By Sensible Washington
Initiative 502, especially at first glance, is an appealing measure. The message that cannabis prohibition has failed, and that we should legalize it for adults, is something individuals are quickly and rightfully grasping on to.
It’s not hard to see why. Cannabis prohibition has succeeded in only a few things – enriching criminal syndicates, imprisoning nonviolent individuals, and putting underground a non-lethal substance that would produce thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenue throughout the country.
It’s become clear that legalization is the only viable path forward.
That stated, it’s important to note a clear distinction between the political message of Initiative 502’s campaign, and the actual language of the measure. Initiative 502 would not legalize cannabis.
In fact, it wouldn’t remove, or even alter, a single criminal penalty that makes cannabis illegal in our state. Not one. If passed, cannabis will be retained as a schedule 1 controlled substance under state law. What this indicates is that it’s as dangerous and illegal as heroin under our state’s legal coding. The initiative instead creates narrow exceptions for certain activity, such as possession of an ounce. Possessing an ounce and a half, or sharing in any manner (including passing a pipe, or giving your “legal” ounce to another adult), are felony charges – delivery of a controlled substance. Home-growing would remain as illegal as it was before – even a single plant.
Farmers are given an exception to grow hemp, but the arbitrary restrictions dictate that if their hemp passes 0.3% THC (hemp is up to 1% THC, according to the North American Industrial Hemp Council), they would face state-level prosecution, even if the federal government allowed state authorized hemp production.
The distribution system, if not the entirety of the initiative, will be rendered invalid in federal court. This will lead to no tax revenue ever being raised, or any retail outlets ever being opened. This is because the initiative would force the state to collect taxes from an illegal substance, conflicting with our State and Federal Controlled Substances Act. If the distribution does stand, it goes as far as giving our state’s Liquor Control Board the authority to set a maximum on the THC in the cannabis sold, set a limit on the number of outlets per country, etc..
Worst of all, I-502 mandates a per-se DUID policy for THC. This provision removes the protection in our current law which requires an officer to prove in court that you were impaired in order to prosecute you for a DUID. This limit, 5ng/ml, has been rejected three times in Colorado’s Legislature. Their Legislature setup a Workgroup to examine the issue, and it concluded that the limit wasn’t appropriate, based primarily on a lack of science.
Washington state Rep. Roger Goodman introduced an higher 8ng/ml limit for THC last year. He ended up revoking the bill because the public back-lashed against it, and he realized after a personal examination that it lacked any scientific support. Studies show that patients and casual consumers will fail this limit hours, or days, after last consumption. No one should ever drive impaired, regardless of the substance, but this mandate has nothing to do with impairment, and will lead to prosecution of the innocent.
Even states like Arizona, Rhode Island and Montana (and countries like Germany), with similar per se policies, have legal exceptions for patients. Nevada, which is one of the only states in the country with a per se DUID policy for THC, with no exception for patients, saw an increase of almost 4,000 new DUIDs, just one year after the law passed.
Ignoring patients aged 16-21, drivers under 21 would be subject to a complete zero-tolerance policy (Sec. 31., Page 46). Trace amounts will guarantee a conviction and a life-altering DUID. This is bad public policy.
Initiative 502 has a plethora of faults. Sensible Washington has done a detailed eight part analysis of this initiative, written from the standpoint of a nonprofit organization that has been working since 2010 to repeal cannabis prohibition in Washington State, which is available at SensibleWashington.org/blog/i502.
It may seem that these are problems we can fix later, but this initiative passing will instill complacency, and could push voters and our elected officials from supporting meaningful reform, or any legal alterations, in the near future. It’s also a serious concern that this initiative could set a negative precedent across the country, and could trick people into thinking legalization has failed when this initiative doesn’t bring the promised benefits, when in reality it’s because of its massive faults.
We strongly encourage everyone to research I-502 before voting on it, to read the initiative language, and to come to their own conclusion. Our conclusion is that it’s bad policy.