Petitions turned in for initiative to legalize pot in Washington

Supporters of marijuana legalization said Thursday they submitted petitions with the 350,000 signatures needed for an initiative that would legalize pot in the state.

The petitions were submitted to the state Secretary of State's Office.

I-502 is technically an initiative to the Legislature, which means it will go first to lawmakers in Olympia to consider. If state lawmakers ignore it, the issue will go before voters next November. Washington would be the first state in the country to cross that line.

“The bipartisan coalition of support behind this measure really allows voters to understand, this is an issue that crosses party lines,” I-502 spokeswoman Alison Holcomb said.  “Everybody is ready to try something new.”

Here are the major elements of Initiative 502:

  • It would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana
  • You would have to be 21 to purchase pot
  • You could buy up to one ounce at a time
  • Establishes a new DUI standard for being high

Supporters say all that money now going to the black market for pot could be redirected to the state budget.

“We’re hopeful that we’re looking at at least a couple hundred million dollars a year right out of the box,” Holcomb said.

But opponents don’t buy that argument.

“It’s a bit of a pipe dream to say that you can legalize marijuana when the federal government would come in and seize it if it was sold and would seize the proceeds from it,” state Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, said. 

Opponents say this whole effort is a waste of time since federal law, which trumps state law, would still make pot illegal.   

As this initiative makes its way through the Legislature, and certainly if it is on the ballot, there’s sure to be debate about whether marijuana is harmful and whether legalizing it will create a lot more pot smokers.

“We know that access to young people could change very dramatically if, in fact, parents are smoking marijuana in front of their kids.  Does that encourage a kid to say, ‘Well, it’s legal now’?” Hurst asked.

But supporters say any big rise in pot smoking is unlikely.

“We’ll probably see a spike in use after it initially passes,” Holcomb said.  “But then as we continue to provide the public with education about the health risks that are associated with marijuana, I think people will make wise decisions as they do with other substances.”

The coalition behind Initiative 502 is rather impressive.   It includes two former U.S. attorneys in Western Washington -- one Democrat and one Republican.