Medical-Marijuana Follies: Steve Sarich Finds That Even Filing a Referendum Is a Messy Business

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It seems a fitting indication of how messed up the medical-marijuana landscape has become that even a referendum filed yesterday on Senate Bill 5073--a once-liberalizing piece of legislation that was utterly transformed by the governor's red pen--says the opposite of what was intended. Dispensary owner and provocateur Steve Sarich filed R-73 as an effort to kill the bill that puts medical-pot patients and entrepreneurs in a worse position than before.

"If [people] vote yes, it will repeal 5073," Sarich told SW last night. Uh-oh. The Secretary of State had just put out a press release saying that a yes vote would uphold the legislation.

Flabbergasted, Sarich called Secretary of State spokesperson David Ammons last night. "I explained that his understanding of referendums is incorrect," Ammons recounts.

Unlike initiatives, which authors can phrase pretty much however they want, referendums are strict yes or no votes on a bill as finally enacted (in this case, after the governor slashed her way through it). There is no leeway in phrasing, Ammons says. A yes vote always gives the legislature a thumbs-up. The antigay backers of Referendum 71, which in 2009 asked voters to weigh in on legislation that expanded domestic partnership rights, found this out to their chagrin. (The yes voters prevailed.)

So getting supporters to follow the counterintuitive logic of voting no is one hurdle Sarich faces. That is, presuming he can get his referendum on the ballot. He has until late July to gather 120,577 signatures. His task would be easier, of course, if other medical-marijuana advocates helped. But Sarich, in part due to his combativeness, has enjoyed an uneasy relationship with many of his peers.

Still, it's hard to argue with Sarich when he says of the bill, "We've got to scratch this thing and start over." Even government and law-enforcement officials like King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg find it confusing and unworkable. Come to think of it, the cops and bureaucrats might want to get out there with petitions.

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