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Despite high expectations, we must report that the panel of eight marijuana experts assembled for last night's forum "Toke Signals: The Future of Marijuana in

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Pot Speakers Rumble at Seattle Weekly/KCTS 9's "Toke Signals" Cannabis Forum

Toke Signals FOMIWS01.jpg
Despite high expectations, we must report that the panel of eight marijuana experts assembled for last night's forum "Toke Signals: The Future of Marijuana in Washington State" failed to agree unanimously on a foolproof plan to usher in permanent, responsible cannabis reforms in the state of Washington.

The panel did, however, have a hell of a conversation in the process.

The event took place at KCTS 9's studio in South Lake Union, with the station's executive director of production, Enrique Cerna, moderating the panel discussion.

The panelists were (from left to right):

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Keegan Hamilton/Seattle Weekly
John McKay, former U.S. Attorney and Seattle University law professor.

Roger Roffman, director of University of Washington's Innovative Programs Research Group and longtime researcher into cannabis use and abuse.

Rick Steves, author, PBS travel correspondent, and marijuana law-reform advocate.

Roger Goodman, Washington State Representative and candidate for U.S. Congress.

Josh Berman, Washington Cannabis Association member and co-founder of the 4evergreen Group.

Steve Elliott, Seattle Weekly's "Toke Signals" columnist & Toke of the Town blog Editor.

Alison Holcomb, Drug Policy Director at ACLU of Washington.

Doug Hiatt, public defense attorney and longtime legalization advocate.

Video from last night's event is being edited into a more easily consumable format that will be posted here at The Daily Weekly ASAP.

In the meantime, I'll give you a short rundown of how the conversation went.

Essentially all eight panelists agreed on a few basic points, among them: The country's war on drugs (particularly marijuana) is an utter failure; Washington's cannabis laws are a sad mess; and something needs to be about this all right now.

But the rest of the details, on things like what specific reforms to seek, how to go about getting those reforms done, and how much everyone should be willing to compromise in order to get something passed, is another story.

For example, there are two dueling cannabis-related initiatives that have wormed their way toward the ballot next year, I-502 (sponsored by New Approach Washington) and I-1149 (sponsored by Sensible Washington). And while 1149 failed to gather enough signatures to proceed to the ballot next year, its supporters are promising a new similar initiative effort as soon as possible.

The majority of last night's panel (McKay, Steves, Roffman, Holcomb) supports 502 and its method of legalization through the creation of a large new framework of taxes and regulations on sales of pot, along with the establishment of chemical thresholds for the crime of driving under the influence of marijuana.

Others, however, (Hiatt, Elliott, Berman) support Sensible Washington's failed 1149 which would have simply removed all state criminal penalties for marijuana use, manufacture, delivery and possession--thus instantly legalizing the drug and in turn putting the impetus on the state legislature to then work out some kind of added regulatory framework.

Let's just say that "middle ground" was not a word frequently used by the the two camps.

"I will not support 502 for many reasons," Hiatt declared. "First, I believe 502 puts an unasked-for and unnecessary change into the DUI laws. And I think the initiative creates a zero tolerance for people under 21. I don't believe in unnecessary laws and I don't believe in zero tolerance."

The 502 supporters, meanwhile, accused Hiatt and co. of being unreasonable "purists" who were pushing a radical bill with no chance of passage while refusing to compromise.

"I'm struck by the sadness coming through that we can't come together," Roffman told Hiatt at one point. "I'm listening to your argument on your views, Doug, and I just can't believe that the public will vote to give you the chance to do it that way."

Meanwhile, there's state Rep. Roger Goodman, who's running for U.S. Congress on a pot-reform platform and looking to go straight to the top with nationwide reforms. "I am looking on the national level to articulate this exit strategy," Goodman claimed.

The discussion ranged from how much to tax marijuana if it's legalized ("You cannot overtax marijuana," McKay warned, sounding every bit the Republican) to whether alcohol prohibition is an accurate example to base pot prohibition on (definitely not, said Holcomb) to whether THC level in blood is an accurate measure of a driver's impairment (it's not, pretty much everyone agreed).

The whole thing was truly fascinating.

Again, we'll get the edited video up ASAP, and we'll follow up with additional tidbits from the forum.

Thanks to all our panelists, our audience members, and to KCTS 9 for being such gracious hosts.

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