Pot grower sues to stop legalization measure

Pot grower sues to stop legalization measure
In this Tuesday, March 16, 2010 picture, Steve Sarich stands next to a wall marked with shotgun pellets in his home in Kirkland, Wash.
SEATTLE -- The state's most famous purveyor of medical marijuana and others have sued to keep a marijuana legalization initiative off the November ballot.

Claiming Initiative 502 could be "ruinous" to the state budget, opponents filed a lawsuit late last week in King County Superior Court claiming the ballot should warn voters of the measure's costs.

Evaluators at the state Office of Financial Management have not yet said whether they believe the measure -- which would regulate marijuana production, distribution and possession - will have positive or negative financial impact if passed by voters.

Contacted Thursday, civil liberties attorney and I-502 supporter Alison Holcomb noted state law gives the Office of Financial Management until Aug. 10 to issue its opinion. She said she remains "confident the agency will meet its deadline."

Standing behind the lawsuit is Steve Sarich, a medical marijuana advocate who gained notoriety in 2010 when he shot a teenage burglar attempting to break into his Kirkland home and pot grow.

Sarich, owner of CannaCare, and one of five young would-be burglars traded shots during the apparent break-in attempt. One of the teenage assailants had worked for Sarich, and two others had obtained medical marijuana licenses through CannaCare; all five ultimately pleaded guilty to charges related to the break-in.

The lawsuit is the latest move by pot-supporting opponents of the pro-legalization initiative.

Backed by numerous elected officials and several former law enforcement officials, I-502 has drawn criticism from anti-initiative activists who claim it would penalize unimpaired drivers who'd previously smoked marijuana.

It is also apparent the regulatory framework put forward by I-502 would undercut the need for medical marijuana providers, particularly those offering prescriptions to "patients" with dubious ailments. If the initiative passes in November, adults over 21 years old would no longer have to obtain a medical marijuana license to avoid prosecution for drug possession.

Filing the lawsuit on July 13, Sarich was joined by medical marijuana advocates John C. Worthington and Arthur West, as well as Saroj Sidhu, a Bellingham man arrested during a string of busts at medical marijuana dispensaries alleged by police to be nothing more than drug fronts. The men are described in the lawsuit as officers with No on I-502, an anti-initiative political action committee.

Writing the court without the assistance of an attorney, the initiative opponents asserted state evaluators have conspired in support of the initiative by refusing to produce a fiscal review.

"The (Office of Financial Management) deliberately suppressed the foreseeable financial impacts of I-502," the opponents alleged in their lawsuit. They went on to claim the initiative will have "unknown and possibly ruinous costs, the full and reasonably foreseeable extent of which have been deliberately suppressed under a cloud of politically motivated and partisan misdirection."

The opponents also faulted the state Attorney General's Office for not launching an investigation into the conduct of the Office of Financial Management. According to their lawsuit, they previously requested such an investigation but were denied.

Sarich and the other opponents have asked that I-502 be withheld from the ballot until the Office of Financial Management provides a "bona fide" fiscal note. They've also asked to be reimbursed for their expenses.

Attorneys for the state have not yet responded to the lawsuit. A response is expected by early August.