OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- Supporters of an effort to legalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana in Washington state plan to turn in signatures this week to qualify their initiative.
New Approach Washington expects to turn in more than 355,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office on Thursday, said the group's campaign director, Alison Holcomb.
An initiative to the Legislature requires at least 241,153 valid signatures of registered state voters to be certified, though the secretary of state's office suggests at least 320,000 as a buffer for any duplicate or invalid signatures.
Initiative 502 would create a system of state-licensed growers, processors and stores, and impose a 25 percent excise tax at each stage. Those 21 and over could buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana; one pound of marijuana-infused product in solid form, such as brownies; or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids. It would be illegal for a motorist to have more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in their system. THC is the active ingredient of cannabis.
"This is an issue whose time has come, both here in Washington and nationwide," Holcomb said.
Once the initiative goes to the Legislature, it has to take action during the upcoming 60-day legislative session that begins Jan. 9 or the measure automatically goes to the November ballot. The initiative has several high-profile sponsors, including former Seattle U.S. Attorney John McKay and travel guide Rick Steves.
Washington state already has a voter-approved medical marijuana law that gives doctors the right to recommend -- but not prescribe -- marijuana for people suffering from cancer and other conditions that cause "intractable pain."
A spokeswoman for Gov. Chris Gregoire said that she has concerns about the legalization initiative because of the conflict with the federal government, which still says the drug is illegal. "Even if this were to pass, we'd still have to deal with federal law," said spokeswoman Karina Shagren.
Shagren said that Gregoire would prefer to focus on getting clarity when it comes to medical marijuana laws. She noted that the governor's focus is on a recent petition that she and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee filed with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration asking the agency to reclassify marijuana so doctors can prescribe it and pharmacists can fill the prescription.