Pubdate: Tue, 25 Sep 2012
Source: Issaquah Press (WA)
Copyright: 2012 Issaquah Press


GreenLink Collective, a medical marijuana operation along Northwest
Gilman Boulevard, reshaped attitudes and policies about marijuana in
Issaquah last year, as patients and officials engaged in a long debate
about access to a drug banned under federal law.

In November, Washington voters could further redraw the battle lines
in the marijuana debate. Initiative 502 aims to legalize, regulate and
tax marijuana for recreational users. The proposal goes a step beyond
a 1998 measure to legalize medical marijuana in Washington and could
set a national precedent.

The initiative calls for sales at state-licensed stores of up to 1
ounce of marijuana - grown by state-licensed farmers.

Marijuana-related tax revenue could pump as much as $1.9 billion into
state coffers, if the federal government does not intervene. I-502
calls for the state to set aside $227 million per year in marijuana
taxes for health insurance and $113 million per year for drug
research, prevention and treatment. The measure also outlines for
local governments, such as Issaquah, to receive a slice of funding
from the tax revenue.

In Issaquah, medical marijuana advocates and law enforcement officials
raised questions about the proposal to legalize marijuana.

Some I-502 provisions concern GreenLink Collective operators Jake and
Lydia George, leaders in the effort to establish medical marijuana
rules in Issaquah.

The measure aims to set a threshold for driving under the influence of
drugs at 5 nanograms of active marijuana component THC per milliliter
of blood. Proponents said the level is analogous to the 0.08
blood-alcohol level for DUI arrests. Opponents said the 5 nanogram
limit is not practical for medical users.

"Patients have serious concerns about it and rightfully so," Lydia
George said. "We believe that's the biggest flaw in 502. It does not
account for medical users. That 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood is
completely unrealistic for medical cannabis users."

Issaquah Police Chief Paul Ayers said the introduction of another
impairment-causing substance, albeit legal, could cause safety issues.

"We're going to be introducing another substance that we're going to
be calling legal into our roadways," he said. "Our data right now
shows that alcohol is an issue, we're now going to be introducing
legal marijuana. That's going to be extremely problematic for the
driving population."

In a recent analysis, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington
staffers estimated King County spent about $35 million in the past
decade - including about $17 million on prosecution and defense costs
- - to enforce existing marijuana laws.

Statewide, the ACLU estimated the total at about $211

Supporters said the money spent to enforce existing laws has done
little to reduce marijuana use.

Alison Holcomb, campaign director for I-502 supporters New Approach
Washington, said attitudes about marijuana changed as the stigma
surrounding the drug waned in recent years.

"The issue that seems to be gaining the most traction is a change in
people's understanding, that when we're talking about marijuana law
reform, we're really not talking about promoting marijuana use," she

I-502 sponsors include Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and John
McKay, a former U.S. attorney for Western Washington.

"The people that have come out and endorsed it and publicly support it
appreciate the level of thinking and careful consideration that went
into those public health and public safety concerns," Holcomb said. "I
think they appreciate that the system for producing marijuana is going
to be very tightly regulated."

Questions for marijuana users, federal government Opposition to I-502
is not as organized or in lockstep as the pro-initiative side.

"I think they've got a lot of balls, quite frankly, calling it
legalization," said Steve Sarich, No on I-502 spokesman. "In order to
legalize anything, you must remove all criminal penalties that make it
illegal. They're not doing that."

Sensible Washington, a pro-legalization group based in Seattle, also
opposes I-502. Instead, the nonprofit organization is focused on a
2013 ballot measure to legalize marijuana use for adults 21 and older.

Issaquah officials set rules for medical marijuana operations last
year after a monthslong debate. Planners crafted rules meant to
accommodate patients, police and suppliers.

"When we were writing this one that exists now, we had to kind of walk
a tightrope between not being more strict than the state law, or if
the state law was silent, then you had to also be careful," said Dave
Favour, a city planning manager involved in the Issaquah medical
marijuana ordinance.

Other cities, including neighboring Sammamish, banned such gardens.
King County adopted a more laissez-faire policy for medical marijuana
operations and allowed medical marijuana operations to continue.

GreenLink remains the only licensed medical marijuana operation in
Issaquah, although the municipal Development Services Department is
considering a permit application from another patient group.

"The only real aspect of 502 that we see as beneficial is that it
encourages state involvement in the regulation of cannabis," Lydia
George said. "We really, as a medical community, want to see that."

How the federal government might react to marijuana legalization in
Washington is another question in the debate.

Nationwide, 17 states and Washington, D.C., allow medical marijuana,
but the drug remains illegal in all forms under federal law.

Washington is not alone in the effort to end the prohibition on
recreational use. Colorado and Oregon also put marijuana legalization
measures on the November ballot.

The issue surfaced on the presidential campaign trail Sept. 7, as GOP
vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said the states should decide
whether to legalize the drug for medical purposes and the federal
government should not interfere.

Washington Initiative 692, passed in 1998, allows people suffering
from certain medical conditions to possess a 60-day supply of
marijuana. Under state law, physicians can recommend - but not
prescribe - the drug for patients.

Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the top federal prosecutor in Western
Washington, Jenny Durkan, said U.S. Department of Justice rules
prohibit the office from commenting on state legislation, such as
I-502. Durkan also cannot comment on what steps the Department of
Justice might take if the initiative passes.

In 2010, California voters rejected a measure to legalize marijuana.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said before the California vote that
the federal government intended to "vigorously enforce" the federal
ban on marijuana, regardless of state law.

I-502 supporters said the federal government is not likely to
interfere if the measure passes.

"The federal government's stance has been that as long as people are
acting in clear and unambiguous compliance with those state laws,
we're not interested in expending federal resources to investigate and
prosecute those people," Holcomb said.
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