OLYMPIA (AP) -- A measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana is likely to be on the November ballot, after the secretary of the state's office certified the initiative Friday, saying the campaign had turned in enough valid petition signatures.Initiative 502 now goes to the Legislature, but lawmakers are not likely to take up the issue during the short 60-day session that ends on March 8, meaning it would automatically appear on the ballot in the fall election.
"It's time to for a new approach to marijuana policy in Washington state," Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a written statement released by New Approach, the legalization campaign. "Passing this measure will free up law enforcement resources, allowing police and prosecutors to focus on violent criminals instead of low-level marijuana offenders."
David Ammons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Sam Reed, said a random 3 percent sampling of the nearly 355,000 petition signatures turned in last month indicated sponsors had nearly 278,000 valid signatures, more than the 241,153 necessary to qualify.
The measure was provisionally certified to the Legislature last week, while the signature check was still under way, so the state House and Senate could assign the measure to committees for further action. So far, neither the House nor Senate has scheduled any hearings.
Ammons said the Legislature has several options. It can pass the measure as submitted; reject it and let it go to the ballot this fall; ignore it and let it go to the ballot; or let it go to the ballot along with a legislative alternative.
I-502 would create a system of state-licensed growers, processors and stores, and impose a 25 percent excise on wholesale and retail sales of marijuana. People 21 and over could buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana; one pound of marijuana-infused product in solid form, such as brownies; or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids.
The initiative has several high-profile sponsors, including former Seattle U.S. Attorney John McKay and travel guide guru Rick Steves.
Washington state already has a voter-approved medical marijuana law that gives doctors the right to recommend -- but not technically prescribe -- marijuana for people suffering from cancer and other conditions that cause intractable pain.
Some medical marijuana patients oppose I-502, taking issue with an element of the initiative that would make it illegal for a motorist to have more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in their system. THC is the active ingredient of cannabis.
They argue that medical marijuana patients' levels vary depending on the body's tolerance, putting them at greater risk of arrest.
Those opponents filed a counter initiative proposal earlier this month that would provide medical marijuana patients with protection against arrest and classify hemp as an agricultural product.
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