This post from Bruce Ramsey on I-1068 and the ACLU is a week old now, but I wanted to call it out and add some extra thoughts. Except for a few minor quibbles, I think Ramsey is mostly correct about both that post and his earlier post on differentiating liberals and progressives. The inability for Democratic interest groups in this state to rally around this initiative does demonstrate that Democrats in this state are more progressive than liberal – the difference between the two being that progressives are more concerned with things that government should be doing, while liberals are more concerned with what it shouldn’t be doing. Ideologically, most progressives are liberal and most liberals are progressives, but within circles of entrenched power, the people who want government to do more always win out over the people who want it to do less.
My first minor quibble has to do with this statement:
ACLU-WA’s statement says, “The ACLU isn’t willing to support an incomplete initiative in hopes that the Legislature will fix it.”
I can understand why a group of attorneys might take that position. But the ACLU statement also says, “A negative vote on the initiative would be a significant setback for our ongoing reform movement.” And that is also true.
I don’t agree with this at all. There’s absolutely no reason to believe that losing a statewide vote on marijuana legalization does anything to set the movement back. In fact, Colorado voters largely rejected a marijuana legalization initiative in 2006 that was doomed from the start, yet the organizers of that initiative saw their effort as a way to kick off public discussions that weren’t already happening. They were able to do that, and since then, Colorado has seen several big advancements in drug law reform, from medical marijuana dispensaries to successful city-wide legalization initiatives, things that we haven’t seen yet in Washington state. Their effort was derided at the time as foolish, but it most certainly did not set back the cause of drug law reform there. In fact, it pushed it forward.
My second minor quibble (ok, maybe this one is more than minor) concerns the nature of the ACLU of Washington’s failure to endorse the initiative. It had little to do with a progressive vs liberal ideological divide. When the ACLU of Washington declared that they were declining to endorse I-1068, they listed multiple reasons, but the belief that the initiative had no chance of passing was the primary motivator. In fact, their concerns over the lack of regulation in the bill weren’t exactly genuine, as ACLU of Washington Drug Policy Director Alison Holcomb wrote to me in email that it would be “great” if it passed. They were just more concerned about what an endorsement of what they saw as an ill-fated initiative effort would have on their credibility. When I asked Holcomb to provide an example of when an organization’s endorsement of an initiative they had no direct involvement with ever hurt that organization’s credibility, she complained about having too many unread emails in her inbox.
In the end, exacerbating existing fissures within the drug law reform community has done far more damage to the cause of ending marijuana prohibition (which I don’t doubt the ACLU of Washington wants) than a failed initiative attempt would have. With the I-1068 campaign, we ended up with a well-connected – but politically clueless – ACLU of Washington effectively derailing an amateurish but eager attempt to force a vote on the issue of marijuana legalization this year. The I-1068 campaign showed their lack of experience by continually venting through press releases (which rather foolishly just got more people to notice the difficulties they were having), but in the end, they built up a network of thousands of activists and continued to raise awareness of this important issue. As for the ACLU of Washington’s credibility, all I can say is that an organization that I’ve admired and defended throughout my life profoundly disappointed me with their actions this year.