High Times magazine has taken their popular “Cannabis Cup” competition and created a traveling road show like no other. With the addition of medical marijuana laws in certain states, High Times has positioned themselves as a cultural phenomenon with a history rich in outlaws, now rich with insiders. High Times has been accused of not having enough political backbone since their first year in print, 1974. But to give them credit, they took the opportunity to host a paneled discussion on the current ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state, I-502. With just weeks until the election, the cannabis community in Washington State is currently divided on their own initiative. Some dissent is to be expected. A group of outlaws, cannabis consumers and freedom fighters will surely have members unwilling to let any regulations be imposed on a plant, but like Proposition 19 in California, the failed initiative from 2010, the divide in the community is evidenced by the packed house in the large auditorium, and the applause breaks when either side scored a talking point.
The moderator, Dave Bienenstock, the West Coast editor for the magazine decided to calm the masses by making everyone in the room declare their desire to legalize marijuana for consumption and industry. The panel was stacked with heavyweights for both sides. Attorneys Doug Hiatt and Jeffrey Steinborn represented the No on I-502 crowd, and Alison Holcomb, the drug policy director for the Washington ACLU and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes represented the Yes on I-502 position. The debate was much better matched than the much anticipated I-502 panel held at Seattle Hempfest a few weeks ago. That was unfairly waged between Ms. Holcomb and celebrity lawyer and NORML founder, Keith Stroup as the proponents of the measure two – very well spoken and charismatic lawyers – up against an activist and a blogger.
All four panelists were well informed about the issue and passionate about their side. The crowd seemed to lean more toward the No on I-502 comments, something that seems surreal at a festival that enjoys a legalized type atmosphere and a community that has been using the word “legalize” like a battle cry, a greeting and a hashtag. In the end, I think the better argument was given from Alison Holcomb and Pete Holmes. Both Jeffrey Steinborn and Doug Hiatt spent most of their time telling the crowd about the dystopia that would be a post I-502 world. While they had very cogent points about adding additional penalties for young people between the ages of 16 and 21 (drivers), Steinborn made a lengthy and incoherent argument about the difficulty of defending DUID cases, and fears of federal pre-emption that left me wondering if he would ever want someone to vote for legalization at the state level. Hiatt, a hard-working activist with a hypnotic presence (I hope I am never a defendant, but if I ever am, I dream of Doug or a lawyer like him commanding the courtroom on my behalf) seemed frustrated and unusually rattled. While Holcomb or Holmes were stating their cases, he could be seen rolling his eyes, making a cut-off movement at his neck and throwing his hands up in the air in mock disgust. But he did have the crowd. Doug Hiatt undoubtedly got the most applause for his heartfelt pleas to vote against I-502.
I think the most compelling argument came from Pete Holmes, the City Prosecutor who made the brave political statement he would no longer prosecute personal amount marijuana possession crimes because he had better things to do. He said that none of us can know what the feds will do when the states say they want to legalize marijuana. But he said that there is no stronger statement that we can send them as voters that we want the policy changed now by passing not just I-502, but the Oregon legalizationMeasure 80 and Colorado’s Amendment 64. Holmes is up for re-election next year. As an elected City Prosecutor openly in stark disagreement with state law enforcement, Holmes has as much at stake on a personal level as anyone.