Pubdate: Sat, 24 Mar 2012
Source: Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)
Copyright: 2012 The Spokesman-Review
Author: Shawn Vestal


Norm Stamper's told the story a lot: He was a
rookie cop, working a =93one-man car=94 in an
affluent San Diego neighborhood, when he
approached a home and smelled =93burning vegetable matter.=94

This was around 1966. Possession of marijuana =96
possession of even a seed or stem =96 was a felony.
Stamper, a young cop eager to score the brownie
points associated with narcotics busts, knocked
on the door. No answer. He then kicked in the
door and heard footsteps racing down the hall,
where he found a 19-year-old man trying to flush
his marijuana down the toilet. Stamper scooped
out the soggy pot, placed the young man in
handcuffs and led him from his parents' house to the police car.

As I got closer to the jail,=94 Stamper said, =93I
kept thinking, `My God, I could be out doing real
police work.' It was my aha moment. This kid was not hurting anybody.=92 

Nearly 50 years later, a lot has changed
regarding the country's approach to marijuana,
both medicinal and recreational. And a lot is
still changing. But Stamper =96 a former Seattle
police chief and 34-year cop =96 is still an
exception: someone from the world of law
enforcement who believes, or at least is willing
to say, that our prohibition on pot is senseless.

In fact, Stamper says that a lot, and he's been
saying it for years =96 in speeches and essays, and
even in a book. Now he's part of a group, Law
Enforcement Against Prohibition, that's
supporting an initiative on the November ballot
that would legalize, regulate and tax the sale of
marijuana in Washington. He's speaking around the
state in support of Initiative 502; he's also
appearing in Spokane next week as part of a community panel on policing.

I think it's long past time we recognize
marijuana is safer than alcohol, healthier than
tobacco and does represent enormous revenue
possibilities for the state,=94 he said.

That last point =96 money for the state's bare
cupboards =96 is no theoretical matter these days,
though it's hard to say exactly how much a taxed
and regulated pot trade would bring in. The
state's Office of Financial Management estimated
this week that it could mean $560 million to $606
million a year in taxes, depending how reefer mad
we go. I-502 supporters have predicted a smaller
boon, and the truth is, it's all elaborate guesswork.

The OFM paper, as reported in the Seattle Times,
describes what a state-run marijuana business
might look like. It assumed 100 growers,
supplying 300 stores, selling nearly 190,000
pounds of marijuana a year to more than 360,000
customers. It's based on federal drug-use data.

Under I-502, the state would regulate stores and
tax sales of one ounce of marijuana to people 21
and older. It would add maximum THC levels to drunken-driving laws.

The initiative is being sponsored by New Approach
Washington, a coalition of health officials,
attorneys, law enforcement officials and others,
including travel writer Rick Steves and former
Spokane Regional Health District director Kim Marie Thorburn.

As hard as it might be to envision that future
imagined in the OFM report, it is equally hard to
rationalize the country's current approach to
pot. It's illegal, but the level of enforcement
varies. Medical marijuana is legal in some
states, but it's a legality that is impractically
in conflict with federal law. It's so convoluted
that Lewis Carroll might have come up with it while smoking opium.

And as attitudes toward pot have relaxed, we're
left with some glaring hypocrisies. Many of the
people who run the government that still
criminalizes pot have smoked it. Obama's smoked
it. Bush probably did, based on the way he
avoided the question. Clinton at least pretended
to. Presidential candidates routinely admit smoking it.

There's so much winking and smiling about it on
the one hand that it's sometimes hard to remember
that people still go to jail for possession, as Stamper points out.

It's this hypocrisy, in part, that makes this
such an issue for him, he said. How many of the
people in positions of authority have a little
pot-smoking in their own background =96 an
experience that, had they been caught, might have
changed the course of their life for no good reason?

That galls me,=94 Stamper said. =93It's just galling
to me that we can preside over this system of law
and law enforcement criminalizing behavior that
very prominent Americans participated in when they were younger.=94

Stamper tells one more story from his early days
as a cop. He and his wife were helping take care
of a friend, a young woman sick with kidney
disease. As she neared the end of her life =96 she
died in her 30s =96 she started saying smoking
marijuana was helping her appetite, allowing her
to keep food down, making her feel better.
Stamper told her to keep it away from him and wouldn't help her get it.

But other than that, he supported her fully.

She was not a criminal,=94 he said.
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