Pot Legalization's Tipping Point

On the cusp of history, NORML's founder calls for sanity in the I-502 debate.

Washington, D.C., lawyer Keith Stroup founded NORML, one of the nation's leading organizations advocating marijuana law reform, in 1970. So he's been working this issue a long, long time. But now he's seeing something new in Washington state. And it's not good.

"Never has an issue divided our community like 502," he said during a debate at Hempfest last weekend, speaking about the initiative that would legalize and regulate marijuana in our state.

Certainly, other initiatives have also given rise to fractiousness. Take Colorado, where eight—count 'em—eight competing legalization initiatives were filed with the state last year. (One is now on the November ballot.) But Stroup says the level of animosity he's seen in this state tops Colorado, as well as Oregon, which also has a legalization initiative on the ballot.

In an interview with Seattle Weekly, Stroup partly blames the infighting on I-502 opponents, some of whom he calls "kind of crude." He says one anti-502 crusader even threatened to bring a gun to a meeting a few days ago.

But Stroup also recognizes that some opponents have legitimate concerns, most notably the provision in I-502 that sets a new standard for marijuana-based DUI charges. Stroup says he also opposes that provision. In spite of that, he's come out firmly in favor of I-502—in large part because he thinks it could win.

"We're at a tipping point," he told the Hempfest crowd. "For the first time, we have won the hearts and minds of majority of the American public." He points to national surveys showing a majority support for marijuana legalization. "So what is needed . . . is for one or two or three states to stand up to the federal government and say 'To hell with you.' "

In the service of that goal, he pleaded with the crowd. "The debate in Washington state needs to be toned down a little. Let's not demonize each other."

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