I-1068 backers focus on ACLU

Marijuana legalization initiative text

Last week, the Sensible Washington campaign to legalize marijuana got their first batch of printed petitions, and has hit the streets.

This week, the campaign started out by issuing a public response to the ACLU of Washington for refusing to endorse the initiative (and worse, according to Sensible Washington, for posting the "private" email sent by the campaign).

"Sensible Washington is disappointed that the ACLU of Washington is refusing to support I-1068. We believe that in so doing the group is ignoring the wishes of many of its members and contradicts its years of support for marijuana drug reform. We find it especially ironic that the organization which initially promoted legalization and reform in Washington State should retreat from its last 10 years of work on that front."

Below we are including the message from the ACLU of Washington, which caused the Sensible Washington board to focus their energy on the group. We are posting this because it is not readily available online, and the Sensible Washington article quotes it in part.

To be clear, we disagree with the ACLU's position on the need to regulate cannabis like alcohol or tobacco. Yet it seems unfortunate that a volunteer initiative campaign facing a significant uphill battle would start public battles against long-established political groups for their refusal to endorse the initiative. It seems akin to shouting from the rooftops that one lacks institutional support and would rather focus on attacking those who don't get behind their campaign than build their signature gathering capacity to that all important 2500+ per day mark.

Feb 18: Sensible Washington inquiry

From: douglas hiatt
Sent: Thursday, February 18, 2010 3:21 PM
To: Alison Holcomb
Subject: position

hey alison, i would like to know what, if anything, you guys are willing to do to help. i inquired whether you guys would do an e mail or put us in your e mail or do a link on your webcite etc. i know that there are issues but what the hell. i just want to know what you guys are willing to do. we have had a really good response and have a lot of volunteers etc but when i was talking to ethan today, from an airport somewhere, he asked my what your guys position was and what you would be doing. i sis not know what to say and told him i would find out. are you guys going to endorse or support or what, is i guess, the question. i would hope that this could be a positive thing that would bring all us advocates together, all over the state. i realize you guys have meetings on stuff like this but as soon as you can let me know, that would be great. i am running into a lot of "what does the aclu think? and "is the aclu supportive?' when fundraising or asking for endorsements. knowing your position will make it easier for me as i just dont know what to expect at this point. anyway, you get the picture. hope all is well with you. douglas

Feb 19: ACLU response to Sensible Washington

From: Alison Holcomb
Date: February 19, 2010 4:59:49 PM PST
To: douglas hiatt
Subject: RE: position

Hello, Douglas.

The ACLU supports marijuana legalization and will continue to work toward that goal. However, we will not be supporting I-1068 because it does not provide a responsible regulatory system.

We believe that full marijuana legalization will be accomplished only through implementation of a controlled regulatory system. Marijuana should be placed under controls that not only remove criminal penalties for adult marijuana use but also address the public's concerns about health and safety. It is unrealistic to regulate it less than tobacco or alcohol.

We're aware that you believe that I-1068's passage would force the legislature to adopt such regulations in 2011. However, the ACLU isnt willing to support an incomplete initiative in hopes that the Legislature will fix it. We believe that when seeking support of such an important and complicated issue, the public should be presented with a carefully considered and well-vetted proposal.

Further, our public opinion research indicates that while a large majority of Washingtonians support reducing the penalty for adult possession of marijuana from a crime to a civil penalty, support for legalization is less solid. And those who do support full legalization understand that legalization means treating marijuana similarly to alcohol taxing and regulating it. Passing an initiative that does not provide for any regulation would be distinctly difficult.

A negative vote on the initiative would be a significant setback for our ongoing reform movement. Failure to pass an ambitious marijuana legalization initiative sends the message that legalization is not what the public wants, deflates our activists, and discourages new constituencies from joining the push for much-needed reforms.

We are sorry that the initiative was drafted and advanced without collaboration with the many organizations that have been pursuing responsible drug policy reform. The ACLU and others have been working for years to address the harms flowing from our failed marijuana laws and to implement legislative reforms. A successful legalization campaign will require input from all of these organizations on strategy development, legislative drafting, and coalition-building. That hasnt happened here.

