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Group pushes Kent marijuana initiative to 2013

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

A Seattle-based group has decided to wait until next year to try to get a city initiative before Kent voters to make marijuana offenses the lowest enforcement priority by Kent Police.

Sensible Washington filed an initiative in March with the city with eyes toward the November ballot. But now the group plans to shoot for a February or May vote as it also pushes for a November 2013 statewide initiative to repeal marijuana laws.

"We are continuing to collect signatures for Kent," said Anthony Martinelli, a spokesman for Sensible Washington, during a phone interview. "The signatures are valid for six months and we did the core of our gathering in May."

Kent City Attorney Tom Brubaker confirmed in an email that only signatures less than six months old will be valid. That means the group needs to turn in the signatures to the city before the end of the year.

Sensible Washington will need approximately 7,500 valid signatures of registered voters to get the measure to a vote.

"We have close to the end of the year to collect," Martinelli said. "We're up to about half of what we need. We're shooting for a special election in the spring. Kent might be on the ballot in February or May."

Petitions collected would be given to the city of Kent which then would send the signatures to King County 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.

The group also plans city initiatives next year in Olympia, Bremerton, Everett, Bellingham and Spokane.

The city 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."

Sensible Washington also announced plans this month for a 2013 marijuana law reform initiative to repeal criminal and civil penalties from the state code.

Voters statewide in November will consider Initiative 502, which would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana. Sensible Washington opposes that measure because it doesn't think the initiative would withstand a federal challenge because the federal government continues to enforce its criminal laws related to marijuana.

The group also opposes Initiative 502 because if passed it could put medical marijuana patients at risk for being cited for driving under the influence of cannabis.

"Regardless of the outcome of I-502, individuals will continue to be prosecuted for cannabis-related offenses, which is what Sensible Washington hopes to curtail with their 2013 campaign," according to the group's media release.

Martinelli said the passage of city initiatives  in the spring could help give more momentum to adoption of the statewide initiative in November 2013.

Voters in Seattle passed a low-enforcement of marijuana offenses measure in 2003. Tacoma voters passed similar legislation in 2011.

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