Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jan 2012
Source: Olympian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2012 The Olympian
Author: Jolene Unsoeld
Note: Jolene Unsoeld of Olympia served in the Washington State 
Legislature from the 22nd District followed by a term in Congress 
from 1989 through 1995.


Recently signatures were turned in to the office of the Secretary of 
State by New Approach Washington to qualify Initiative 502 to 
legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and over under 
Washington state law.

Passage of Initiative 502 would put our Washington ahead of that 
other Washington's ongoing criminal prohibition of marijuana, raising 
concerns among some. As a former U.S. representative and long-time 
meddler, I must share that I have seldom seen major shifts in federal 
law touching on sensitive social issues that didn't initiate at the 
state level.

And now after watching our nation spend 40 years and $1 trillion on a 
failed War on Drugs, I believe Washington's citizens understand that 
this is an issue where leadership must come from the states. Matters 
that resonate at a cultural or emotional level almost always are 
taken up first at home.

Governors Chris Gregoire and Lincoln Chafee are to be commended for 
publicly acknowledging that marijuana does not belong on the federal 
government's Schedule I  those substances with a high potential for 
abuse and no currently accepted medical use  when cocaine is on the 
less serious Schedule II and neither alcohol nor tobacco are on any 
schedule at all.

Three previous petitions to reschedule marijuana have been brought 
before the Drug Enforcement Administration over the past four 
decades, and each has been denied after languishing for years. The 
most recent petition was filed in 2002 and denied just this past 
July. Little reason exists to believe the DEA's response will be 
different this time.

Change can begin in our Washington while we wait for the other 
Washington to catch up.

Initiating marijuana law reform at the state level is hardly new. 
After President Richard Nixon's National Commission on Marijuana and 
Drug Abuse recommended decriminalization of marijuana in 1972, 
Congress did nothing. However, 11 states followed the recommendation 
and decriminalization possession of small amounts of marijuana during 
the years 1975 to 1978. Nevada joined in 2001, Massachusetts in 2008.

In 1996, California passed the first state medical marijuana law, and 
15 other states plus Washington, D.C., followed suit. Seven of these 
medical marijuana laws include provisions for licensing and 
regulating the production and distribution of marijuana, including 
the District of Columbia, whose laws are subject to congressional 
review. New Mexico has had dispensaries licensed and in operation since 2009.

Initiative 502, sponsored by one former U.S. attorney and endorsed by 
another, represents a carefully considered, responsible approach to 
reforming state marijuana laws in a way that promotes good governance 
and effective use of public resources. It is not a free-for-all that 
thumbs its nose at the federal government's marijuana prohibition. 
Rather, it constructs a tight regulatory system guided by a solid 
focus on public health and safety.

Some worry that the new marijuana DUI standard included in I-502 may 
put medical marijuana patients with higher tolerances at risk. 
However, Washington law already requires objective evidence of actual 
impairment before an officer may arrest someone for DUI and request a 
blood test by a medical professional, and I-502 earmarks new revenues 
for further study of THC's impact on driving. If problems 
materialize, they can be addressed in the courts or Legislature.

We can no longer afford to sit idly by, waiting for marijuana law 
reform to happen at the federal level. According to the U.S. 
Department of Justice, marijuana sales in the U.S. constitute "the 
single largest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels." The 
violence is spilling across the border and into Washington itself as 
criminal organizations set up shop.

Taking marijuana out of the black market and bringing it under 
regulatory control will have a direct and significant impact on the 
cartel's bottom line and ability to do harm. It will free up law 
enforcement resources currently wasted on nonviolent marijuana 
offenders to go after violent criminals. It will better promote 
public health and safety in our communities.

Initiative 502 may make federal authorities uncomfortable for the 
period of time that federal law continues to be out of sync with 
voters' wishes. However, being willing to push an issue to an 
uncomfortable place is sometimes what it takes to demonstrate 
leadership. For these reasons, I endorse I-502 and encourage our 
Washington legislators and voters to support it.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom