NORML Endorses Washington’s I-502 Legalization Initiative

Click here for more coverage of WashingtonNORML has officially endorsed the New Approach Washington I-502 marijuana legalization measure.  This presents a dilemma for me, as some of my most respected colleagues and good friends in the movement in Washington State are opposed to I-502 and working for grassroots efforts to place other legalization initiatives on the ballot.

Their primary concerns with I-502 is the oft-discussed-on-this-blog 5ng/mL per se DUID standard of THC in blood, the zero tolerance DUID for those under 21, and the lack of home growing provisions that hand a monopoly on marijuana production and sales to the state, a move that will likely be challenged by the feds and perhaps not implemented by a state that was gun-shy on even opening medical dispensaries, lest a state worker get busted by the feds.

Let’s start with the monopoly over weed.  Currently, nobody but patients can grow their own marijuana in Washington State.  After I-502, patients will still be able to grow their own and the state will be able to grow its own.  So, no fewer people get to legally grow weed with I-502.  Nobody is forcing you to buy and smoke the state store weed.  People who are growing weed illegally now will still do so.  So there’s no change for your illegal source of weed and potentially a new legal source of weed.  Plus, with competition, your illegal source of weed will become cheaper* as the growers fight to keep up with the scale of production the state can muster.  Finally, keep in mind that Washington State had until last election a state monopoly on distribution of alcohol.  Business interests lobbied to get that law changed, so now there is business competition in alcohol.  Why couldn’t that happen down the road for marijuana?

Then there is the fact that I-502 only allows you to possess a mere one ounce and only purchased and purchase it from a state shop, which will probably be enjoined by the federal government. You still can’t home grow.  However, that one ounce legalization changes everything, not just in Washington State, but nationwide. Legalization is no longer a concept; it’s a reality. The mere smell of weed is no longer a probable cause for cops to harass you. Possession of a dime bag and a pipe will no longer get you a mandatory 2-day jail stay and mandatory $500 fine and a “drug criminal” record that follows you around. For patients traveling with less than an ounce, they get true protection from arrest, not the “affirmative defense” (a.k.a. “get arrested and show your medical papers to the judge”) they currently have.  Some of those patients with less need who don’t grow may even be able to save some money and forgo getting their doctor’s annual “permission slip”. Other states considering legalization will see the sky doesn’t fall. The feds challenging Washington’s state stores brings the prohibition fight back to the courts for the state’s rights showdown we need to move the issue forward.

still want to see the legalization of home growing – every adult should be allowed to grow their own marijuana for personal use.  But it will be much easier to convince the people or the legislature that people should be allowed to cultivate the marijuana they’re legally allowed to possess and the state legally grows than to secure the right to home cultivation of something that is currently illegal that only criminals grow.

Sometimes I hear, especially in regard to the 5ng/mL per se DUID standard, that I-502 is “throwing patients under the bus”.  And let me just re-iterate that this standard is unscientific, unnecessary, and unjust.  But let’s also re-iterate that the majority of tokers won’t be above 5ng/mL if they haven’t toked within 1-4 hours.  And remember that the marijuana prohibition we have now is unscientific, unnecessary, and unjust.  Medical marijuana supporters in other states have approved all sorts of unscientific (“a mature plant is one greater than 12″ tall”), unnecessary (“plants and medicine must never be seen in public view”), and unjust (“states that don’t recognize PTSD as a qualifying condition”) regulations because the alternative was to continue to see patients get arrested.  In the thirteen years since Washington passed Measure 692, I estimate there have been over 180,000 marijuana arrests. There are 630,000 annual marijuana users in Washington State. It’s estimated that only 60-100 thousand of them are patients.

