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Divisions emerge over pro-pot initiative at Seattle Hempfest

Above: The first of many thousands lined up early today to enter Hempfest, Seattle's mega pro-pot festival.

For more than 20 years, the Seattle Hempfest festival, rally and outdoor party has pushed for the decriminalization and mainstreaming of marijuana.

But as this year’s event gets underway today, with more than 300,000 expected over the weekend, regulations contained in an initiative that would legalize pot have split many advocates.

Initiaive 502 would legalize the possession of marijuana, but would not legalize home growing and would create a DUI provision based on the amount of active THC in a driver’s bloodstream. These two regulations as well as how the new law if passed would affect medical marijuana users are at the heart of the debate.

"That alone would keep me from voting for it," one Hempfest attendee, Carla Nelson, said of the DUI regulations.

Check out the video below for more on her position on the initiative, as well as other views.

Here’s the plain-language version of the proposed law presented by initiative backers, New Approach Washington

This law legalizes the possession of marijuana for adults age 21 and older. The only marijuana that would be legal to sell in this state would be grown by specially-licensed Washington farmers and sold in standalone, marijuana-only stores operated by private Washington businesses licensed and regulated by the state.
There would be a 25% sales tax, with 40% of the new revenues going to the state general fund and local budgets, and the remainder dedicated to substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care. Advertising would be restricted. A new marijuana DUI standard that operates like the alcohol DUI standard would be established.

The Seattle Times reports that while a historic vote on legalizing marijuana may seem like the perfect backdrop for Hempfest, “activists will unfurl their pot-leaf flags Friday amid unprecedented political infighting.

“The pro-marijuana movement in Washington state is so splintered that Hempfest organizers are staying neutral on the legalization measure, Initiative 502.
“Things are so fractured that Hempfest director Vivian McPeak, a critic of I-502, said several staff members would have left the organization if it had taken sides on the measure.
"It's painful and it's frustrating," McPeak said. "For Hempfest it's been sort of like navigating shark-infested waters."

Writing for, political pundit Joel Connelly said the battle over the initiative puts festival at a crossroads between mainstream and counter culture.

“For reform to pass in November, I-502 must be seen not as an up-or-down vote on marijuana as a lifestyle choice, but a decision to move beyond a miserably failed War on Drugs, send police to more useful pursuits, and recognize the many flavors of freedom in America.
"For years, people were attracted to the pot movement as a bastion for outcasts: The arrival of mainstream leaders can create a feeling that the movement is being coopted," said Dominic Holden, co-director of Hempfest from 1999 to 2004. He is now news editor of The Stranger.
“Flipping the argument, however, Holden added: "If Hempfest presents itself as a gathering for the counterculture, a lot of people will feel they are not invited."

Bungled opposition 

As the Associated Press reported earlier this week:

A new Washington state marijuana industry organization is disbanding, a day after its press secretary was fired at the group's inaugural press conference.
Seattle lawyer and Safe Access Alliance president Kurt Boehl (BALE') said Wednesday the group will dissolve. Boehl said he formed the trade industry organization because he thought there was a need to help marijuana-related businesses in the state, but he and the rest of the board of directors decided it was best to call it quits after the firing spectacle.
Group spokesman Philip Dawdy held the news conference to discuss opposition to the marijuana legalization ballot measure going before voters this fall, Initiative 502. But Boehl said that wasn't the message he wanted to convey, and he fired Dawdy as the news conference ended.
Boehl says he wishes Dawdy the best in his efforts to oppose I-502.

Junior Communication major at Pacific Lutheran University.
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