SEIU Was Hardly the Only Group to Take a Pass on Marijuana Legalization

Sensible Washington, the group trying to put a pot-legalizing initiative on the November ballot, yesterday took the Service Employees International Union and "other players in progressive causes" to task for failing to ante up funds for paid signature gatherers. "After stringing the I-1068 campaign along for four weeks, they've walked," wrote Sensible Washington spokesperson Philip Dawdy on the group's website.

As he left the other players unnamed, attention focused on SEIU. But it turns out there are a lot of other players that refused to contribute--including Richard Lee (seen above), arguably California's most famous pot entrepreneur.

Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle attorney co-sponsoring I-1068, says he and Seattle Hempfest director Vivian McPeak met with Lee on a fundraising trip to California in April. Lee, founder of Oakland's Oaksterdam University, a self-proclaimed "trade school" devoted to the marijuana industry, had already spent $1.3 million to successfully get a similar pro-pot initiative on the ballot in California. "I'm broke," Lee said as he declined to shell out any more for Washington's effort, according to Hiatt.

The Seattle attorney says he and McPeak met with an array of other people in California's drug reform movement, including dispensary owners, politicians and three hip hop producers. "We struck out," he says.

He also got nowhere when he reached out to the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York group fighting to end the war on drugs, and to the Soros Foundation, which has supported drug law reform.

Hiatt says some said they were hard up for funds given the lousy economy. Others said they were skeptical that the complete legalization proposed by I-1068 really had a chance. His view: "I just don't think they're interested in real reform."

It's worth noting, however, that SEIU did not entirely shortchange the effort. After hearing Hiatt's argument that his initiative was a populist cause that would drive voter turnout among progressives, the union spent some $10,000 to conduct a poll on pot legalization and to cover costs for verifying the signed petitions Sensible Washington has gathered, according to Hiatt.

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