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.