The big initiative to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana (which I detail here) has nearly enough money to make the ballot. New Approach Washington, the campaign running Initiative 502, held a swank fundraiser last Sunday at the waterfront home of Scott Lipsky, where campaign director Alison Holcomb announced that the campaign had racked up a total of $850,000 in hard cash and pledged contributions (including money from former Progressive Insurance CEO Peter Lewis, the Drug Policy Alliance,
the Marijuana Policy Project, and several local donors). That's only $75,000 short of the total required to pay for signature gatherers.
Put another way: Washington State is on track to legalize marijuana next year.
The campaign, which had only reported a quarter million dollars as of its last report the state, has gathered 130,000 signatures since filing the measure in June (and there's about 200,000 more to go by their December 30 deadline, to ensure a sufficient cushion). Assuming it makes the ballot, the initiative is in a strong place to win. Already showing a majority support (54 to 38 percent, according to the latest poll), a controversial provision that penalizes stoned drivers with 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood played well with voters, Holcomb said. Hearing about that DUI provision prompted 62 percent of voters to say they were more likely to support I-502 and only 11 percent said it would make them less likely. (There's lots more info here.)
People were eating oysters on Sunday and listening to Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and travel man Rick Steves, the keynote hosts. "I am an elected official who wants to be reelected," Holmes told the Chardonnay and Cabernet sipping crowd. Nobody was smoking pot. He said that he stopped prosecuting cases for simple marijuana possession in response to a voter initiative to make those cases the lowest law-enforcement priority (to applause), that crime in Seattle is now at a 55-year low (to more applause), and that legalizing marijuana statewide would put Washington at the "forefront of the debate about how we handle low-level drug crimes" (to cheers).
Steves was less serious. "I'm a travel writer. If I can't go somewhere, someone has to tell me why not—tell me why I can't go to a place called 'high.'"
Say what you will about paid signature gatherers. No state initiative has successfully qualified for the Washington ballot since the 2008 election, when a record turnout bumped the requirement to qualify a petition to 241,153 signatures, without them. So if voters want direct democracy, someone's gotta pay. And don't give me any bullshit about how legislating is best left to the the legislature. Lawmakers crumple in the face of the state's most pressing decisions (ahem, income tax) so sometimes the initiative process is all we got.
So if we ever want to legalize marijuana, then we're going to have to do it by passing an initiative, which most voters in Washington State support, and that means holding our noses and paying for signatures with a donkeyload of cash.