ACLU of Washington Hails Passage of Seattle Marijuana Initiative

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington today hailed the passage of Initiative 75, a ballot measure making enforcement of marijuana laws relating to adult personal use the lowest enforcement priority for the Seattle Police Department and City Attorney.  With almost all votes cast on yesterday’s election day and a substantial portion of absentee ballots counted, Seattle voters are approving I-75 by a resounding 59-41 percent margin.

I-75 was sponsored by the Sensible Seattle Coalition, a group of local grassroots advocates of drug policy reform.  Supporters included the League of Women Voters of Washington, the King County Bar Association, and the ACLU of Washington, which contributed extensive resources to the campaign.

“The initiative’s victory is part of a growing movement across the country to create a more reasonable policy for dealing with drugs.  Seattle voters recognized that the City should use its law enforcement resources to pursue serious crimes, not to send adults to jail simply for smoking marijuana,” said the ACLU-WA Executive Director Kathleen Taylor.

“Countries around the world are beginning to acknowledge that criminalizing people who use drugs is costly, inhumane, and damaging to society,” added ACLU-WA Drug Policy Reform Project Director Andy Ko, who helped draft the initiative.  

Each year, nearly 90 percent of all marijuana arrests nationally are for possession only, not growing or sales.  There are approximately 700,000 marijuana arrests each year in the United States.  In Washington, as little as 40 grams (1.4 oz.) of marijuana can lead to a felony conviction and up to two years in state prison.  Even with a lesser misdemeanor charge, Seattle residents can be incarcerated for up to 90 days and fined up to $1,000 – for possessing even the smallest amount of marijuana.  

The Sensible Seattle measure will conserve increasingly scarce public resources.  Maintaining each marijuana prisoner in state prisons costs about $24,000 annually.  Even those charged with misdemeanors cost over $80 per day to hold in the King County Jail.  That means a total of well over $7,000 to jail individuals serving the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor conviction.  None of these figures take into account the costs of arrest, prosecutors, defense, the courts, or other public expenditures relating to marijuana law enforcement.

I-75 will also protect medical marijuana patients.  Even under our state’s medical marijuana law, seriously ill patients who use marijuana to treat their illnesses are being investigated, arrested, and prosecuted. This is true even though the voters of Washington overwhelmingly passed Initiative I-692, intending to protect patients suffering from certain diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.