Pot Fans at Hempfest Divided Over Legalization

Aug 19, 2012

Washington’s annual Hempfest — a three-day cel­e­bra­tion of pot, bongs and hemp bead neck­laces that is typ­i­cally one of Seattle’s largest fes­ti­vals — was unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cally worked up Sat­ur­day over what should have been cause for laid-back cheer­ing: a fast-gaining bal­lot ini­tia­tive to legal­ize pos­ses­sion of small quan­ti­ties of mar­i­juana. Bal­lot mea­sures to legal­ize mar­i­juana are sprint­ing toward the polls in three West­ern states in Novem­ber. Mar­i­juana sup­port­ers say Washington’s vote on Ini­tia­tive 502 is impor­tant to main­tain national momen­tum on an issue that is begin­ning to see steady gains in pop­u­lar sup­port. But the pro-marijuana com­mu­nity here is deeply divided over the mea­sure. Ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the state’s med­ical mar­i­juana law fear that legal­iz­ing and reg­u­lat­ing pot use would sub­ject pot patients to poten­tial arrest under the measure’s strict impaired-driving pro­vi­sions. The result has been an under­cur­rent of dis­cord amid the cel­e­bra­tory haze on the scenic Seat­tle water­front. Ded­i­cated pot pro­po­nents find them­selves amazed to be in oppo­si­tion. “I never in a mil­lion years imag­ined myself to be on a stage advo­cat­ing against the pas­sage of a mar­i­juana legal­iza­tion law,” Steve Elliott, who writes the “Toke Sig­nals” col­umn for the Seat­tle Weekly, said at a civ­i­lized but highly divided debate on I-502 on the “Hempo­sium” stage. Legal­iza­tion mea­sures also are on the bal­lot in Ore­gon and Col­orado. Washington’s I-502 would elim­i­nate civil and crim­i­nal penal­ties for pos­ses­sion of up to an ounce of mar­i­juana for peo­ple 21 years and older and set up reg­u­la­tions for the sub­stance to be taxed and sold at state-licensed stores. Its most con­tro­ver­sial fea­ture — at least among mar­i­juana pro­po­nents — is that it would set up a new dri­ving stan­dard based on a defin­able blood limit for mar­i­juana. This is a stricter reg­u­la­tion than the cur­rent impaired-driving laws and one that many med­ical mar­i­juana patients believe they would be unable to meet after reg­u­lar med­i­c­i­nal doses. They fear they might be sub­ject to arrest for dri­ving even days after their last mar­i­juana dose. I-502 has gained sub­stan­tial main­stream sup­port in lib­eral west­ern Wash­ing­ton, where Seattle’s mayor, its city attor­ney, sev­eral mem­bers of the City Coun­cil, two for­mer U.S. attor­neys and the for­mer spe­cial agent in charge of the local office of the FBI have all come out in favor of it, along with a num­ber of state leg­is­la­tors. “Here’s what we know: Pro­hi­bi­tion has not worked,” Mayor Mike McGinn told sup­port­ers who lazed in the grass a cloud of cannabis haze. “It’s fueled crim­i­nal vio­lence. Right now in this city, peo­ple are mur­der­ing each other over pot…. It’s time to stop. It’s time to tax it, reg­u­late it, legal­ize it.” Steve Sarich, a long­time activist in the med­ical mar­i­juana com­mu­nity who heads the offi­cial cam­paign to defeat I-502, was not even invited to attend Saturday’s debate at Hempfest. The oppo­si­tion was instead left to Elliott and leg­isla­tive ana­lyst Kari Boi­ter to argue. “They’ve locked us out of the debate,” Sarich said.. “But quite frankly, Hempfest is 250,000 peo­ple and 60 vot­ers, so we don’t nec­es­sar­ily expect to make a whole lot of con­verts, because most of the peo­ple here don’t even vote.” “Never has an issue divided our com­mu­nity like 502,” said debate mod­er­a­tor Don Wirtshafter. “Hope­fully, here we can use the Hempfest fes­ti­val to work toward more energy, and what we can agree on.” The head of the cam­paign to pass I-502, Ali­son Hol­colmb, urged the crowd to remem­ber that it’s already a crime to drive while under the influ­ence of mar­i­juana. But oppo­nents say it is wrong to force a vote on an ini­tia­tive about which so many are so deeply divided when a less con­tro­ver­sial bal­lot mea­sure might be taken up later. “I don’t want to see another law on the books that police can use to harass us with,” Boi­ter said of the con­tro­ver­sial dri­ving pro­vi­sions. Keith Stroup, a co-founder of the National Orga­ni­za­tion for the Reform of Mar­i­juana Laws, told the crowd that while the ini­tia­tive is “not per­fect,” it is impor­tant to cap­i­tal­ize on the momen­tum of three recent national polls that have shown 50% pop­u­lar sup­port or more across the nation for mar­i­juana law reform. “For the first time in the 41 years that NORML has been involved in legal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana, we actu­ally have won the hearts and minds of the major­ity of the Amer­i­can pub­lic, and that is ter­ri­bly impor­tant,” Stroup said. He said wins in Wash­ing­ton, Col­orado and Ore­gon could begin to pro­vide the basis for push­ing Con­gress, until now stead­fastly opposed to end­ing mar­i­juana crim­i­nal­iza­tion, to start recon­sid­er­ing. “We need to have one or two or three states with the courage to stand up to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and say, ‘To hell with you,’” he said. “This ini­tia­tive, if it passes, and I fully believe it will, will for­ever be seen as the defi­ant step that led to the end of mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion. They will be writ­ing about this, folks, in his­tory books for decades.” Source: Los Ange­les Times (CA) Author: Kim Mur­phy, Los Ange­les Times Pub­lished: August 19, 2012 Copy­right: 2012 Los Ange­les Times Con­tact: letters@​latimes.​com Web­site: http://​www​.latimes​.com/

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