So why is it that when we want to protect the majority of healthy tokers from arrest in 2012, it’s “throwing patients under the bus”, but when we wanted to protect just the minority of sick tokers from arrest in 1998, it wasn’t “healthy tokers not allowed on the bus”?  Why is it OK to approve all sorts of unscientific, unnecessary, and unjust regulations as the lesser evil to arresting sick tokers, but it’s not OK as a lesser evil to arresting healthy tokers?  Nobody is throwing the patients under the bus. I-502 is just asking that the healthy tokers not have to sit in the back of the bus anymore and that the sick tokers ride one if they don’t drive well.

Opponents of I-502 who support legalization say this isn’t the right bill, that their legalization is the better option.  I heard the same thing during the campaign for Prop 19 in California. That took $1.5 million to get on the ballot. It got 46.5% of the vote. During the campaign, the “Patients against Prop 19″ told us all Prop 19 was a bad law that would create corporate control of weed and hurt patients. “We’ll put a better initiative on the ballot in 2012, a presidential year!” they told us.  Well, it’s 2012. California is not likely to have legalization on the ballot. The initiative furthest along, Regulate Marijuana Like Wine, has 30,000 sigs and $80,000 dollars (or maybe I have that reversed, regardless, way less than the 750,000 sigs and $1.5 million it needs by April 20 filing deadline [irony]).

I-502 is not the legalization I would write. I would include home growing. I’d not have a state monopoly. I’d have no per se DUID measures. I’d make the legal age 18. I’d have no limits on how much you could possess or grow.  But I don’t have the ability to get that on the ballot. Neither do any of the grassroots legalization orgs listed in opposition to I-502 (and please, prove me wrong, but since 1996, no marijuana reform has made the ballot without billionaire backing except Prop 19, and that took one millionaire sinking his whole life savings into it.)  And even if I did get it on the ballot, it would fail miserably, as the voters aren’t ready for that degree of marijuana freedom.  It is not going to go from “deadly dangerous Schedule I drug that will lead your kids to heroin addiction and cause chaos on the freeways” to “as free as cigars” in one vote.

So we can complain about I-502′s flaws and vote against it, just like the DEA, the cops, and the Mexican Drug Cartels want you to vote, and we can direct our limited volunteer time, money, talent, and focus on other initiatives that will divide and confuse the electorate and dilute our base.  Or we can get behind the initiative that has made the ballot, that does have major financial support, that does have unprecedented big-name law enforcement support, and is polling above 55% and we can vote to become the first state in America to legalize marijuana.

* I realize that if you are making a living dealing weed illegally, this does not sound like a positive to you.  Sorry, but nobody deserves to profit from prohibition – not lawyers, prisons, drug rehabs, cops, governments, marijuana bloggers like me, or even gals and dudes who throw a light up in the closet and sell dime bags to friends just to break even on the electricity bill.  While prohibition exists this profiteering is inevitable and for the consumer, the illegal grower is the only savior of the genetics and purveyor of the product we’ve got.  But that grower should never stand in the way of ending the criminality of his consumer just to maintain his or her bottom line.  If I’m fighting to put myself out of a job in the name of freedom, you should, too.  (Actually, I think with legalization, both our jobs will flourish like never before… it’s not as if microbrews are becoming less popular and alcohol-themed writing doesn’t dominate sitcoms and the box-office…)

† Thanks to Paul Armentano for this correction.  While some detractors of I-502 claim the ounce you’re allowed to possess must be acquired from the state store, “at best, the initiative language is ambivalent,” says Armentano. “It does not appear to stipulate that the marijuana MUST have been purchased from a state licensed shop for the possessor to receive legal protection under the law.”  But, you may wonder, if you’re in possession of an ounce, the only legal place you could have gotten it was a state store, and if there are no state stores, how could it be a legal ounce?  Because possessing and acquiring are two different acts.  Perhaps your friend gifted you that ounce. He’s the one who got it somewhere other than a state store, not you.  Shaky reasoning?  Well, it’s no more shaky than claiming you’re being a caregiver for one patient at a time as they line up at your storefront dispensary.  I’ll take this ambivalent protection of an ounce over the absolute criminalization of an ounce any day.

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