Washington’s I-502 is legalization of personal marijuana possession

One of many annoying things about the ongoing online debate about Washington’s I-502 (and, to a lesser extent, Colorado’s initiative) is reading detractors who smoke pot continually refer to it as “not legalization” or “decriminalization”.

Here are the definitions:

Decriminalization is when something that once was a crime becomes a ticket. When a criminal punishment and record is removed and replaced with an administrative sanction, it is decriminalized. Speeding, for example, is decriminalized.

Legalization is when something that was once punished no longer is. When a criminal punishment and record is removed and no punishment is given, not even an administrative sanction, it is legalized. Drinking beer, for example, is legalized.

This is a critical distinction. Cops still have probable cause to investigate and harass you over violations. But committing legalized acts is no concern of cops.

Therefore, I-502 legalizes possession of an ounce of weed, commercial production, and retail distribution. Period. Colorado’s initiative also legalizes personal cultivation. We can quibble about what might get pre-empted, whether definitions of “personal” are too restrictive, what age should “adult” be, and how badly DUIDs suck, but unless we can agree on basic terminology, further discussions are pointless.

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