Entries in Legalization (7)


Day One of Legal Pot Marred by Deaths at Alleged Wash. Growing Center

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- The first day of legal marijuana use in Washington State was marred by an attempted robbery ending with two deaths at an alleged pot-growing facility just south of Seattle.

The possession of pot became legal in the state Thursday after voters passed a measure decriminalizing it in November. Day two kicked off with more celebrations under the Space Needle tower, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, but the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department investigated an attempted robbery in Puyallup at an alleged growing center foiled by a homeowner who shot two alleged burglars in front of his 9-year-old son.

Officers say they arrived at the home of the man, 35, Thursday to find two masked men dead on the floor and marijuana plants in the attic, ABC affiliate KOMO-TV News reported.

While the law passed in November made it legal to carry and consume marijuana, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb of the Seattle Police Department said cultivating and selling the drug outside of medical dispensaries is still a crime.

“When you’re engaged in that type of criminal activity, there is an element of risk,” Whitcomb told ABC News Friday.

The legislation leaves Washington in a “murky place,” Whitcomb said. Smokers who have purchased marijuana from a street dealer are in the clear.

But the dealer “is still committing a felony,” he said.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle sent out a statement Wednesday reminding residents that pot is still illegal under federal law and cannot be brought onto federal property.

“Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law,” the memo from U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said.

Federal officials have not said whether they will take action in Colorado and Washington where possession laws now conflict with nationwide drug classifications, but Seattle Police told ABC News Thursday that federal agents were hands-off on pot smokers in the state.

In an ABC News poll released shortly after the election, 48 percent of Americans expressed support for legalizing marijuana.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Marijuana Legalization Celebrations May Be Premature, Lawmakers and Experts Say

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As marijuana supporters across the country rejoice at Colorado and Washington becoming the first states to legalize the drug recreationally, experts and lawmakers warn that the celebrations may be premature.

"I think this is the beginning of the conversation on legalization, not the end," former Obama Drug Policy Advisor Dr. Kevin Sabet told ABC News Wednesday.

"When you have the governors of both states [opposing it] as well as the president and Congress, who has already determined that marijuana is illegal, this is not going to be a walk in the park for marijuana enthusiasts," Sabet said.

In a groundbreaking move, Colorado and Washington voters passed referendums legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The drug is still banned under federal law.


Colorado's Proposition 64 to the state's constitution makes it legal for anyone over the age of 21 to possess marijuana and for businesses to sell it.

"The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement. "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly."

A similar measure on the ballot in Washington state legalizes small amounts of marijuana for people over 21.

Even though the measures have passed, they are likely to meet legal challenges very quickly.

Sabet predicted that the federal government would find a way to make clear that the passage of the amendments violates federal law and they won't "take this lying down."

"I wouldn't advise anyone to toke up just yet. This is going to be caught up in the courts. This is a to-be-determined situation," Sabet said. "The government has multiple avenues. They can wait until it's implemented, take action before it's implemented, reiterate what federal law is, send warning letters."

The avenue the federal government will choose remains to be seen, Sabet said, especially since the passage is unprecedented.

"If you look back, the only precedent is the medical marijuana situation," he said.

In 2005, the Supreme Court by an 8-0 margin struck down a California law that legalized medical marijuana in the state. The Court said Congress had the power to criminalize marijuana under the Commerce Clause.

He said that it may take a state's move toward implementation to spur the federal government into intervening.

"I think you're going to see very soon a response from the administration," he said. "It's completely premature for any legalization advocate to be celebrating at this point."

Nevertheless, the amendment's strongest proponents in Colorado celebrated the win.

"The people of Colorado have rejected the failed policy of marijuana prohibition," said Brian Vicente, co-director of the Yes on 64 campaign, according to ABC News Denver affiliate KMGH. "Thanks to their votes, we will now reap the benefits of regulation."

"It would certainly be a travesty if the Obama administration used its power to impose marijuana prohibition upon a state whose people have declared, through the democratic process, that they want it to end," Vicente said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) declined to discuss their plans moving forward.

"The Drug Enforcement Administration's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," the DEA said in a statement Wednesday. "In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. The Department of Justice is reviewing the ballot initiatives and we have no additional comment at this time."

A similar ballot issue to legalize marijuana in Oregon did not pass. In Massachusetts, voters approved legislation to allow marijuana for medicinal reasons, joining 17 other states that allow it.

When asked if the federal government may try to quickly quash the amendments as a way to prevent a potential future domino effect of other states following in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington, Sabet said a failed legalization could actually set the movement back.

