By Tom Chang Photo by Tom Chang
Initiative 502 (I-502), a potentially landmark measure to legalize marijuana in the state of Washington, will appear on the ballot this November.
If passed, Washington will be the first state in the country to have fully legalized the federal Schedule I substance. The initiative is supported by a diverse array of perhaps unusual faces, including prominent law enforcement such as former Chief Norm Stamper of the Seattle Police Department and such public figures as travel icon Rick Steves. But interestingly enough, it is condemned and attacked by many prominent figures in the marijuana community, like Vivian McPeak, executive director of Hempfest.
The initiative is a manifestation of the state versus federal power struggle that has underscored this nation since its inception. If I-502 passes, marijuana would be legal at the state level but remain entirely illegal in the federal government’s eyes — it would keep its Schedule I label, a label shared by the likes of heroin and GHB.
This is especially pertinent to the UW because of U.S. Department of Education requirements. These assert that marijuana will remain illegal on the UW campus regardless of state legislation. This could lead to a scenario in which Northeast 45th Street becomes the only thin barrier between being a marijuana-carrying, law-abiding citizen and a marijuana-carrying criminal.
So is I-502 a good idea?
For starters, the initiative is estimated to produce more than $500 million per year from taxes on the legal sale of marijuana.
This is money that will go toward important and underfunded government programs such as RCW 70.47 — among other critical areas — which works to “improve the health of low-income children and adults by expanding access to basic health care and by reducing tobacco-related and other diseases and illnesses that disproportionately affect low-income persons.”
But even beyond the obvious positive impact outlined above is the amount of money that will be saved by our law enforcement and overcrowded jails. Instead of punishing and imprisoning non-violent offenders, our public officials can use their resources toward real problems.
And as great as the above benefits are, one can’t forget that, by legalizing and regulating marijuana, we take money out of the pockets of the gangs and cartels that since 2006 have caused the deaths of more than 50,000 people.
Despite all of this, and with the fact that marijuana legalization is assured in the long run, there is reason to question I-502.
To understand the criticism of this measure, it is helpful to look at California’s Proposition 19, a measure very similar to I-502 that appeared on the ballot two years ago. This proposed law, while still touting statewide legalization of marijuana, differed from I-502 in one specific — and some believe fatal — aspect: Prop 19 lacked specific provisions concerning punishment, enforcement, and specifications of driving under the influence of marijuana. Though advocates of I-502 claim that the Washington incarnation has succeeded where Prop 19 failed, it’s not so clear-cut.
I-502 includes provisions that specify the threshold for driving impairment to be 5.00 nanograms of THC in the bloodstream up to two hours after the driver is pulled over. While this DUI stipulation is a step in the right direction, its execution is flawed.
Numerous case studies produced research pointing toward two things: First, that there is no consensus as to what THC threshold renders a driver impaired; and second, that many habitual and medicinal marijuana users can produce blood tests significantly over the 5.00 nanogram limit up to — and reportedly past — 12 hours after last smoking (and in some cases after a full night’s sleep). In fact, many claim that some heavy users of the substance rarely, if ever, dip below the 5.00 threshold. Even when they’re back on the ground.
Essentially, the issue at hand is that many regular users — especially medicinal patients — will effectively be handing over their right to drive so that others may legally get stoned.
Neither of us believe marijuana will or should remain illegal. However, we have to conclude that I-502 is not the ideal way to handle this inevitability. Spotty research from the authors of this measure force us to oppose something we would otherwise support. The silver lining: Should it be passed, I-502 would be open to amendments from both judges and legislators.
Here’s to smarter marijuana legalization in 2014.
Reach opinion writers Nathan Taft and Holden Taylor at email@example.com. Twitter: @Nathantaft and @HoldenTaylor8
Revision from 11/04/12
The writers researched the following studies for this article:
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