Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Seattle Voters Favor Measure on Marijuana

By Beth Kaiman
Seattle Times staff reporter

A Seattle initiative that would make adult marijuana possession the lowest law-enforcement priority was passing last night, leaving police and prosecutors concerned about a soft-on-drugs message. I-75 was promoted as a way to make the most of limited law-enforcement resources, though critics called it a veiled attempt to condone marijuana use. I-75's biggest financial backers included the national Marijuana Policy Project and Peter Lewis, head of Ohio-based Progressive Auto Insurance, which favor decriminalization.

Dominic Holden, a leader in the I-75 campaign and organizer of Seattle's annual Hempfest, said voters "don't think that adults who possess marijuana for personal use should go to jail."

Victory is likely to be mostly symbolic.

Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske has said I-75 wouldn't change police work on the street. Police handle about 400 misdemeanor-possession cases a year.

City Attorney Tom Carr predicted defense attorneys now will likely challenge the prosecution of possession cases as running contrary to voters' wishes.

He said I-75 gives children the idea that marijuana use is something society is going to "wink at and ignore."

It was the second time in five years Seattle voters have considered easing up on drug laws. A 1998 medical-marijuana initiative passed with 70 percent of the vote.

There was no organized opposition to I-75, though White House drug czar John Walters came to Seattle and called it irresponsible.

I-75 was endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, the King County Bar and League of Women Voters of Seattle.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company