The Republican challenger for a Washington U.S. Senate seat endorsed a ballot measure Wednesday that would legalize marijuana for personal use in the state.
State Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said it was time for a new approach to the nation’s drug policy, and called Initiative 502 a “thoughtful step forward.” Time spent as an adviser to a counternarcotics team in Afghanistan convinced him that drug cartels are gaining from the United States’ approach to criminalizing marijuana for adults, he added.
“By failing to regulate and tax marijuana in a responsible manner, we are allowing billions of dollars to flow into their coffers,” he said. “And American lives are put in danger at home and abroad.”
Baumgartner, who is in the middle of his first term representing Spokane’s 6th District in the state Senate, is challenging Democrat Maria Cantwell, who is finishing her second term in the U.S. Senate.
Cantwell supports the state’s medical marijuana law, which is already in conflict with federal drug regulations, but said she does not support I-502.
In a statement released by her campaign, Cantwell said marijuana should not be “legalized for recreational purposes based on concerns from law enforcement.”
“Whatever the result, I will honor the will of the voters’ decision in November,” she said.
States should have more independence to experiment with drug laws, Baumgartner said, and Congress should give the states greater flexibility, whether I-502 passes or not. He would support reclassifying marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I drug, which means it has no legal use, to a Schedule II drug, which would allow uses under certain circumstances.
“I don’t think marijuana is benign,” he said. “It can have detrimental impacts to some people.”
But he believes I-502, which bans the use of the drug by people under 21, sets limits for consumption by people driving motor vehicles, regulates production, processing and sales by the state and levies taxes, is “a thoughtful approach.”
The state will have to monitor consumption, and if there’s a spike in marijuana use make some adjustments to the law, he said.
Some critics of I-502 argue that legalizing marijuana will not eliminate illegal sales, because drug cartels would be unwilling to abandon their markets and could undercut the taxed and regulated state-approved sales. Baumgartner believes illegal sales will be hurt, even if the legal marijuana is more expensive, because more customers would be willing to pay for “safe and legal procurement.”
I-502 has supporters and opponents in both political parties, but Baumgartner may be the highest-profile Republican on this year’s Washington ballot to come out in support of legalized marijuana.
Both President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney oppose legalizing marijuana for personal use, and both candidates for Washington governor, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Democratic former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, oppose I-502.