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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

October 18, 2013 at 1:53 PM

California panel looks at legalizing pot with assist from Washington state

There was significant pot news out of California Thursday with the announcement that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is heading an ACLU panel that aims to put a legalization measure before Golden State voters during the next presidential election in 2016.

If such a measure passes in the country’s largest state, pot advocates have predicted it could effectively end federal prohibition of marijuana.

Alison Holcomb, the chief author of Washington state’s legal pot law, is on the panel along with at least one skeptic, Keith Humphreys, a former White House drug policy advisor. The panel includes 13 others, including medical, legal and law enforcement experts.

California voters rejected a legalization measure, Proposition 19 in 2010. But Prop. 19 lacked a plan for statewide regulation and taxation of legal pot. Only 46.5 percent of voters supported it.

“Prop. 19 was remarkably stupid and had little outside support,” said Mark Kleiman, a UCLA professor and co-author of a book on marijuana legalization. Still, if Prop. 19 was on the ballot during a high-turnout presidential election, Kleiman said, that alone would make it too-close-to-call.

The ACLU panel is setting out to study a legal pot plan calling for taxes and tight regulations similar to what Colorado and Washington have adopted. The ACLU panel will monitor the legal pot systems in those two states. “It matters a lot if they get it right,” Kleiman said of the ACLU panel’s ultimate proposal.

At a recent High Times panel in Seattle, a handful of experts predicted that Oregon and Alaska would likely legalize pot in 2014. If California legalized in 2016, Holcomb said it would be a “game-ender” for federal prohibition.

Kleiman, Washington state’s top pot consultant, has quipped that national legalization would come in Hillary Clinton’s second presidential term.

“It makes in a lot harder to keep prohibition nationally, but not impossible” if California legalized pot, Kleiman said. “Congress can’t even keep government open. It might have a problem legalizing pot.”

Comments | More in Marijuana | Topics: Alison Holcomb, I-502, marijuana

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