Washington state last weighed in on marijuana in 1998, when voters enthusiastically approved what was at the time a pioneering change – allowing the chronically ill to get as high as they needed. Fourteen years in marijuana policy debates seems an eon, and medical marijuana in Washington is now so settled that the entire elected leadership of Seattle endorses full legalization.
But early polls on the new big marijuana law change on the November ballot – Initiative 502 - has indicated teetering support. Despite sign-on from ex-cops, prosecutors and blue-blood businessmen and philanthropists, I-502 hasn’t bumped much above 50 percent, except in the campaign’s own polling, and opposition hovering in the mid-40s.
Now, a SurveyUSA/KING5 poll compiled last week finds a huge swing: 55 percent approve, 32 percent oppose, with 13 percent undecided. As much as you can believe one poll, the new numbers indicate previously opposed voters are now taking a second look. SurveyUSA/KING5′s January poll on I-502 found 51 percent in favor, 41 percent opposed and 8 percent undecided.
If passed, I-502 would be the biggest change in marijuana policy in decades, and would undoubtly be the most pot-friendly. It would not only legalize and heavily tax one-ounce sales of marijuana, it creates a new state bureaucracy within the Washington State Liquor Control board to license and regulate state-licensed marijuana shops, grow farms and processing of cannabis-infused items. It legalizes industrial hemp. It would raise more than $560 million a year in new taxes, according to state estimates. And it creates a new driving-while-high standard.
“People are getting more comfortable when they take a closer look,” said Alison Holcomb, campaign manager of I-502.
Now, voters will get prodded to take a look, thanks to a $1 million advertising campaign that I-502 is rolling out in August. Holcomb said the campaign will be reporting $1.25 million in new campaign contributions, likely on Monday, and all in big checks from previous donors.
According to Holcomb, Peter Lewis, the founder of Progressive Insurance and a longtime marijuana legalization advocate, and Drug Policy Action, an arm of the New York-based marijuana reform group Drug Policy Alliance, each will add $450,000. Lewis is the biggest overall funder, spending $821,000 on I-502.
Edmonds travel guru Rick Steves is adding $250,000, and the ACLU of Washington is contributing another $100,000, Holcomb said.
The organized opposition to I-502 comes from within the marijuana legalization community, particularly a small but active group in the medical marijuana industry. The primary argument against I-502 is that a new “per se” limit on active THC in the bloodstream is so low it will effectively criminalize driving by patients. They have raised $200 so far. The state association of police and sheriffs have also come out against I-502, but haven’t mounted an active campaign.
Digging into the new poll, a couple of things jump out. Supporters of Rob McKenna, the GOP candidate for governor, who appear the most inspired to vote this year, are split 50-50 on marijuana legalization (but 69-24 opposed to legalizing gay marriage).
But should President Obama and McKenna’s rival, Jay Inslee, turn out their supporters, that bodes well for I-502. Voters for both Democrats are overwhelmingly in favor; Inslee voters like legalization by a 70-20 margin, with just 10 percent undecided.