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Group starts Kent petition drive for marijuana initiative

Jerry Peterson, left, signs a petition at Kent Station for making marijuana offenses a low priority enforcement in the city as he chats with signature gatherer Cydney Moore.  - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Jerry Peterson, left, signs a petition at Kent Station for making marijuana offenses a low priority enforcement in the city as he chats with signature gatherer Cydney Moore.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Jerry Peterson believes that marijuana offenses should be a low-priority enforcement for the Kent Police.

That's why Peterson took a few minutes while visiting the Kent Station shopping mall on Tuesday evening to sign a petition that would let Kent voters decide in November if police should make enforcement of marijuana laws a low priority and not cooperate with any federal enforcements of marijuana laws.

"We got way more important things for cops to do," said Peterson, a 37-year Kent resident. "I was on a jury trial in Seattle for somebody and they said there was a horrible amount of marijuana and all the state went through was just a waste. We found the guy not guilty.

"They searched his car and found a baggie of marijuana and he had a thousand dollars in his pocket and he must have been dealing and they went on and on and on. It was just ridiculous."

Peterson also supports the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

"I've become aware that it really does help some people and makes a real difference," Peterson said.

The initiative would "make the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of non-violent marijuana offenses, where the marijuana was intended for adult personal use, the lowest law enforcement priority."

Seattle-based Sensible Washington, which filed an initiative last month with the city to let voters decide whether the city should make marijuana offenses the lowest enforcement priority by police, heads the petition drive.

The group had three volunteers collecting signatures on a rainy Tuesday evening at Kent Station. Residents can expect to see plenty of signature gatherers over the next few months as the group needs about 7,500 valid signatures of Kent voters to get the measure on the ballot.

"We'll be heavily targeting local events, as well as local hubs such as Kent Stations and Kent's ShoWare Center," said Anthony Martinelli, a Sensible Washington spokesman, in an email. "We'll also be utilizing standard signature gathering locations such as local grocery stores, etc…"

Martinelli said the group has no plans at this time to collect signatures by going door-to-door but they haven't ruled that out as an option.

"People should start to see the petition in businesses around the city as we reach out to those interested in helping us bring reform," Martinelli said. "We'll have a list of businesses holding our initiative on our website soon."

The Kent City Council unanimously approved a change in city code at its meeting Tuesday night that lines up the city's initiative process with how the state runs initiatives. The council made that decision after a recommendation by City Attorney Tom Brubaker to simplify the process.

Martinelli expects a strong volunteer base to provide enough signature gatherers.

"We have a lot of confidence in our volunteers and feel that paid signature gatherers will turn out to be unnecessary," he said.

Petitions collected would be given to the city which would then send the signatures to King County Elections for verification. If enough valid signatures are collected, the city council would come up with the ballot question and present the initiative for an election.

Sensible Washington also has petition drives underway in Olympia, Bremerton, Everett, Bellingham and Spokane. Voters in Seattle passed a low-enforcement of marijuana offenses measure in 2003. Tacoma voters passed similar legislation last year.

Martinelli figures Kent voters will line up with Seattle and Tacoma voters.

"We are absolutely targeting this November's ballot, and given the confidence we have in the voters of Kent, we expect a clear victory on election day," Martinelli said.

For more information, go to www.sensiblewashington.org.

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