Polls point to support for legalization of pot

SEATTLE — A new push to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Washington state is carefully calibrated to what voters will support — and to what will keep state workers from getting into trouble with federal agents, activists said Wednesday after filing the initiative.

The measure, backed by former Seattle U.S. Attorney John McKay, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and travel-guide entrepreneur Rick Steves, calls for legalizing up to an ounce of pot to be sold and taxed at state-licensed stores.

The money would bring in at least $215 million a year in taxes, which would largely be earmarked for drug treatment and education, while eroding the black market that fuels drug-related crime in the state, supporters said.

The group, New Approach Washington, must collect 241,000 valid signatures by the end of this year to send the initiative to the Legislature, which can pass it outright or allow it to go to a public vote in November 2012.

“I’m so excited Washington can take the lead in helping our country out of this wrong-minded, very costly war on marijuana,” Steves said during a news conference at the Seattle Public Library.

More than 8,200 people in Washington were arrested for simple marijuana possession in 2008, and their arrests, prosecutions and imprisonment cost the state millions of dollars, the organization said.

Washington is one of at least three states, along with California and Colorado, expected to consider marijuana legalization next year, said Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

Jamie Daniels, executive director of the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, said her group opposes marijuana legalization generally but has not taken a position on the initiative.

Another group, Sensible Washington, is trying for a second time to collect enough signatures in support of a far broader measure — one that would simply remove all state criminal and civil penalties for marijuana use, sale and possession.

New Approach Washington’s campaign manager, Alison Holcomb, said that effort is too sweeping to win popular support. She said members of her organization haveclosely monitoredpublic opinion about marijuana, and they crafted their new proposal accordingly. The measure would not allow people to grow their own marijuana; polls suggest that people remain uneasy with the notion that marijuana gardens could proliferate in their neighborhoods, she said.