If I-502 passes, national headlines will read “Washington State Legalizes Marijuana!” This is what national marijuana law reform groups have been dreaming of for over 40 years. The practical application of the law however will be something very different, the end results could yield some very negative impacts, and all the headlines would be for naught.
I-502 is not legalization, it is decriminalization. The language creates a narrow exception for the right to possess limited amounts of marijuana or marijuana infused foods and beverages. The tax-and-regulate portions conflict with federal law and are likely to be preempted. This will leave no legal production or retail sale of product for consumers, leaving illegal markets to fill new demand.
Current marijuana laws in Washington State treat possession of less than 40 grams as a misdemeanor. In many simple possession cases, a first offense may be deferred, leaving no criminal record, or carries a mandatory minimum penalty of one day in jail and a $250 fine. I-502 only protects people from arrest for possession for up to 28 grams — it does not allow non-medical home grows, nor does it remove any of the civil or criminal penalties from the state code. Any violation outside their narrow exceptions are fully prosecutable under state law as it currently exists.
I-502 creates new limits for driving under the influence of cannabis (DUIC, more commonly known as DUID, or “drugged driving”). These limits are 5 nanograms of active THC for adults aged 21 & over, or amounts over 0.00 for those under 21. Anyone guilty of driving impaired deserves to be penalized to the fullest extent of the law, but these limits are arbitrary, and not based on actual impairment.
Marijuana impairment is not equal to alcohol impairment; there are too many variables, such as rate and frequency of use, which affect the build up of measurable levels in the human body. Medical marijuana patients test well over the 5ng limit, while completely sober. Active THC can remain in the blood stream for as long as 30 days, making this a zero-tolerance law for minors. Science does not currently support implementation of these limits. National reform organizations such as NORML, MPP, and DPA, have all fought against the establishment of these laws. The state of Colorado has shot down three attempts so far, and Washington State Representative Roger Goodman retracted an 8ng recommendation after learning that such a law stands to incriminate innocent people.
A DUID charge is a gross misdemeanor, and for first offenses carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 24 hours in jail, an $866 fine, a 90 day license suspension, and alcohol & drug evaluation, plus any recommended treatment. SR22 auto insurance will be required at a higher rate. Any conviction involving marijuana can make people ineligible for federal aid in education, housing, and food assistance, and potentially ruin future job prospects.
These charges are “per se”, meaning the defendant is presumed guilty until proven innocent. It is currently illegal in Washington State to drive under the influence of any drug, but only alcohol has a set limit. Impairment from other drugs is evidence-based, and the prosecution is tasked with proving impairment on preponderance of the evidence. The 5ng limit for adults 21 & over, or any measurement over 0.00 for minors will become the new definitions for impairment — guilt will be automatic and indefensible in a court of law.
New Approach Washington is correct in stating that we need to end prohibition on marijuana, but their brand of reform is an extension of prohibition — not a solution to it. Law enforcement will have a new weapon in its arsenal to guarantee conviction rates for crimes carrying stiffer penalties than simple possession. Suspect cannabis consumers, especially youth, minorities, and medical marijuana patients, will be profiled in their anti-marijuana cross-hairs. The threat of a DUI(C) conviction can be leveraged to get information from a suspect about the source of their illegally produced “legal” pot.
Is I-502 better than we have now? Not when you consider that it trades lesser penalties for simple possession, and replaces them with the stiffer penalties and expenses of a DUID conviction. The war on marijuana could become worse under I-502, causing a public backlash of buyer’s remorse, and set the entire legalization movement backward. We need real reform, not pandering to the fears of a public that has been lied to for over 75 years. There is too much at stake to sacrifice our freedoms, just to gain a fleeting headline. Vote No on I-502.
- Troy Barber
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