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If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That timeless axiom has never been truer than in the case of a series of blue handbills plastered around the city trumpeting "Free Marijuana" for anyone who dials a 1-800 number and leaves a message.
Several of the signs were spotted last weekend along the Burke-Gilman Trail between the Fremont Bridge and the Aurora Bridge. They were printed on powder blue paper, with the words "FREE MARIJUANA" in bold typeface, along with instructions to call a 1-800 number and leave a message. At the bottom of the page was another message: "Medical Card Not Required!!!"
Now, I'm neither a business expert nor a legal scholar, but complimentary reefer in exchange for a phone call sure seems like a good way to end up broke and behind bars. Curious, I rang the number.
If this doesn't ping your BS detector, nothing will.
"Legislative information center hotline," a woman answered.
"Hello, I saw this number on a handbill advertising free marijuana. I'm just trying to find out what that's all about."
"This is the Washington Legislative Information Center," came the reply. "We can give you legislative information, help you navigate the website, or send a brief email on your behalf to two state representatives of your legislative district and your state senator in your district, and the governor. We can also give you information on legislative process, or if you're having a problem with L&I we can help you with that."
"So no free marijuana then?"
Turns out, the posters are the work of a group called the Responsible Marijuana Project. They must be fond of double entendres, since "Free Marijuana" presumably means free from a social rather than a monetary standpoint. In other words, they're attempting to dupe people into calling their legislators and lobbying for pot legalization.
The organization's website includes a collection of videos with the tagline, "Fighting propaganda with propaganda." In the about section, the RMP says its motto is, "Be responsible for ending corrupt marijuana policies," and its goal is to, "Create a network of citizen lobbyists that actively engage politicians and public officials on the benefits of regulating marijuana for adult recreational use."
They also say that they will, "actively engage the general public on the importance of speaking to public officials about the benefits of regulating marijuana for adult recreational use." A slightly deceptive poster campaign could be construed as "active engagement," but they also list a phone number (with a local 206 area code, not a 1-800) to call for more information.
Alas, after three attempts in three days, no one ever answered or returned my messages requesting more information about the group. Perhaps they're busy making posters for a Nigerian Prince offering a potentially lucrative business relationship.
UPDATE: Jared Smith, 32, the founder of the Responsible Marijuana Project called to discuss the signs and his fledgling organization's strategy to get pot legalized.
"We're just looking to stimulate the debate on marijuana and bring it to the forefront," Smith said, explaining the signs he posted in Fremont, the U-District and Capitol Hill. "We're just trying to give people the courage to talk about it and not be afraid, to have it be part of their daily conversation that they need to end marijuana prohibition."
Smith said he incorporated Responsible Marijuana Project two years ago and he's been funding the organization mostly out of his own pocket. His goal, he says, is to, "create a community of online activists who will post about a legislator they want other people to call and then give them talking points."
"We're taking a pretty hard line," Smith said. "We're coming out and saying marijuana laws are racist and should have never existed in the first place. Not too many people have been doing this. I'm surprised no one has taken that stance. In my personal opinion that's the strongest argument - that these laws shouldn't have happened in the first place."