Marijuana legalization to be decided by Washington voters

Feb 9, 2012

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state lawmakers said Thursday that an initiative to legalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana will be decided by voters.

If passed, Initiative 502 would make Washington the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and would place it at odds with federal law, which bans marijuana use of all kinds.

Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, who chairs the House State Government & Tribal Affairs Committee that was considering the initiative, said the Legislature would not act on it, meaning it will instead automatically appear on the November ballot.

"We will have more opportunities on the campaign trail this year to discuss this issue," said Hunt.

Because the measure proposes new taxes on marijuana production and consumption, the Legislature would need a two-thirds majority to pass it.

The initiative was certified by the Secretary of State's office last month after pro-legalization campaigners turned in more than the 241,153 necessary valid signatures.

Former FBI in favor of it

Speaking at a joint House and Senate work session Thursday, backers of the measure said it would allow the state to regulate marijuana use, raise money through taxes on marijuana and would squeeze the powerful drug cartels controlling the black market.

"Locking people up and putting handcuffs on them is not the way to resolve our society's issues with regard to marijuana," said John McKay, a former U.S. Attorney for Seattle who has become an outspoken advocate for marijuana legalization.

Charles Mandigo, the former head of the Seattle FBI office, also spoke in favor of the measure.

"It is the money, not the drugs, that drive these criminal organizations and street gangs," said Mandigo. "Take away the money and you take away the criminal element."

McKay and Mandigo conceded that getting criminals out of the marijuana business would take time.

Worried about teens

Opponents said legalization would likely increase marijuana use by teenagers. They argued that a better alternative would be pressuring the federal government to change marijuana's designation from a Schedule One to a Schedule Two drug, meaning it would still be classified as having a high potential for abuse but would also be recognized as having legitimate medical uses.

"If we start with the pharmaceutical end and move forward from there, I think what a great start we've already done," said Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza, who spoke against the initiative.