Pubdate: Sun, 23 Sep 2012
Source: Olympian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2012 The Olympian


A historical transformation of social values has occurred during the
early years of the 21st century toward once-controversial issues such
as same-sex marriage and the use of marijuana. Whenever communal
morals shift so significantly, governments eventually recognize the
need to conform its laws to reflect the public's will.

State and federal governments have so far ignored the changing
attitude of Americans toward the use of marijuana, both as a medically
useful drug and as a recreational diversion. This has resulted in a
tangled mess of conflicting laws and regulations that begs to be
cleared up quickly.

Initiative 502 has the potential to add to this problem, because until
the federal law banning marijuana is changed, anyone possessing even a
small amount remains open to federal prosecution.

But voters should approve the initiative for its near-term impact on
pressuring Congress to acknowledge the reality of modern attitudes
toward the substance.

If approved, I-502 would decriminalize the possession of an ounce or
less of marijuana for adults over age 21. It would license growers and
allow the sale of marijuana in private stores licensed, regulated and
taxed by the state.

The initiative would create a new marijuana DUI standard based on a
blood-THC level -- similar to the blood-alcohol limit of 0.08. And it
would allow Washington farmers to grow industrial hemp and cash in on
a multimillion-dollar national market.

It would also give legitimate medical users an avenue of defense
against federal charges.

This initiative has its flaws, and does not even please those who
believe in total legalization. By that, they suggest Congress and the
state Legislature should wipe its books of all laws making marijuana

Critics of the initiative point out that 90 percent of marijuana
arrests of people in the 16-to-21 age group occur at traffic stops.
This initiative will harm those young people, the critics say, because
it will turn a marijuana arrest into a more serious DUI charge.

But if we're going to treat marijuana as a public health issue, as we
do alcohol and tobacco, shouldn't we establish some standard of
impairment for the substance?

This initiative attempts to do that.

Public safety expects police officers who smell alcohol or marijuana
during a routine traffic stop to investigate impaired driving, whether
it is intoxication by pot or by booze. No officer should take the risk
of ignoring impairment of any kind, lest that person drive away and
kill someone in a traffic accident.

Opponents of I-502 fear the initiative will increase access for people
younger than 21, though it's naive to think juveniles don't already
have complete and unfettered access.

By the same token, supporters are overly optimistic that approval of
I-502 would generate new tax revenue for the state by squeezing out
the illegal black market controlled by violent gangs and organized
crime. Gangs will still have the juvenile market and may offer the
substance below government-regulated prices.

Despite its flaws, a recent KING-5 News poll shows that 58 percent of
respondents support I-502, and only 21 percent oppose it. Another 21
percent were undecided.

Supporters of the initiative include 16 state legislators, a U.S.
attorney, the former Seattle police chief, the NAACP, judges,
educators and the Children's Alliance, an advocacy group representing
more than 100 social-service agencies.

Seventeen states have adopted medical marijuana laws. Other states and
provinces, including New York and British Columbia, have embraced
unofficial decriminalization policies.

The New York Legislature decriminalized possession of small amounts of
marijuana by adults in 1977. The New York Police Department has
regularly issued memorandums to its officers -- as recently as this
month -- reminding them not to arrest people with small amounts of the
substance, unless they are displaying it publicly.

Congress had doggedly refused to change its classification of
marijuana. Right now, according to the feds, marijuana is more
dangerous than the prescription pain-killing pills, such as oxycodone,
that are killing young and old alike at an alarming rate. The feds
consider pot on the same level as heroin.

Congress must lead the way on sensible change to the nation's
marijuana laws, and it's obvious they aren't going to act without
grass-roots support and pressure from states.

 From that perspective, Washington residents who favor change in both
state and federal marijuana laws should vote for this initiative.

We know from decades of anti-marijuana laws that the substance remains
widely used and accessible to people of all ages. We also know that
whatever our national policy is on marijuana, it isn't working.

It appears to be time for a new approach. I-502 takes a carefully
considered first step toward matching laws with community standards.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt