Without cash, Washington's legal pot initiative in danger

SEATTLE — An effort to legalize marijuana for adults in Washington is in danger of not making the ballot this year, after support from the state's progressive establishment failed to materialize.

Initiative 1068 would remove all state penalties for marijuana possession, cultivation, use and sale. It's one of the most sweeping marijuana reform efforts playing out around the country this year, and polls have suggested it would pass — if it makes the ballot.

Campaign chairman Douglas Hiatt on Monday told The Associated Press more than 100,000 people have signed a petition to get the initiative on the ballot. The group needs 241,000 signatures by July 2.

The campaign can't afford to hire paid signature gatherers, and has recently been counting on financial support from the Service Employees International Union — a big player in liberal politics. But Monday, the labor union said no such support would be forthcoming.

"It's really unfortunate, but you cannot do this without money," Hiatt said when the AP informed him of the SEIU's decision. "I never intended I-1068 to be an all-volunteer effort. We'll make a decision in a couple days about whether we're going to go forward."

Hiatt and a few other activists filed the initiative with the Secretary of State's Office in January, calling their group Sensible Washington. They argued that in a time of dire budget woes, the state's government should stop spending millions of dollars a year on police, court and jail costs for people who use or produce marijuana.

But they failed to line up establishment support in advance, and the state Democratic Party declined to contribute to the effort.

"There's a lot of support for this within the party, but it's just not a high priority," state party chairman Dwight Pelz said Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington also declined to endorse the initiative, saying it supports marijuana legalization but

thinks legalizing the drug without providing a regulatory framework governing its cultivation and distribution is irresponsible.

The campaign responded by saying that since initiatives can cover only one subject in Washington, there was no way to both remove criminal penalties and create a regulatory system. The Legislature would rush to regulate marijuana if the initiative passed, supporters argued.

Hiatt said the campaign received a boost several weeks ago, when a donor paid for a California firm to validate the signatures collected so far, and paid for signature gatherers who worked Seattle's Folklife Festival. The donor's name has yet to be made public in disclosure reports. But Adam Glickman, vice president of Local 775, said the signature vetting was done at SEIU's behest. He estimated the total contribution to the campaign at roughly $10,000.

Research suggested the marijuana initiative could raise liberal turnout this fall — possibly helping progressive causes up and down the ballot, from Sen. Patty Murray's re-election campaign to an SEIU-backed attempt to impose an income tax on high earners, Glickman said.

But Sensible Washington's lack of resources raised questions about whether it could really marshal such a turnout, he said Monday. He also cited the split between the campaign and the ACLU.

"There's some merit in the campaign," Glickman said. "It seemed worth looking at as a good policy proposal. But as we looked more into it, there were too many questions about the policy, too much division among the stakeholders. We concluded it wasn't the right time to get involved."

The campaign's organizers were furious.

"They danced with us for four weeks and then walked away," said initiative co-author Philip Dawdy. "Our people are going to get so angry when they hear this, they just might go out and get it done."

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