Cannabis prohibition has failed us. Criminal syndicates have been the clear benefactors, and we continue to waste an opportunity for needed tax revenue, and to create jobs. Legalization, taxation and regulation is the answer.
That said, Initiative 502 is an appealing measure – at first glance. It’s important to note, however, that despite the political message of the campaign behind it, I-502 would not legalize cannabis.
In reality, it wouldn’t remove a single criminal penalty pertaining to cannabis’s illegality. If passed, cannabis will remain a Schedule 1 controlled substance under state law, just as heroin is.
Instead, the initiative creates narrow exceptions for certain activity, such as possession of an ounce. Passing a joint would constitute felony delivery. Home-growing would remain entirely illegal. Farmers could grow hemp, but if it passes 0.3 percent THC (the active ingredient in marijuana), they would face state prosecution, even if the federal government allowed it.
What this initiative attempts to do is regulate and license a substance the initiative will not make legal. Given this, distribution will be easily rendered invalid in federal court. This will result in no tax revenue being raised and will force individuals in search of their “legal” ounce into the same black market I-502 tries to eliminate.
I-502 mandates a per se driving under the influence of drugs policy for THC. That is, all the officer has to do is prove that you’re above the legal limit, and you’re guilty, even if you are not impaired. A work group created by the Colorado Legislature looked at the level proposed in I-502 – 5 nanograms per milliliter for adults – and concluded the limit wasn’t appropriate, lacked scientific support, and had the potential to expose innocent people to prosecution.
In our own state last year, Rep. Roger Goodman introduced an 8 ng/ml limit. He withdrew the bill due to public backlash and, after examining the science, realized it could lead to innocent people being busted. Studies show that medical cannabis patients and even casual consumers will fail this limit hours, or days, after last consuming cannabis.
No one should ever drive impaired, regardless of the substance, but this mandate is not based on impairment and will lead to prosecution of the innocent.
Even states like Arizona (and countries like Germany), with similar per se policies, have legal exceptions for patients. It’s also worth noting that if I-502 passes, Washington will become the first state with a voter-enacted per se DUID law for THC.
Drivers under 21 – even patients – are subject to a zero-tolerance policy. Trace amounts will lead to guaranteed convictions and life-altering convictions. Studies show individuals test active for THC 30 days after last consumption. This is bad public policy.
I-502 has many other faults. As a nonprofit organization working since 2010 to repeal cannabis prohibition in our state, we’ve done an eight-part analysis of this initiative that is available at SensibleWashington.org/blog/i502.
These aren’t problems that will be easy to fix. If I-502 passes, complacency could dissuade voters and elected officials from supporting legal alterations, or meaningful reform, for years. There’s also concern that this initiative could set a negative precedent across the country and could trick people into thinking legalization has failed when this initiative doesn’t bring the promised benefits.
We encourage everyone to educate themselves on the issue and to examine the initiative. It would fail to bring any of the benefits of legalization and mandates dangerous new policies. Vote no on Initiative 502.
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