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Originally published October 29, 2012 at 5:43 PM | Page modified October 30, 2012 at 9:33 AM

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Op-ed: I-502 good message, but bad policy

Initiative 502 will not legalize marijuana as proponents suggest, and mandated driving under the influence policy is flawed.

Special to The Seattle Times

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The majority of voters in Washington state understand that cannabis prohibition has failed. It’s accomplished none of the intended goals (such as stopping youth usage), and it has continued to allow for the enrichment of criminal organizations. It’s also continued to fill our prisons with nonviolent individuals.

Legalization and taxation is becoming the obvious answer to these problems.

Given this, it’s no surprise that Initiative 502 has garnered a lot of support in the state. Unfortunately the core message of the initiative campaign — a message of legalization — doesn’t correlate with the initiative language. Initiative 502 wouldn’t legalize cannabis.

Read the initiative. You’ll find that it wouldn’t remove a single criminal penalty that currently makes cannabis illegal. What it instead does is create small legal exceptions for certain “activity,” such as possessing an ounce.

If you possess two ounces, if you gift your “legal” ounce, or if you pass a joint rolled from it — it’s “felony deliver.” Given the initiative doesn’t properly amend our state’s Uniformed Controlled Substances Act (RCW 69.50), cannabis will remain a Schedule 1 substance under state law, next to heroin, if I-502 passes. This is not legalization.

In reality, this initiative attempts to regulate, license and tax a substance that would absolutely not be legal under state law. It forces our state to collect taxes from an illegal substance, conflicting with our Federal Controlled Substances Act. This allows the distribution system to be rendered invalid in federal court. This will lead to our state getting none of the projected tax revenue.

Given this and given that home-growing would remain illegal, it will fail to impact the underground market that benefits criminal syndicates, because it forces individuals to the black-market in order to purchase their “legal” ounce.

One of the biggest concerns is the mandated driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) policy for THC, the substance that remains in the blood stream long after cannabis is consumed, regardless of actual impairment. What this policy means is that if an individual is above a designated amount of THC — 5 nanograms per milliliter for those over 21 — they’re instantly guilty of a DUID. That automatically would revoke a individuals’ right to defend themselves in court against allegations of impairment.

This same limit has been rejected three times in Colorado’s Legislature because it does not have a scientific basis. It also was rejected in our own state just last year. State Rep. Roger Goodman introduced an 8 nanograms per milliliter limit for THC. He quickly withdrew this bill after realizing that there wasn’t proper science to back it, and after the public rightfully back-lashed against it.

What studies have shown us is that even casual consumers (and especially patients) will fail this limit hours, or days, after last consumption. Driving impaired, regardless of the substance, is unacceptable. Initiative 502’s mandate for THC has absolutely nothing to do with impairment. Look at states like Arizona, and even countries like Germany — they all have legal exclusions to this policy for patients. In an odd twist, drivers under the age of 21, even qualified patients, would be subject to a complete zero-tolerance policy. Even trace amounts of THC would lead to a life-altering DUID.

Our current law, which requires an officer to prove impairment for a prosecution to take place, works.

This initiative certainly has other flaws. If you’re interested in learning more, you can find a detailed eight-part analysis of this initiative, written by a nonprofit, pro-legalization organization, at sensiblewashington.org/.

The flaws in this initiative will not be easy to fix. Complacency could push back meaningful reform, or positive legal alterations, for years. We shouldn’t be the state to set such a bad precedent.

We encourage everyone to examine both sides of this debate, and to read the initiative language. It’s not good policy, and we can do better.

Anthony Martinelli is the communications director for Sensible Washington.


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