Washington State Leads Race for Legal Pot

By Tony O'Neill 10/12/12

Of the three states voting next month on legalizing the (non-medical) sale of marijuana, WA looks likeliest to say "Yes."

How would legal weed in Washington strike
the feds?
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The chances of Washington State becoming the first in the US to legalize the sale of non-medical marijuana, via state-licensed retailers, seem better than ever. While Colorado and Oregon are weighing similar proposals, the Washington campaign for "Initiative 502" has the advantage of not facing any coordinated opposition. Polls suggest that I-502 enjoys a 57%-34% lead among likely voters, and the "Yes" campaign has so far raised $4.1 million.

I-502's heavyweight supporters include various former federal law enforcement officers and two former top federal prosecutors: Kate Pflaumer, a Clinton appointee, and John McKay, who was appointed by George W. Bush. With a combined 15 years' experience overseeing federal prosecutions, the pair recently filmed two “Yes on I-502” TV ads, in which McKay declares, “As the former chief federal prosecutor, I enforced our marijuana laws. I’ve come to believe they don’t work. Filling our courts and jails has failed to reduce marijuana use, and drug cartels are pocketing all the profits... Initiative 502 brings marijuana under tight regulatory control, generates new revenue for education and prevention, and...we’ll have more resources to go after violent crime instead.” So far the opposition to I-502 consists of an uncoordinated mixture of some MMJ patients—who oppose the strictness of the DUI laws included in the bill—and some law enforcement figures who continue to warn of the "dangers" of increased marijuana availability. The "No" camp has yet to raise any significant funds.

If I-502 passes, the effect will be dramatic. A system of state-licensed growers, processors and stores would be created—with a 25% excise tax applicable at each stage, which state revenue experts estimate could raise $1.9 billion for Washington over the next five years. Under the proposals, adults aged 21 and over could buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana; or one pound of marijuana-infused product (eg, pot brownies) in solid form; or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids. Strict quality-control guidelines would make all the cannabis subject to testing to establish its THC content. A "yes" vote could also bring a dramatic effect of a different kind, however: a head-on collision with the federal government. Leading national politicians of both main parties remain out of step with the public mood when it comes to marijuana legalization. The resulting clash could make the current federal crackdown on medical pot seem trivial in comparison. One way or another, things are likely to be very different in Washington State from next month.

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.