4/20 Showdown: Alison Holcomb and Sensible Washington Debate I-502 Tonight at City Hall

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Seattle City Hall is set to host some 4/20 festivities today, specifically a debate about I-502, the ballot initiative that proposes legalizing, taxing, and selling marijuana in state-run stores. Sadly, the showdown is not scheduled to begin at high noon.

The debate kicks off at 7 p.m. tonight on the second floor of City Hall. Alison Holcomb, the ACLU's drug policy director, and the campaign director of New Approach Washington, will argue in favor of I-502, and John Toker, a spokesman for Sensible Washington, will act as the voice of the opposition. Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata will moderate.

The event is being organized by the Cannabis Defense Coalition, and their press release notes that, "a lively discussion is expected." The debate will consist of 30 minutes of opening arguments and rebuttals, 30 minutes of moderator questions, and an hour or so of audience questions.

While I-502 has predictably drawn opposition from several law enforcement groups (high profile supporters do, however, include former U.S. Attorney John McKay, and the former head of the FBI's Seattle field division), it has also been met with condemnation from other pot activists. Sensible Washington generally supports marijuana legalization, but they are opposed to this particular proposal for a variety of reasons.

The list of concerns include the much-discussed provision in I-502 that would treat pot smokers like drunks and set a THC blood limit similar to the .08 BAC for alcohol, as well as worries that the federal government will preempt the law. Proponents of I-502, meanwhile, point out that Sensible Washington sponsored a failed legalization initiative this year, and that some of the most outspoken critics come from the medical marijuana industry, which presumably stands to lose money if I-502 passes.

"We just want to make sure people in the reform community have an accurate understanding of what the implications are," says Sensible Washington's Toker. "The other aspect of it is just speaking truth to rebut unsubstantiated allegations that we're hypocrites or profiteers, or have an ax to grind."

Holcomb says her goal is to address misconceptions about I-502, and engage would-be voters face-to-face.

"There's been people within the medical marijuana community who have sort of driven the conversation," Holcomb says. "To me, what's important is to be there, and answer questions, and hopefully dispel some of the misinformation that's been propagated about I-502, and help people make more informed decisions about whether to vote yes or no."

According to Holcomb, the most recent polling shows that 55 percent of voters support I-502, with 38 percent opposed, and 7 percent still undecided.

For a preview of Sensible Washington's arguments, check out the "Deconstructing I-502" series they've been publishing on their website. For more on the purported benefits of I-502, here's the literature from New Approach Washington.

And, if for some odd reason you're too lazy to get up off the couch and make the trek down to City Hall this evening, the debate will be streamed live online here.

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