Alison

Alison Holcomb
Drug Policy Director

Feb 22: Sensible Washington post about the ACLU

Sensible Washington’s Response To The ACLU of Washington’s Refusal Of Support For I-1068

On Friday, February 19, Sensible Washington co-founder Douglas Hiatt received an email from the ACLU of Washington’s drug policy director Alison Holcomb. Her email, which she also publicly posted on Hemp Talk, was in response to a private email Hiatt had sent her two days earlier asking what help the ACLU of Washington would give to Sensible Washington’s I-1068. For example, would the civil rights advocacy non-profit be willing to endorse I-1068?

Holcomb replied: “The ACLU supports marijuana legalization and will continue to work toward that goal. However, we will not be supporting I-1068 because it does not provide a responsible regulatory system.”

Holcomb also offered her justification for continuing to work with the Washington State Legislature in attempting to achieve marijuana legal reform. The Legislature this year failed to pass two ACLU of Washington-sponsored bills on marijuana legal reform and over the past decade the Legislature has proven incapable of offering sensible reform of the state’s marijuana laws to the citizens of Washington State.

Sensible Washington is disappointed that the ACLU of Washington is refusing to support I-1068. We believe that in so doing the group is ignoring the wishes of many of its members and contradicts its years of support for marijuana drug reform. We find it especially ironic that the organization which initially promoted legalization and reform in Washington State should retreat from its last 10 years of work on that front.

We are especially disturbed by the characterization of I-1068 as irresponsible based upon lack of regulation when the ACLU of Washington is well aware that the initiative could not include a regulatory scheme. Federal preemption issues make a comprehensive tax and regulate scheme impossible and the single issue rule for initiatives in Washington State does not help either. Those restrictions limit the scope of any initiative to removing criminal penalties for adults. If I-1068 is passed this November it will fall to the State Legislature to provide a legal framework for adult marijuana use, possession and cultivation. The ACLU of Washington has been involved in developing such frameworks, making its current position on I-1068 even more curious.

We are confused that the ACLU of Washington doesn’t seem to get that it is wrong for the State of Washington to continue to waste about $105 million a year in taxpayer funds to arrest, prosecute and imprison over 12,000 otherwise responsible citizens a year for marijuana-related offenses. We are confused that the ACLU of Washington would be willing to accept a state medical marijuana law which offers little legal protection to sick and dying patients. And we are utterly baffled that the ACLU of Washington does not get that the repeated failure of the Legislature to reform this state’s marijuana laws indicates that an initiative to the people is the only responsible method to achieve the kind of reform that the citizens of Washington State clearly desire.

We have a window of opportunity given current societal changes and public discontent with marijuana laws to assist the public in understanding the need for reform and how it can be accomplished sensibly. It is sensible to prevent the State of Washington from wasting about $105 million a year—and possibly tens of millions of dollars more—in taxpayer funds during the depths of a recession. It is sensible to end criminal penalties for responsible adults. It is sensible to protect medical marijuana patients now. Arrests of patients are expanding and the ACLU of Washington has not been effective in passing legislation to protect them.

And it is highly sensible and desirable to promote a reasoned discussion on the efficacy of the war on drugs in a statewide context that will allow regular voters to be engaged instead of merely relying upon state legislators—many of whom have their own political agendas and refuse to end marijuana prohibition in this state.

If the ACLU of Washington does not believe that Washington State is ready for change and to make history, then we ask that the organization remain neutral and refrain from providing false information to the public about I-1068 such as the mischaracterization of I-1068’s lack of regulation. It is also time for the ACLU of Washington—and Holcomb, in particular—to stop tossing about innuendoes that marijuana is not a benign drug, or that the removal of criminal penalties will lead to the promotion of criminal activity. As they well know, it is prohibition that leads to these evils—not the removal of the criminal penalties.

Did the ACLU of Washington miss the recent endorsement of I-1068 by retired Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper? Or the endorsement of former State Rep. Toby Nixon (R-Kirkland)? These responsible experts on drug policy reform understand that I-1068 is the beginning of the end of the failed war on drugs. Why doesn’t the ACLU of Washington?

The ACLU of Washington’s phone number is 206-624-2184 and its website is www.aclu-wa.org.

To be clear, these are the same drug policy leaders involved in similar personal-attack battles over SB-6032 during the 2007 legislative session. Seems like old habits die hard, and it's hard to let go of the past. Remember, drug policy colleagues, despite our differences in opinion, we are working toward the same goals. Let's consider our organizational missions and the real work at hand before diverting our limited energy to negative campaigning.