Marijuana legalization on the November ballot in Washington state

Efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational use are gaining momentum in Washington state and Colorado, despite fierce opposition from the federal government and a decades-long cultural battle over America’s most commonly used illicit drug. Officials in Washington state on Friday said an initiative to legalize pot has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in November. In Colorado, officials are likely this week to make a similar determination about an initiative there. Supporters are prepared to possibly spend millions of dollars ahead of the November ballot, when they hope a strong voter turnout, particularly among youth, for the U.S. presidential election will aid their cause. “Whether it’s make or break depends on what public opinion does after 2012, but in terms of voter turnout this is the best year to do it,” said Alison Holcomb, director of New Approach Washington, the intiative’s sponsor.

While 16 states, including Washington and Colorado, along with the nation’s capital, now allow marijuana use for medical purposes, cannabis remains an illegal narcotic under U.S. law — and public opinion is sharply divided on the merits of full legalization. California voters turned back a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2010, in part because of concerns about how production and sale of the drug would be regulated. Since then, the U.S. Department of Justice has cracked down on medical cannibis operations in California, Washington state and elsewhere, raiding dispensaries and growing operations and threatening landlords with prosecution.   “Our highest priority are the folks that violate both state and federal law,” said Rusty Payne, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “There are places that have made a lot of money who claim to be nonprofit, and they have faced both local and federal scrutiny.”

Undeterred, supporters of the Washington state initiative say it represents the “grown-up” approach to legalization. Sales would only be allowed to adults 21 and older through marijuana-only stores licensed by the state Liquor Control Board, which would also oversee production and processing of the drug. Laws on drunken driving would be amended to include maximum blood content thresholds for THC, the main psychoactive element in pot plants. Colorado already has a robust regulatory system for medical marijuana that includes a registry of over 80,000 card-carrying patients and rules governing how physicians and distributors operate. Here, too, legalization advocates are stressing a rational regulatory approach. “Voters aren’t being asked to imagine as much as they are in other states, they have seen that marijuana can be regulated and it doesn’t result in significant problems,” said Mason Tvert, co-director of the Colorado-based Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Organizers of the Washington effort have collected over $1.1 million in campaign funds, with $250,000 of that coming from Progressive Insurance chairman Peter Lewis, public disclosure records show. Loren Collingwood, senior researcher for the nonpartisan Washington Poll run by the University of Washington, said the initiative could pass, but that backers must spend between $2 million and $4 million to run a competitive campaign. A poll done by the university in October found 48 percent of Washington residents support the idea of pot legalization, but that was not tied to any particular initiative. “If young voters turn out in droves like they did in 2008 or even start to approach those numbers … then I think this will pass, but they very well may not,” Collingwood said.

via : NationalPost

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