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Marijuana Legalization Campaigns Heat Up

Liz Jones

This weekend, Hempfest will draw thousands of marijuana supporters to Seattle. Among them will be pot activists both for and against Washington Initiative 502.

The measure aims to legalize marijuana for recreational use. But some medical marijuana patients and providers say it would put them at risk and they're ramping up their opposition.


[Ed.: Safe Access Alliance fired spokesperson Philip Dawdy on the date this story aired on 8/14. The AP reports the group's president faulted Dawdy for portraying Safe Access Alliance as a group established to oppose to I–502. KUOW interviewed Dawdy before he was fired. (8/15/2012)]

Every year, Seattle's Hempfest attracts a huge crowd of people who want more lenient laws for marijuana, people like Philip Dawdy. But this year, he'll be there to campaign against an initiative to legalize pot.

Dawdy: "This is being done with a lot of reluctance, and a heavy heart, and a lot of frustration."

Dawdy is with a group called Safe Access Alliance. It includes medical marijuana patients and providers, plus dispensary owners who could lose some business if the state regulates their market.

But Dawdy says money's not the group's main concern. He's says it's more about the initiative's harsh penalties for people who drive under the influence of pot.

Dawdy: "Under 502, if passed, anybody five nanograms and above absolutely gets a DUI. Period. End of paragraph. And no debate; no defense."

Dowdy says some medical marijuana patients may measure as over the limit, even if they don't show signs of impairment.

Holcomb: "Police officers still have to have proof of impairment to pull you over in the first place. The THC DUI provision operates just like our .08 for alcohol."

That's Alison Holcomb with New Approach Washington. It's heading up the Initiative 502 campaign.

The measure would set a DUI limit for pot at five nanograms of THC in your blood. Holcomb says studies show that a person's danger at the wheel increases at that level.

Another of Dawdy's concerns is about access. He fears marijuana patients would end up with fewer places to buy cannabis.

The initiative would allow licensed retailers to sell pot to people age 21 or older. But no retailers could set up near places like schools, parks and playgrounds.

Dawdy: "That would effectively shut down access to cannabis. And I don't care whether we're talking about recreational use or medical use. There would be no safe access in major parts of Seattle."

Holcomb: "No, that's entirely inaccurate because Initiative 502 only addresses retail outlets that are selling marijuana to all adults 21 and over. It in no way impacts Washington's medical marijuana law."

Both campaigns for and against I–502 plan to ramp up as the fall election season moves into full swing. And they'll both be at Hempfest this weekend, looking for a receptive crowd.

I'm Liz Jones, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW