Former U.S. Attorney McKay Backs Effort to Legalize Pot in Washington

A coalition that includes former U.S. Attorney John McKay, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and travel guide Rick Steves is launching an initiative that would legalize marijuana in Washington state.

The group, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, decided to push the initiative this spring after Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of a medical-marijuana bill that had passed the state Legislature.

“We did some more public-opinion research, looked at the numbers and said, ‘Yeah, this is the time,’ ” said Alison Holcomb, campaign manager for the initiative and drug-policy director of the ACLU of Washington.

The initiative would regulate the recreational use of marijuana in a way similar to how the state regulates alcohol.

It would legalize marijuana for people older than 21, authorize the state Liquor Control Board to regulate and tax marijuana for sale in “stand-alone stores” and extend drunken-driving laws to marijuana, with blood tests to determine how much of the substance’s active ingredient is present in a driver’s blood.

Taxing sales would bring the state $215 million a year, conservatively estimated, Holmes said.

McKay, who spent five years enforcing federal drug laws as the U.S. attorney in Seattle before he was fired by the Bush administration in early 2007, said he hopes the initiative will help “shame Congress” into ending pot prohibition.

He said laws criminalizing marijuana are wrongheaded because they create an enormous black market exploited by international cartels and crime rings.

“That’s what drives my concern: The black market fuels the cartels, and that’s what allows them to buy the guns they use to kill people,” McKay said. “A lot of Americans smoke pot, and they’re willing to pay for it. I think prohibition is a dumb policy, and there are a lot of line federal prosecutors who share the view that the policy is suspect.”

Supporters would have until the end of this year to gather more than 240,000 signatures to get the initiative before the Legislature. Lawmakers could approve it or allow it to go to the ballot next year.

The coalition pushing the initiative is called New Approach Washington. It also includes Dr. Robert W. Wood, former director of the HIV/AIDS Program of Public Health — Seattle and King County, and state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, who this year sponsored an unsuccessful bill to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Both McKay and Holmes supported Dickerson’s bill.

While Dickerson’s effort failed, separate legislation to license and regulate medical-marijuana dispensaries and grow operations, and give patients broader arrest protection, was approved.

Gregoire, however, vetoed parts of the bill in late April, saying it would put state workers at risk of prosecution under federal law, which bans marijuana.

Although the veto wasn’t the only factor behind the initiative, that’s when members of the coalition began talking more about a measure that would go beyond medical marijuana, the ACLU’s Holcomb said.

“The public opinion is there to support full legalization,” she said. “If you’re going to put the effort into doing an initiative, it doesn’t make sense to limit yourself to medical marijuana.”

New Approach Washington planned a news conference Wednesday to announce the effort.

No state has legalized marijuana for recreational purposes in such a way, although some have decriminalized it. The initiative would put Washington squarely at odds with federal law.

It would set limits on how much cannabis people can have: an ounce of dried bud, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused foods in solid form, and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids, or all three, Holcomb said. Limits are necessary to help ensure that people don’t buy large amounts for resale in other states, she said.

Holmes called the measure the “first comprehensive legalization, regulation and taxation initiative. It addresses every concern that has been voiced in the debate over the last several decades.”

California voters last year rejected Proposition 19, which would have allowed for personal possession and growing of limited amounts of marijuana, 54 percent to 46 percent.

Steves, a longtime critic of the nation’s marijuana laws, said he supports the Washington state initiative because “I just care about our community, and I think the war on marijuana is hurting people. … I think it’s flat out good citizenship to address a problem that needs to be tackled in a more thoughtful way.”

McKay said he long has considered marijuana prohibition a failed policy, but that his job as U.S. attorney was to enforce federal law, and he had no problem doing so.

But now, he said, “I can say the law is stupid.”

McKay added that he does not use marijuana and that his position is based on a belief that marijuana prohibition has failed.

“When you look at alcohol prohibition, it took the states to say, ‘This policy is wrong,’ ” he said. “This bill might not be perfect, but it’s a good step forward. I think it will eventually shame Congress into action.”

Another group, Sensible Washington, already is pushing a legalization initiative that would remove all state criminal and civil penalties for marijuana use, possession and cultivation in any amount. Their effort is an initiative directly to the voters, meaning that, if it qualifies for the November ballot and passes, it would become law without input from the Legislature.

– Article from Seattle Times.



  1. Atlanta Toker on

    You destroyed Marc Emerys family, friends and his life to further your own career and stature within the country and your state. You did it because you are arrogant, self-centered and selfish. You showed and had no campassion for a man who commited no harm, no crime. You are hateful.

    Marc Emery looks out prison bars everyday instead of being with his family as you are allowed to do and this man did nothing, absolutely nothing to deserve his family being destroyed and you Mr. McKay are totally responsible for that destruction.
    Its time for you to step up and do the right thing for Marc Emery.

    Atonement will only come to you and your family when you start helping Marc Emery get out fo jail and get his life back which you destroyed.

    He should’nt be in jail, he should have never been allowed to have been tried in the US and found guilty of anything and you know it. This is why your conscience is bothering you.

    You sold out and caved from the US Government pressure instead of standing up for what is fair and right.

    You’re first step to clear your heavy heart my friend is to right your first wrong. Get him out of jail. Its a moral imperative for you.

    If you dont do this for Marc Emery and his family, you will be haunted for the rest of your life and you and your family will never have peace.

  2. Lygeia on

    It is interesting you mentioned Gorbachev-Yeltsin.

    It got me thinking that repealing marijuana prohibition is our Berlin Wall. It has to come down.

  3. TheOracle on

    I would like to hear the issues and considerations John McKay wrestled with during his prosecution of Marc Emery. Was it on the face of things how to do the right thing (let Marc off) or do the best job possible (execute federal law)? He should give all other prosecutors something to think about. Maybe they wrestled with such demons themselves but were too afraid to discuss them with others on the prosecution side of things, so they just kept them to themselves. You know, pot is one of those subjects where if you bring it up somebody has to change the subject fast. Nobody wants to talk about it at the water cooler or lunch, wherever.

    Holder might be wrestling with such issues right now while clarifying whether or not he will call off the federal dog pack. Does McKay have any advice for how to let the states and DC decide for themselves without fed swoopdowns?

    Holder is the man to help find a way to do this without the career ruining label that he is ineffective at his job, which the drug warriors will be sure to harp on and on about. Holder is the one who can get Marc out sooner, not McKay anymore. Holder should talk to McKay to pick his brains on how he might be able to do this at the federal level, and most of all McKay has to have his back. You may have to do a Gorbachev-Yelsin got your back thing, not that Holder would be surrounded by the military on vacation, you know what I mean.

  4. JayelleFarmer on

    For starters – a public apology to Marc Emery and a willingness to show that he will help Marc get out of the hole in the USA and back to Canada. I think this is important – and that it would show good faith towards Marc Emery and the worldwide cannabis community.

  5. Lygeia on

    I wish McKay would use his legal skills to help Marc Emery to receive a pardon.

  6. TheOracle on

    Prohibitionist and persecutor McKay, not unlike Saul on the road to Damascus who became Paul, has seen the light and heard the voice. If only the U.S. network news would do this story and encourage other prohibitionists to convert. If they could get things going in the echo chamber Marc and others would be free a lot sooner, and indeed the law making it illegal is worse than use of cannabis itself.

  7. Paul Pot on

    If you are looking at alcohol prohibition as your model then why not use the initiatives that were put to the vote and ended prohibition back then. That was full repeal. They did not offer taxes and regulations, that came latter. Those taxes and regulations had the effect of making it illegal for small scale operators to produce alcohol but we could all buy it from a giant company.
    What prohibition was all about was ensuring we had to go to corporations and give them money in exchange for our wants and needs.
    Legal means legal no restrictions no limitations and why should there be, it is totally harmless.