Last week when Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) announced that she had "decided not to pursue further attempts this year to strengthen our state's voter-approved medical-marijuana law," Washington lost its principal champion of medical-cannabis reform.
But now State Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) says he's ready to pick up where Kohl-Welles left off. And furthermore, he feels that pot reform is an issue that can take him all the way to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
What he could do about marijuana laws if he ever got there, however, is another story.Goodman is running for Congress in District 8, a seat currently held by Republican Dave Reichert.
Goodman, who at one point led the King County Bar Association's Drug Policy Project, tells Seattle Weekly that he thinks voters have never been more passionate about pot-related issues, and that no other candidate will fight as hard for reform as he will. "I'm ready to step into the breach now and pick up the handle," he says. "Because there's so much uncertainty, it's time to sort of step back and say 'Look, we can't just sit around.' Reform is going to happen at the state level. I want to step it up to the Congressional level."
But does an issue like medical-marijuana reform play out in a national election as it does in a statewide election? University of Washington political science professor Matt A. Barreto says, quite simply, "No, it doesn't." He also says that changing marijuana laws is infinitely more likely at the state level than at the federal level.
"This is sort of a strange issue for him to bring up," Barreto tells us. "At the federal level, [marijuana] is clearly against federal law. So it's a bit odd for him to say he would go to D.C. and change federal law. Still, candidates will often try and stake out a position on an issue that sets them apart. This could certainly gain him more attention. But he might eventually have to say 'Look, that's an issue I believe in, but let me tell you about my position on the economy.'"
UW political science professor Matt A. Barreto says that Goodman would be more effective changing pot laws in Olympia than D.C.
Goodman says he has two goals for reforming the country's marijuana laws if he's elected to Congress. First, he wants to reschedule pot as a lower class of drug. Second, he wants to reform federal pre-emption statutes so that states once and for all have the final say on what's legal and what's not when it comes to weed.
Barreto admits that these two issues are likely the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to nationwide pot reform. Regardless, he says there's almost zero chance of anything like that passing in a Republican-controlled House.
Real reform, Barreto says, will likely only come on a state-by-state basis. And given that the state legislature has failed in its attempts to enact meaningful change (thanks to Gov. Chris Gregoire's veto pen), he says it will probably take a ballot initiative to change the law.
Goodman, meanwhile, says he'll lead the pot-reform charge from whatever role he finds himself in come 2013. And until then, he says he still wants to get a bill passed in the state legislature by next session.
He'll speak at a pot-reform event at the Green Hope Patient Network (15021 Aurora Ave. N., Shoreline) today at 10:30 a.m. about his plans to change the weed status quo and how the issue plays into his 2012 aspirations.
Kohl-Welles tells us that few members of the state legislature are better equipped to pick up where she left off than Goodman, and that she "welcomes his efforts." Whether those efforts will mark a sea change in what constitutes a national issue and what doesn't won't really be known until campaign season really ramps up.