"A lot is going to ride on what happens next in these two states," he said. "This very well may backfire because if this does not turn out so well, if implementation does not happen, the donors and millionaires that donated for this to happen may pause when doing it in other states."

"I think people should just pause before celebrating this," Sabet said. "The story is just beginning."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


What Happens If Washington State Legalizes Pot?

Hemera/Thinkstock(OLYMPIA, Wash.) -- Washington state probably won't influence the 2012 presidential race, but voters there could still leave the next president in a haze.

On Tuesday, Washington may very well become the first state to legalize the possession, cultivation and commercial sale of marijuana, both Republicans and Democrats say -- bringing the state into apparent conflict with federal law if voters approve Initiative 502, which would allow residents over 21 to buy pot from stores licensed and regulated by the state liquor board.

If I-502 passes, it remains unclear how the president, whoever he is, will respond.

The White House declined to comment to ABC News when asked whether President Obama would seek to overturn I-502, should it pass and should he remain in office. So did Obama's Office of National Drug Control Policy. Neither Obama's nor Romney's presidential campaign responded to multiple emails seeking comment over the weekend.

"We are not going to speculate on the outcome of the various ballot initiatives in each of the states," Department of Justice spokeswoman Allison Price wrote in an email.

Representatives of both political parties in Washington told ABC News that prospects for I-502 look good.

"I have no doubt it's gonna pass," Washington Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur told ABC News. The state GOP did not take a position on the measure, and no one raised it in an endorsement meeting, Wilbur said. "As liberal as the state is ... I wouldn't be surprised to see it at 55/45," Wilbur said, referring to percentages of the vote for and against.

"It's really hard to know what's going to happen," Washington Democratic Party spokesman Benton Strong said. "I think most of the polls look positive for it."

Their favorable handicapping is informed partly by automated polls, considered unreliable by ABC News, that predict the measure will pass by a comfortable margin. Major pollsters have not surveyed in Washington in 2012, focusing instead on competitive presidential-battleground states.

Washington's Republican and Democratic candidates for attorney general have pledged to defend it in federal court if it passes and is challenged, although both oppose the measure. Both men think a federal challenge is likely.

"If it does pass, and it looks like it may pass in this state, we will be exactly contrary to federal criminal law," said Reagan Dunn, the Republican candidate, at their September debate. Dunn was referring to the Controlled Substances Act, enacted under President Nixon in 1970. "Depending on who is the U.S. attorney, depending on who is the attorney general of the United States, we are very likely as a state to be sued and challenged in federal court on this issue." Dunn then touted his experience trying cases in federal court.

"If the voters approve the initiative, obviously my job is to defend that state law," said Bob Ferguson, the Democratic candidate. "It won't be easy. Anyone who says it will be easy is kidding themselves."

If I-502 passes, possession will become legal 30 days after Election Day, but regulated commercial sale would not begin until Dec. 6, 2013, after a year-long rule-making process granted to the state's health department. During that time, supporters hope to negotiate with the federal government and avoid a challenge.

Medical marijuana doesn't offer a clear picture of how the federal government would respond to I-502 passing, either. A total of 17 states, including Washington, plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and the Obama administration's approach to those state laws has drawn criticism from marijuana advocates. A 2009 Justice Department memo urged U.S. attorneys to avoid prosecuting medical-marijuana patients who follow state law; a later memo advocated prosecution of medical pot shops.

Regardless of whether Washington's initiative passes, marijuana legalizers have said they will continue to push state initiatives. After major state/federal issues have arisen in court over Arizona's immigration law and funding provisions in Obama's health-reform law, advocates are pushing marijuana to become the next major states' rights legal conflict.

"Only through a process of states challenging federal marijuana policy and demanding that they be allowed to regulate marijuana in a way that's socially responsible for local communities are we also going to see a change in federal policy," Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann told ABC News.

Since the candidates won't say how they'd handle such a scenario, Washington, Oregon and Colorado -- where similar initatives will also appear on the ballot Tuesday -- will have to wait and see if the issue is forced.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mass. Voters Sent to Bogus Website Warning of Pot-Induced ‘Twinkie Addiction’

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Organizers of the committee opposing a Massachusetts state initiative to legalize medical marijuana were munching crow this week after mistakenly directing voters to a satirical website that warns a “Yes” vote could lead to a run on Twinkies, forcing residents to “eat Snowballs and other undesirable snacks that are left behind on store shelves.

