It never had to be this way. Here are a couple of quick, initial points that should have immediately set off alarms for those who wrote this initiative:
- One of our Drug Czar’s top national policies is encouraging states throughout the nation to adopt a per se DUID policy(as mandated for cannabis in Initiative 502). This is because it makes it easy to prosecute unimpaired drivers simply for having cannabis in their system (potentially from days ago).
- Some of the most renowned and respected organizations in the cannabis law reform movement have been fighting adamantly, for years, against the same type of limit mandated in Initiative 502. For example, the Marijuana Policy Project calls this same limit “absurd“; theNational Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has warned us about these type of limits, and are currently doing an alert to stop the same limit in Colorado. In addition, many other legalization supporters have worked strenuously to stop per se DUID limits from catching on.
- When voting to “legalize” cannabis, one doesn’t expect sharing (such as passing a joint/bowl in a circle) to continue as a class C felony, nor do they expect growing even a single plant to remain completely illegal.
- Those who support legalization know how unethical zero tolerance policies are. The Marijuana Policy Project in a 2010 statement called zero tolerance driving laws “cruel, unusual, and bad public policy“. This is why it’s so alarming that I-502 mandates this type of policy for those under 21, ignoring the fact that individuals can possess and use medical cannabis in our state under 21.
Speaking further on how divided this has made the community; there are many who fear that, if not done right, legalization will lead to a complete government take-over of cannabis. Although this doesn’t have to be the case, Initiative 502 mandates it as truth.Initiative 502, for example:
- Gives the Liquor Control Board the authority to control and regulate the amount of THC in the cannabis being sold in the proposed retail locations.
- Gives the Liquor Control Board the authority to control the number of cannabis retail locations per county, potentially setting it at one, or in certain counties, zero: although current legal realities lead us to believe no license will ever be distributed, and the entire distribution system will be challenged and defeated in court as you can’t force a state to accept taxes from a federally illegal substance, as encoded into our Federal Controlled Substances Act.
- Forces all business applicants (whether for growing or selling) to submit their fingerprints to the FBI, more than likely leading to harsh federal penalties placed upon those who may feel they’re protected under state law.
- Claims to address the issue of hemp, but they do so by mandating arbitrary restrictions, forcing farmers to keep hemp at or under 0.3% or risk state prosecution (ignoring even the issue with federal law). This is not the route we should be taking with hemp, especially when the North American Industrial Hemp Council declares hemp as typically having up to 1% THC, and sometimes up to 3%.
New Approach Washington (NAW), the sponsor organization of Initiative 502, has continually spread misinformation and lies. For example:
- NAW currently claims that Initiative 502 won’t fall victim to federal preemption (being rendered invalid in court under federal law), yet their own Campaign Director, when answering a question on the Stranger’s Questionland, stated; “Such a system [a marijuana distribution/regulation system]would most likely require someone to break federal law (depositing sales tax in a bank would constitute money laundering, for example) and therefore be vulnerable to a federal preemption challenge”.
- NAW claims that I-502 treats cannabis like alcohol. This is obviously a falsity. For example, you can purchase an unlimited amount of alcohol, unlike the arbitrary one ounce limit introduced for cannabis. Passing a beer to a friend isn’t felony distribution as it would be with cannabis under I-502 if passing a joint or bowl. Unlike with alcohol, if two individuals are in the same vehicle, each with their “legal” ounce, they can still be hit with a constructive possession felony charge under I-502. In addition, clearly unlike alcohol; under I-502, possessing just 50% more than the “legal” amount will land you with a felony charge that holds a jail sentence of up to 5 years in prison (the same felony type and maximum sentence in Washington State as reckless burning in the 1st degree).
- NAW claims that Initiative 502 in no way changes our state’s current medical cannabis policy. However, unlike even Arizona and Rhode Island (who both have legal exclusions to their per se DUID policy for medical cannabis patients), Initiative 502 makes Washington State one of the only states in the country that have a per se DUID policy for cannabis without an exception for patients. Nevada is one of these other states, and the year afterthey instituted a per se limit for cannabis, there was a 76% increase in cannabis DUIs.
- NAW claims that they have the science behind the mandated per se DUID limit. This is clearlynot true, as there is absolutely no scientific consensus to support any per se limit, better yet a specific 5 ng/ml limit. After the Colorado legislature voted down this exact limit in Colorado last year, they setup a working group to examine the issue, and they decided, after a lack of consensus, to deny a recommendation of a 5 ng/ml limit. In addition, State Rep. Roger Goodman (a friend of cannabis reform) introduced an even higher 8 ng/ml per se limit for THC not long ago, and revoked it after public backlash and after examining the science.
- NAW claims that we can easily change these problems later. This is clearly disingenuous, or at the very best, naive. As for the per se limit, “drugged” driving laws are essentially never decreased, and altering it would be a political impossibility, at least for the near future (a bill to retroactively protect patients from this limit didn’t even make it out of committee earlier this year). This initiative may also, and likely will, lead to any meaningful change to our cannabis policies getting pushed off for years, as the citizens of our state will feel like they’ve already “legalized” cannabis (and given that we won’t see the public safety, civil rights or economic benefits of legalized cannabis due to I-502?s faults, this could set a negative example that could turn people away from legalization throughout the state and country).
The truth is, whether you’re in support of it or not, it’s hard to deny that Initiative 502 is riddled with faults, inconsistencies and dangerous policies. Washington State is one of the strongest supporters of legalized cannabis. We can do better. We encourage you to vote NO on Initiative 502, or, at the very least, beware of what you’re getting; which is not what it’s being presented as.