Marijuana Legalization Initiative 502 Heads to Decisive Victory

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Get ready to light up, Washington state! Marijuana legalization Initiative 502 is well on the road to passing.

*See Also: Pot Mama

Tonight's initial election returns show the initiative leading statewide by a 56 percent to 43 percent margin. In King County, the early results are even more decisive, with nearly 64 percent giving 502 the thumbs up, compared to only 36 percent voting against.

As the numbers were read out in the pro-502 party at Belltown's Hotel Andra, the over-capacity crowd of some 200 people turned ecstatic. Campaign director Alison Holcomb, who only moments before had seen less encouraging numbers, locked outreach director Tonia Winchester (pictured below with Holcomb) in a tight embrace. With tears in her eyes, Holcomb declared the vote "historic" and said that "Washington state exhibited tremendous leadership."

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The same could be said about Colorado, whose voters also appear to have passed a marijuana legalization. Oregon's legalization initiative seems to have been defeated.

"This is an amazing night," said City Attorney Pete Holmes, taking the podium. Holmes, one of several high-profile sponsors behind the initiative, said the vote was "about more than just marijuana. This is about good government." Only three years ago, he said, Seattle was set on building another jail. Now he says, we're "showing that there is a better way" to deal with people who smoke marijuana than to lock them up--a point echoed by fellow sponsor, Roger Roffman, a University of Washington professor emeritus of social work, who called the initiative a "true public health approach."

Undoubtedly, it was the initiative's moderate approach that appealed to many voters. Initiative sponsors repeatedly said they were not encouraging marijuana use; they simply didn't believe in a punitive response that disproportionately jailed minorities and fueled a violent black market. A blitz of advertising, some featuring middle aged moms, also drove that message home, something enabled by millions of dollars of funding that went into the campaign.

As of the most recent filing with the state Public Disclosure Commission, the 502 campaign had raised more than $6 million. The No on 502 campaign had raised less than $7,000.

Indeed, there wasn't much organized opposition at all, one of the biggest surprises of the campaign. While supporters had feared that law enforcement groups might come in swinging as the election neared, adding their voice to marijuana activists who saw the law as too restrictive, that never happened. In October, a group of former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration administrators implored upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to come out with a strong statement opposing 502 and the other marijuana legalization initiatives. But Holder never did.

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The big question is what the feds will do now. Holmes alluded to this tonight, saying that he "looked forward to conversations already begun with federal authorities." Speaking afterward with Seattle Weekly, he said he had talked to U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Jenny Durkan only this morning. "First of all, there will be no surprises," Holmes says Durkan told him, meaning that she'll alert him to whatever moves the feds might make.

Holmes noted that the feds have some time to decide upon a game plan. While the initiative allows for marijuana possession beginning on December 6, the measure gives the state until December 1 of 2013 to set up rules for licensing, growing and distribution.

As you might expect given the tenor of the campaign, nobody was overtly smoking pot at tonight's party. But there was a whiff of pot in the air in certain corners of the room. "There are a lot of medical marijuana patients here," Winchester said, suggesting that they carried the smell of their medicine with them. On December 6, they might carry a joint with them as well.

Update:As of the end of this evening, the statewide margin has narrowed only slightly, with 55 percents of ballots counted in the yes column, and 45 percent in the no.

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