Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Author: Sam Skolnik, Seattle P-I Reporter
Published: Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Contact: [email protected]
Seattle voters were asked to send a message to local police and prosecutors: Don't go after pot smokers.
While Initiative 75 wouldn't actually legalize marijuana possession, it would make the city stand out nationally for its liberal attitude on the topic.
I-75 would require the Seattle Police Department and the City Attorney's Office to make small-scale marijuana possession, when intended for adult personal use, their "lowest law-enforcement priority."
Early absentee results Tuesday night showed the measure with a slight lead.
An informal survey of voters at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in lower Queen Anne found fervent support for the measure.
"If anything, marijuana should be legal and alcohol illegal," said Shelley Mangini, a 30-year-old waitress and bartender. "You just don't get aggressive when you smoke pot. I think that (the measure) is going to move us in the right direction."
The King County Bar Association, the League of Women Voters of Seattle and the American Civil Liberties Union have lined up in favor of the measure, against a constellation of top city and county law enforcers.
The Sensible Seattle Coalition, which sponsored I-75, raised just over $150,000 and sent out three voter mailings to more than 70,000 Seattle residents, according to Dominic Holden, city elections filings and campaign chairman. No organized citizens group formed to oppose the measure.
Mayor Greg Nickels declined to take a public position on the matter.
Possessing 40 grams or less of marijuana in Washington is a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than 90 days in jail. Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr said his office prosecutes 100 to 150 such cases per year.
I-75 backers argue that under the measure, police -- facing significant budget cuts -- would be able to increase their focus on violent criminals. Also, they say, the law would protect people who smoke marijuana for medical reasons.
"The health risks associated with marijuana smoking do not justify the individual and public cost of arresting, prosecuting and jailing marijuana users," wrote Democratic state Sens. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Adam Kline in a recent opinion piece for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
But I-75 critics have responded that the initiative tacitly endorses smoking marijuana, which is illegal and often unhealthy.
It sends the wrong message that pot use is OK, opponents say. And it is misleading to argue that under I-75 police would be able to devote more time to tackling violent crime. Pot possession cases are already far down on the list.
"It's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist," Carr said.
John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, lambasted I-75 in a recent trip to Seattle. "If you understand substance abuse is a disease, why would you want to foster that disease?" he asked.
Other jurisdictions that have similar laws on the books include Ann Arbor, Mich., and Berkeley, Calif.
Nation's Drug Czar Blasts City's Initiative 75
I-75: a Dopey Idea - Seattle Times