Politics & Government

Marijuana legalization may be on ballot

Efforts to explicitly allow the sale of marijuana - whether medical or recreational - have so far failed to make it out of Olympia. Voters might just have the final word.

Proponents are trying to get a measure to make Washington the first state to legalize marijuana on the ballot this year. A potentially bigger, better-funded campaign is on the horizon.

“We’re very interested in the possibility of something being on the ballot in 2012,” said Alison Holcomb, drug-policy director for the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, which is talking to potential supporters.

This year’s Initiative 1149 would legalize pot use and possession for people 18 and older. Volunteers are passing petitions around in an attempt to get it on the November ballot but had tallied just 17,093 signatures between March 18 and last week. Organizers need 241,000 valid signatures.

The group raised $18,600 between December and March and spent most of it. It was enough to pay for printing and mailing petitions but not enough to hire professional signature gatherers.

“Somebody with a big checkbook could simply pay us on to the ballot. That would be super,” said I-1149 co-author Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle attorney.

The ACLU has political and policy objections to I-1149: It’s being tried in a year when turnout could be relatively low, and it would legalize marijuana while leaving regulation of the drug up to the Legislature.

The lack of regulations “poses a big problem with voter comfort,” Holcomb said. If lawmakers can’t agree on rules, she added, “Then we have an unprecedented Wild West.”