Alison Holcomb's Pot Crusade Goes Mainstream

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Michael Clinard
Alison Holcomb isn't your average marijuana activist. For starters, she doesn't smoke pot. She also wears pencil skirts and silky blouses to Hempfest, and brings along her four-year-old son Dashiell. You're unlikely to hear her utter "fuck the feds," though many others will in the brash, macho world of cannabis reform.

*See also: Pot Mama

Yet Holcomb is the author and campaign director of Initiative 502, the measure that has a good chance of making Washington the first state in the county to end marijuana prohibition.

An ACLU staffer, she came out of the gate with a jaw-dropping list of sponsors--including travel guru Rick Steves, City Attorney Pete Holmes and former U.S. Attorney and Bush appointee John McKay--and keeps winning more and more endorsements as time goes on. The latest stunner: the statewide Children's Alliance, not the usual group to align itself with cannabis reform.

She's pulled off these victories by creating a unique, complex initiative designed to appeal to the mainstream, one that is, as she and her staffers are at pains to emphasize, far from "pro-pot." It's no accident that a TV ad for the initiative features a middle-aged mom of four. Such moms are her audience, as are civil libertarians, African Americans worried about racial disparity in drug enforcement, and taxpayers of all stripes tired of all the money being siphoned off for that cause.

Ironically, her most vociferous critics come from inside the marijuana reform movement, and they feel that Holcomb is "pandering" to soccer moms and other relatively conservative voters. As defense attorney and pot activist Douglas Hiatt puts it, referring to the initiative: "You're god damned right it isn't pro-pot. But it should be."

Another fierce critic is fellow lawyer and marijuana activist Jeffrey Steinborn--a man Holcomb once called her boss, and a father figure. He is not speaking to her now. At least he's not calling her the devil, as some marijuana activists are.

The vitriol is as unprecedented as is Holcomb's success. And to fully understand the dynamic, you have to know a little about the years that led up to this point, when Holcomb was cutting her teeth on marijuana activism, earning fans and enemies along the way. Our cover story this week, "Pot Mama," tells the tale.

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