Washington D.C. lawyer Keith Stroup founded NORML, one of the nation's leading organizations advocating marijuana law reform, in 1970. So he's been working this issue, a long, long time. And he's seeing something new in Washington state. It's not good.
Certainly, other initiatives have also given rise to fractiousness, including in Colorado and Oregon, where legalization initiatives are currently on the ballot. But Stroum says the level of animosity he's seen here much worse that in either of those two states.
The local divisiveness reached farcical proportions over the last week, when a new group formed to oppose 502 (at least that's what the press were told), and its media director was fired at the inaugural press conference--a press conference crashed by members of a rival opposition group. (The new group, Safe Access Alliance, then dissolved.)
Vehement sentiments were also on display at Hempfest. Many in the crowd wore either Yes or No on 502 buttons. Heated debates often broke out at the 502 booth, which was located just yards away from two separate booths advocating the initiative's defeat. That's when people stopped to talk. Some just walked by yelling "No on 502."
In an interview with SW, Stroup partly blames the infighting on I-502 opponents, some of whom he calls "kind of crude." But Stroup also recognizes that some opponents have legitimate concerns, most notably the provision in I-502 that that sets a new standard for marijuana-based DUI charges. Stroup says he also opposes that provision. In spite of that, he's come out firmly in favor of 502--in large part because he thinks it could win.
"We're at a tipping point," he told the Hempfest crowd. "For the first time, we have won the hearts and minds of majority of the American public." He points to national surveys showing a majority support for marijuana legalization. "So what is needed...is for one or two or three states to stand up to the federal government and say 'To hell with you.' "
In the service of that goal, he pleaded with the crowd. "The debate in Washington state needs to be toned down a little. Let's not demonize each other."
Reached yesterday, Steve Sarich, head of the official No-on-502 group, showed no indication of toning things down. "Keith Stroup is a sleazy bastard," Sarich said. He claims NORML just wants to pass I-502 so that it can go back to its funders and "say that it passed something in Washington."
Find picture of No-on-502 advocacy on next page.
Sensible Washington, which plans to start gathering signatures in January for its own legalization initiative, used its Hempfest booth to promote a No-on-502 message.