorney who wrote the measure.

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

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.

Filed in January, sponsors encountered a litany of challenges while picking up scant support from the powerhouses in the state’s progressive establishment. The state Democratic Party endorsed it during its convention last weekend — too late to do the campaign much good, Hiatt said.

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.

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

The Service Employees International Union expressed an interest in hiring signature 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 it was irresponsible to remove criminal penalties for marijuana without also creating a state regulatory system. 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’t 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com