New Approach Washington, Pot-Legalization Effort, Get Huge Cash Infusion--Rival Effort Promises to Fight with New Initiative

With only two months left to collect enough signatures to make next November's ballot, Initiative 502, the effort to legalize marijuana by the group New Approach Washington, is getting a big shot of money in the arm.

Meanwhile, attorney Doug Hiatt, the leader of failed rival legalization group Sensible Washington, is vowing to renew their fight against 502. Hiatt says that this week he will announce a new, broader pot-legalization initiative to be filed in January and ready to compete in the November election as well.

But first the news on New Approach Washington's I-502. The Associated Press reports that the ACLU-backed, big-moneyed effort expects to be $300,000 richer by week's end, courtesy of philanthropist Harriet Bullitt,Progressive Insurance Chairman Peter Lewis and other forthcoming donors.

i-502 would legalize marijuana by removing criminal penalties for possession of cannabis for people 21 and over, while also turning over regulation of pot to the state's liquor control board and taxing at a 25 percent rate.

With strong canvassing and more than 180,000 signatures gathered already, 502 only needs about 61,000 more John Hancocks to make next year's ballot.

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Doug Hiatt
But as Hiatt and his supporters claim to anyone who listens, passing Initiative 502 will accomplish nothing but eliciting a swift legal kick to the groin by the federal government. They argue that by merely eliminating penalties for possession, cultivation, distribution etc., and setting up the state government to regulate the drug, the U.S. Department of Justice will simply preempt the law and pass and injunction to stop it.

"They way they are doing it is completely insane," Hiatt says. "It's a giant fucking waste of time. Why pass something that won't work. It's not real reform."

Hiatt and Co.'s approach is akin to how alcohol was removed from prohibition in the 1930s, which started by states completely removing all mention of alcohol from the state criminal code, thus eliminating the federal government's ability to preempt their laws.

If 502 is trimming the hedges of pot prohibition, then Hiatt's Intiative will uproot the whole bush.

For example I-502 comes with myriad riders designed to improve the chance of passage, including a questionable DUI provision that sets a limit to the amount of THC allowable in a driver's bloodstream. While needed to calm fretful voters worried about road safety, this part of the law could set up regular patients and users of marijuana to be legally DUI even if they aren't the slightest bit impaired.

Hiatt's forthcoming rival Initiative would not deal with DUI laws, which it would leave to the state legislature.

Of course, if taken together, the measures may indeed have the effect of ensuring that neither law is passed. And in talks previously with me, crafters of this bill--indeed many in the entire marijuana-reform movement--call Hiatt and his supporters saboteurs who refuse to compromise.

Whatever side voters are on will come next year.

Whether there will be one or two pot-legalization bills on the ballot looks to depend on whether supporters of the alternative law will follow 502's template and put their money where their mouth is.

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