“Do you really want your children growing up in a world without Twinkies?” the site warns.

If voters come out in favor of "Question 3" in November, Massachusetts would wipe out criminal and civil penalties for the use of marijuana, provided it’s prescribed by a qualified medical practitioner. The latest survey, taken by Public Policy Polling late last month, shows the measure passing by a 31 point margin, 58-27 percent.

When asked to provide information for the state voters’ guide, the opposition “Vote No On Question 3″ group submitted a link to, a Web address they had not yet registered. When Bostonian Scott Gacek noticed, he grabbed the domain name and built the site. It went live Tuesday, Brian McNiff, spokesman for the Massachusetts secretary of state, confirmed earlier Friday.

“The whole thing is pretty funny and tragic at the same time,” Kevin A. Sabet, a spokesman for the “No on Question 3″ committee, said in an email Friday evening. “The campaign was beaten to the punch by a satirist. Sadly, some voters may be uninformed of the ramifications of Question 3.”

Among the headlines on the fake “Vote No” homepage Friday: “Local Drug Dealers’ Union Says ‘Vote No On Question 3′” and “FACT: Medical Marijuana Will Hurt Opiate Based Medication Sales,” which makes a more serious accusation against the pharmaceutical industry:

“If medical marijuana is legalized in Massachusetts, thousands of patients will stop using opiate-based medications, like morphine and Oxycontin, which will hurt the shareholders of some of today’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

This could have potentially adverse effects on other industries, such as luxury car and yacht sales, as shareholders will have less disposable income to indulge on such luxuries.”

“Vote No On Question 3″ has since purchased another site -- -- which has replaced Gacek’s on the Massachusetts online voters’ guide. But for the millions of state voters who take their cue from the paper edition, it’s too late, they’ll be stuck contending with the “Fact” the "Red Sox are in Last Place Because of Question 3.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hawaii Senate Passes Bill to Legalize Civil Unions

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(HONOLULU) -- Hawaii's Senate passed a measure Wednesday to make civil unions legal in the state.

The Senate voted 18-5 in favor of the bill, which will now go to Gov. Neil Abercrombie's desk.  The governor is expected to sign the bill into action within 10 legislative days.

Once signed, civil unions will become legal in Hawaii starting Jan. 1, 2012.

After the bill was passed, Abercrombie issued a statement, saying, "I appreciate all the time and effort invested by those who shared their thoughts and concerns regarding civil unions in Hawaii.  This has been an emotional process for everyone involved, but that process is now ended.  Everyone has been heard; all points of view respected."

"For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii," the governor added.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New High: 46% of Americans Support Legalizing Marijuana

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A new high of 46 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, according to a new Gallup survey.

The figure represents only a two percent rise from 2009, but continues an upward trend since 2000, when just 31 percent of Americans supported the drug’s legalization.

Across all sub-groups that were polled, liberals and 18-to-19 year-olds expressed the highest level of support with 72 percent and 61 percent respectively.

Support for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, however, was down from 78 percent in 2005 to 70 percent.
Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Calif. Pot Legalization Support Falls; Opponents Grow Optimistic

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- Two recent polls show that support for Prop 19, which would legalize marijuana in California, is losing its buzz, and that's making opponents of the measure more confident as Nov. 2 approaches.

"We've done a ton of radio, television and print interviews," said Roger Salazar of No on Prop 19: Public Safety First, the measure's biggest foe. "The more we're able to get out and talk to people, the more they've been apt to take a close look at [the bill]."

Proposition 19 would allow people 21 and older to cultivate up to 25 square feet of marijuana and carry up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use at private locations. The state would regulate businesses selling marijuana and collect fees and taxes the way it does for cigarettes and alcohol.

Marijuana is California's biggest cash crop, worth $14 billion in sales, nearly double the state's second-biggest revenue generator, the dairy industry.

Just last month, polls showed support for the bill was gaining steam. However, a Public Policy Institute of California survey published last week revealed that voters had changed their minds and were now opposed, 49 percent to 44 percent. A Los Angeles Times/USC poll released last Friday put the numbers at 51 percent opposed, to 39 percent in favor.

Salazar credited newspaper editorial boards with the change in direction after they came out against Prop 19, focusing on the negative aspects of legalizing marijuana. He said his organization and others felt good about Election Day and believed the trend was moving in their direction.

"If we can show people the flaws...they'll vote no," Salazar said. "Voters can see legalizing marijuana if they can get something out of it. [Prop 19] doesn't do what it says it's gonna do and will just free potheads to do whatever they want."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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