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Initiative backers say marijuana prohibition 'causes violence, causes deaths'

YAKIMA -- When George Rohrbacher talks about marijuana prohibition, his biggest concern isn't the merits of the drug, but a statistic he likes to call "the butcher's bill."

The numbers add up to about 26 million during the past 40 years. They don't represent the costs of enforcement, but the number of people who have been arrested for using pot.

"Even today, in the year 2012, we will arrest another 850,000 Americans for pot," said Rohrbacher, a former state lawmaker, before a crowd of about 150 people at the Capitol Theatre on Wednesday night. "This is a national disgrace with a local solution."

Rohrbacher and Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief, shared the stage and statistics supporting Initiative 502, which calls for the state to regulate and sell marijuana for recreational use to adults. The measure would also impose a 25 percent excise tax.

"Marijuana is dangerous, but only if you get arrested for it," Rohrbacher said to laughter and applause from the audience.

Stamper, a spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, compared the current laws to alcohol prohibition, and the black market and associated violence that sprang up as a result.

"Marijuana prohibition causes crime," Stamper said. "It causes violence and it causes deaths."

Under the initiative, residents 21 years and older could buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana; 1 pound of marijuana-infused product in solid form, such as brownies; or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids.

Washington already has a voter-approved medical marijuana law that gives doctors the right to recommend -- but not prescribe -- marijuana for people suffering from cancer and other conditions that cause "intractable pain."

A recent analysis by the state Office of Financial Management estimated that I-502 could raise at least $560 million a year in new taxes. However, the analysis noted that revenues would be "adversely impacted" if federal authorities cracked down on the state, as they threatened to do when California voters were considering legalizing the drug in 2010. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.

A campaign spokeswoman of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee has said he will vote against I-502.

His chief Republican rival in the race, Attorney General Rob McKenna, also opposes the measure.

-- Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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