In November 2009, John McKay, the former Seattle U.S. attorney, agreed to appear on one of those panels. McKay was well respected, from a prominent Republican family and had served as the Justice Department's top prosecutor in western Washington — charged with carrying out U.S. drug laws.
He called for a top-to-bottom review of the nation's drug war and endorsed regulating marijuana like alcohol.
Suddenly, the legalization movement had traction.
Over the next year, a voter initiative drive and legislative efforts gained steam but ultimately failed. California's Proposition 19 legalization measure also failed in 2010. But even with little money and no significant editorial endorsements, in an off-presidential election year with lower youth turnout, Prop 19 received more than 46 percent of the vote.
Holcomb thought: Imagine what Washington could do in a presidential year, with an endorsement from McKay and some money.
So, with the backing of the ACLU's state chapter, Holcomb formed New Approach Washington. In June 2011, the group announced Initiative 502, to legalize up to an ounce of marijuana and to create a system of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores. It was tailored to gain mainstream support: There would be no home-growing, and there would be a DUI standard designed to be comparable to the 0.08 limit for blood-alcohol content.
The drug also would be taxed at every stage, from growing and processing to selling. State studies were done showing legalization could bring in half a billion dollars a year for schools, health care and substance-abuse prevention.