Connor Guy on Washington State’s pot politics, Robert Dreyfuss on NATO’s civilian casualties, plus a new election blog from Greg Mitchell


THE POLITICS OF POT LEGALIZATION: In November, voters in Washington State will consider an initiative to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana—an unprecedented move that would rake in an estimated $560 million in additional revenue per year for the cash-strapped state. Similar initiatives, most notably California’s Proposition 19 in 2010, have failed. But recent polling suggests that Initiative Measure No. 502 has a fighting chance.

Counterintuitively, some of I-502’s most steadfast opponents include activists entrenched in the state’s medical marijuana industry, among them dispensary owners and medical marijuana lawyers who benefit from the current system by dominating what is a relatively small niche market. While public support for I-502 stems in part from its proposed legal penalties for people who drive under the influence, these opponents warn that such restrictions would amount to banning all marijuana users from the road, since THC (the psychoactive compound in the drug) can remain in the blood as long as a week after use. In fact, studies have shown this claim to be false; even for long-term, heavy users, active THC levels drop precipitously within twenty-four hours. What’s more, the proposed cutoff for acceptable THC levels is far more lenient than the state’s current zero-tolerance policy.

Who wins the debate over this portion of the measure is likely to make a big difference in November. “The failure to address voter concerns about [impaired] driving was one of the reasons that…California’s Proposition 19 [failed],” says Alison Holcomb, who sponsored I-502 and who works as campaign director for New Approach Washington, the main advocacy group devoted to its passage. “I-502 was carefully crafted to address voters’ public health and public safety concerns, and it should set an example for how you can make a responsible shift toward a legalization scheme.” CONNOR GUY

NATO AND CIVILIAN DEATHS: The war in Afghanistan may (or may not) be winding down by 2014, but the drumbeat of civilian casualties goes on. After more than ten years, NATO and the United States have learned at least to acknowledge these deaths. But what about those in other places they’ve bombed?

Marc Garlasco served as chief of the UN unit in Afghanistan dedicated to monitoring and investigating civilian casualties in that war, and last year he worked in Libya tracking the effects of the NATO bombing campaign. In a Washington Post op-ed, he describes futile efforts to get NATO to acknowledge civilian deaths. Writing about a strike last summer that killed thirty-four in Majer, Libya, he says, “I sifted through the debris and makeshift memorials…interviewing survivors, trying to piece together what had happened. It didn’t make sense—NATO hit the homes and returned for a follow-up strike, killing the rescuers who were frantically digging for survivors minutes after the first bombs struck.” Of at least nine incidents in Libya in which civilians were killed, he writes, “NATO refused to discuss” all of them.

That’s in contrast to Afghanistan, he notes, where the United States and NATO acknowledge the deaths, however reluctantly, and often apologize. After a recent strike that killed at least eighteen civilians, President Hamid Karzai denounced the attack on what was clearly a civilian home, supposedly eliciting a pledge from the US command to halt such strikes. But as the New York Times reported, NATO said it will “continue to conduct operations against insurgents who use civilian dwellings for shelter.” That’s not good enough. And it apparently violates part of the US-Afghan accord signed earlier this year, which supposedly guarantees that “special operations” will not proceed without the approval of Kabul. While things have improved somewhat—a decade in Afghanistan has taught the United States and NATO to “investigate civilian casualties, acknowledge and make amends”—there is still plenty of room for improvement.    ROBERT DREYFUSS

BLOGGING THE ELECTION: We are pleased to introduce a new feature at by blogger extraordinaire Greg Mitchell. Following in the tradition of his WikiLeaks and Occupy live blogs, CampaignUSA 2012 will chronicle all election-related news in the run-up to November. As Mitchell writes: “Unlike most campaign blogs, this one will remain active nights and weekends, and cover the latest news and controversies across a very wide range of races and issues that progressives care about.” Don’t miss it!

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