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December 29, 2011

Washington state voters appear likely to vote on ending pot prohibition in 2012

As this AP article reports, "[s]upporters of an effort to legalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana in Washington state plan to turn in signatures this week to qualify their initiative."  Here is more:

New Approach Washington expects to turn in more than 355,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office on Thursday, said the group's campaign director, Alison Holcomb. An initiative to the Legislature requires at least 241,153 valid signatures of registered state voters to be certified, though the secretary of state's office suggests at least 320,000 as a buffer for any duplicate or invalid signatures.

Initiative 502 would create a system of state-licensed growers, processors and stores, and impose a 25 percent excise tax at each stage. Those 21 and over could buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana; one pound of marijuana-infused product in solid form, such as brownies; or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids. It would be illegal for a motorist to have more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in their system. THC is the active ingredient of cannabis....

Once the initiative goes to the Legislature, it has to take action during the upcoming 60-day legislative session that begins Jan. 9 or the measure automatically goes to the November ballot. The initiative has several high-profile sponsors, including former Seattle U.S. Attorney John McKay and travel guide Rick Steves.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Chris Gregoire said that she has concerns about the legalization initiative because of the conflict with the federal government, which still says the drug is illegal. "Even if this were to pass, we'd still have to deal with federal law," said spokeswoman Karina Shagren.

Shagren said that Gregoire would prefer to focus on getting clarity when it comes to medical marijuana laws. She noted that the governor's focus is on a recent petition that she and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee filed with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration asking the agency to reclassify marijuana so doctors can prescribe it and pharmacists can fill the prescription.

Washington state already has a voter-approved medical marijuana law that gives doctors the right to recommend — but not prescribe — marijuana for people suffering from cancer and other conditions that cause "intractable pain."...

Washington isn't the only state considering marijuana legalization.  Colorado will vote next year if a similar measure there makes the ballot.  Supporters there are expected to turn in signatures in the coming weeks to qualify for the November ballot.

While the AP article mentions that Colorado will likely have a legalization measure on the ballot in 2012, it fails to mention the high likelihood that a similar measure will also appear on California ballots.  Though it is way too early to make firm prediction on such matters, if these three states all have reasonable ballot proposals to end pot prohibition, I would put the odds that at least one state will have fully legalized marijuana next year at over 50/50.

I have seen talk of a pot legalization ballot effort in Montana and a few other western states, too, but I am not sure these efforts are as likely to get before voters.  In addition, I know a handful of other states are likely also to have medical marijuana issues before the voters in 2012 (Florida and Ohio are two big states in which I have seen the issue discussed).  

I think an enterprising lawyer or political operative or pundit or blogger would be wise to jump on this movement and develop some (non-partisan?) expertise on the wide array of dynamic legal, political and practical issues that all these initiative are sure to post for 2012 and beyond.  In so many ways, the import and impact of pot law and policy is growing like a weed.

December 29, 2011 at 12:49 PM | Permalink

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Congrats on being named an honoree of the ABA Journal's top 100 law blogs for 2011!

Posted by: Attorney George E. Bourguignon, Jr. | Dec 29, 2011 8:45:15 PM

Its just a matter of time before one of our states says we are going to legalize marijuana and put an end to the war on marijuana. Washington State I hope you are the first.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 30, 2011 12:31:57 PM

Prohibition, your days are numbered.

Posted by: Huh? | Jan 1, 2012 8:52:29 PM

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