SEATTLE — The spokesman for a new Washington state medical marijuana organization got canned at his own inaugural press conference Tuesday after members from another pot campaign crashed the event.
Philip Dawdy, a well-known figure in the state's marijuana reform community, had invited reporters to the offices of Seattle lawyer Kurt Boehl for the kickoff of the new trade group, called Safe Access Alliance. The purpose was to discuss opposition among medical marijuana patients to Initiative 502, which would legalize and tax up to an ounce of pot for recreational use in Washington.
Two members of another group, the No on I-502 campaign, crashed the news conference and accused Safe Access Alliance of co-opting their message — and their donations.
After some minor theatrics by the protesters, Boehl, the president of Safe Access, escorted them to the door. As Dawdy continued speaking, Boehl grew frustrated and stepped to the microphone, announcing that Dawdy didn't speak for the organization and that Boehl would be answering any further questions.
At the end of the news conference, he canned Dawdy within earshot of the reporters.
“You're fired!” Boehl told him. “You embarrassed us.”
Afterward, Boehl declined to comment on the firing. However, he appeared to have been most annoyed with Dawdy for portraying Safe Access Alliance as a group opposed to I-502. In its filing with the state Public Disclosure Commission, it registered as an ongoing political committee, not one opposed to a single ballot measure.
Boehl said that although Safe Access opposes I-502, he expects the organization to be around long after the November election. After firing Dawdy, Boehl called the No on I-502 campaign and said he would forward the $1,000 to $1,500 raised by Dawdy, said Steve Sarich, the No on I-502 campaign manager.
Safe Access was at least Dawdy's second attempt at organizing a statewide cannabis trade group. The first, Washington Cannabis Association, folded after Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed legislation to set up a state-run medical marijuana dispensary system last year. That group is still overdue on some of its PDC filings.
Dawdy called it a “bad day.”
“They want me to go around and paint this as just a trade organization,” Dawdy said later Tuesday. “Well I'm not going to do it. Nobody is going to get excited about a trade group.”
Before Boehl stepped in, Dawdy told reporters he wouldn't work with the No on I-502 campaign because he finds Sarich “disreputable.” Sarich, another well-known figure in the community, once shot and nearly killed an intruder in his home during a pot-related robbery. Sarich was not charged.
But Boehl stressed that his organization is a trade group, and that it doesn't need to take the lead in opposing I-502.
The spectacle underscored how severely fractured the marijuana reform community has become in Washington state, with various groups running competing initiatives and taking opposing positions on whether the state should be in the dispensary licensing business. The most recent debate is over I-502, which has raised more than $3 million, including from the likes of Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis and travel book guru Rick Steves.
The initiative is being pushed by New Approach Washington, which tried to tailor it to receive the most possible support. In addition to setting up a state licensing system for marijuana production and sales, it would criminalize driving with more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in the system. Some medical marijuana patients oppose that, saying it's an arbitrary limit and they'd never be able to drive.
Some critics also question whether taxing marijuana at 25 percent at three different levels — production, wholesale and retail — would make it too expensive for patients, even though patients could still obtain marijuana at cooperative grows or grow their own.
Two other states, Colorado and Oregon, also will vote this fall on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle