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Drug Policy Reform Measure in Washington Defeated


November-December 1997

On November 4, Washington State's drug policy measure, Initiative 685 (I-685), failed to pass a statewide ballot, only receiving 40% of the vote (David Postman, "Talk of hard drugs scared initiative voters," Seattle Times, November 5, 1997; Editorial, "Approve I-685," Bellingham Herald, October 26, 1997).

Supporters of the measure said the opposition, which included almost all high-ranking state and relevant federal officials, were effective in mischaracterizing the measure as legalizing "hard drugs." "You use the word heroin and people just freak, even though doctors just north of the border [in Canada] use it as medicine," said Rob Killian, M.D., a Tacoma physician who helped lead the campaign for I-685. Lieutenant Governor Brad Owens, who actively opposed the measure, agreed that was the strategy, saying, "We pounded away at that and that's what saved our neck."

The measure would have allowed physicians to recommend marijuana, heroin, LSD, and other Schedule I drugs to their patients if research proved the drug effective in treating a serious or terminal illness. I-685 would have also provided for increased judicial discretion to release nonviolent inmates who were convicted of simple possession of a Schedule I drug (For more information about I-685, see "Drug Policy Reform Initiative on Washington State Ballot in November," NewsBriefs, August 1997.)

Killian admits the measure may have been too broad. He said many opponents of the measure said they did not object to the medical use of marijuana. According to Killian, at least two state law makers have agreed to introduce medical marijuana legislation in the next legislative session. In addition, he said he will introduce an initiative next year dealing strictly with medical marijuana.

Dr. Rob Killian, Pager: (206) 596-9351; Text and Press Release available on-line: