Pubdate: Sun, 07 Oct 2012
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2012 Bellingham Herald
Author: Rob Carson


It's not surprising that Jim Johnston is passionate about this year's 
campaign for Initiative 502, the proposal to legalize marijuana.

Johnston has used and appreciated marijuana since he was a teenager 
in the 1960s, and for the past several years he's been smoking it 
daily to control pain from head injuries. He has long believed that 
criminalizing cannabis is misguided and counterproductive social policy.

"I definitely want legalization," Johnston said from his home in 
Puyallup. "As a society, we're dumb for not doing it."

What is surprising is that Johnston is campaigning against the initiative.

"We need a new law," he said, "but this isn't it. It's definitely a 
conservative, one-sided thing."

According to recent polls, Washington's marijuana measure, which 
would allow adults to possess as much as an ounce of pot, has a good 
chance of passing.

A statewide Elway poll in early September found 50 percent in favor 
of I-502, with 38 percent opposed and 12 percent undecided. In a 
SurveyUSA poll conducted about the same time, 57 percent of likely 
voters said they would vote yes.

That puts marijuana advocates on the verge of landmark legislation, 
something they've been unable to accomplish despite 40 years of 
effort that began with the first California Proposition 19 campaign in 1972.

But the I-502 campaign is threatened by ideological dissension in the 
pro-marijuana ranks, where the debate is not about whether marijuana 
should be legalized, but how it should be legalized.

The only organized opposition to I-502 is coming not from people who 
think the proposal goes too far, as one might expect, but from people 
like Johnston who think it doesn't go far enough.

Opponents argue that in the process of making the bill politically 
acceptable, its authors made compromises and set precedents that will 
prove difficult or impossible to get rid of and, in the long run, 
will set back the national campaign for legalization.

Alison Holcomb, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney directing 
the pro campaign - New Approach Washington - characterizes the rift 
as "idealism versus incrementalism."

She readily admits that I-502 is a cautious step. But she says that's 
the way it needs to be, not only because it's a historic change in 
social policy with many unknowns, but for purely practical political reasons.

Concerns raised by opponents in past campaigns - the possibilities of 
increased use and dependence, easier access for children and the 
public danger of drugged driving, for example - needed to be 
addressed and dealt with, she said, and I-502 does that. Businesses 
with drug-free policies would still be able to enforce them under the 

"We're feeling a little bit validated by the fact that there is very 
little organized opposition," Holcomb said. "The fact that people 
within the law are sponsoring this, I think, is reassuring for many people."

Steve Sarich, the director of the No On I-502 campaign, calls the 
initiative "a Trojan horse."

"This is just absolutely the wrong idea," he said. "It's adding new 
penalties on top of current penalties for use."

Sarich gained notoriety in 2010 when he shot and critically wounded a 
19-year-old burglar trying to break into his Kirkland area home and 
medical marijuana business, CannaCare. He rejects charges that the 
real reason medical marijuana providers are against the initiative is 
that it would break up their lucrative monopoly on marijuana sales.

"I don't think anybody's getting rich on medical marijuana," he said. 
"Nobody I know is."


The text of I-502 and the changes it would make in existing statutes 
runs 65 pages, but simply put, it would make it legal for people 21 
and older to possess up to an ounce of dried marijuana, a pound of 
marijuana-laced baked goods or other "edibles," or 72 ounces of 
marijuana-infused liquids.

Every aspect of the supply chain, from grow operations to retail 
sales, would be controlled by the state and would be heavily taxed.

Users would buy marijuana in stand-alone, marijuana-only package 
stores, run privately but regulated by the state Liquor Control Board.

Growing your own would still be illegal, except for medical marijuana 
patients. Most advertising would not be allowed. Competence to drive 
would be measured by a new threshold for THC blood concentration.

Proceeds from taxes and license fees, which the state Office of 
Financial Management has estimated at close to $500 million a year, 
would go to the state's general fund and a variety of specific areas, 
including health care, research, and youth drug prevention and 
treatment programs.

Unlike California's failed Prop. 19, which was sponsored by medical 
marijuana activist Richard Lee, the founder of a "cannabis-oriented 
college" called Oaksterdam University, I-502 originated in the heart 
of the establishment. It has prominent supporters in law enforcement, 
business and public health.

Sponsors include Tacoma attorney Salvador Mungia, the immediate past 
president of the Washington State Bar Association; John McKay, former 
U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington; and University 
of Washington professor emeritus Roger Roffman, a nationally 
recognized expert on the social consequences of marijuana use.

I-502 was submitted to the Secretary of State's office last summer 
after supporters produced nearly 250,000 signatures. The Legislature 
chose not to act on it, meaning it automatically went to November's 
general ballot.

Other backers include the former head of the FBI's Seattle field 
office and Norm Stamper, Seattle's police chief from 1994 to 2000.

The NAACP has signed on, as has the Children's Alliance, a statewide 
advocacy group for children's interests that represents about 125 

New Approach Washington has raised more than $3 million, compared 
with $5,700 by the No On I-502 group. Its biggest donors so far are 
Peter Lewis, the former CEO of Progressive Insurance ($853,000); the 
New York-based drug reform group Drug Policy Alliance ($715,000); and 
the Edmonds-based travel entrepreneur Rick Steves ($450,000).

The ACLU of Western Washington has donated $192,500 to the cause.


Five people have contributed to the No On I-502 campaign, with the 
largest single contribution just $1,350.

They are Edward Afazarm (aka Eddie Spaghetti), who runs the biggest 
signature-gathering operation in the state; Olympia citizen activist 
Arthur West; Sarich; and two other medical marijuana providers whose 
places of business were recently raided by police.

The driving-under-the-influence provision has caused most of the 
blowback from pro-marijuana groups, including the nonprofit group 
Sensible Washington, which ran an unsuccessful marijuana reform 
measure (Initiative 1068) two years ago.

The current initiative presumes impairment at 5 nanograms of active 
TCH per milliliter of blood, a level opponents say is not supported 
by science. It would be a "per-se" limit, meaning drivers with that 
much active THC in their blood would be guilty of DUI by definition, 
even without proof of impairment.

Opponents argue that setting such a limit would be unfair to medical 
marijuana patients, some of whom use so much marijuana that they've 
developed a tolerance and can drive safely with higher levels of 
active THC in their blood.

"You have no defense in court with a per-se limit," Sarich said. "The 
evidence against you could be nothing more than a policeman saying he 
thought you looked stoned.

"You get in a car accident that's not your fault and guess who's 
going to jail," he said. "You, because you were supposedly driving 
under the influence of drugs at the time."

Supporters say drivers who are not driving erratically and don't 
appear intoxicated would have nothing to worry about.

They also note a point of confusion they say is causing unnecessary 
fear among some medical marijuana patients. The new DUI threshold is 
not for carboxy-THC, the component of marijuana most commonly used in 
drug testing and which remains in one's system for weeks after use.

The new standard measures active delta-9-THC, the component that 
causes intoxication. Active THC spikes rapidly after use and drops 
back down within hours.

While medical marijuana activists are resisting I-502 most loudly, 
they are by no means the only ones opposed. Several other groups are 
using more standard arguments against legalization.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs is against 
I-502, arguing that marijuana is inherently harmful and that 
legalization would lead to the mistaken impression that it is 
harmless. Its members also worry about an increased incidence of 
drugged driving, and they say public health costs would far exceed 
the revenue generated.

The Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence 
Prevention is against it, too, arguing that legalizing marijuana for 
adults would increase access for kids.


Opponents also argue that the initiative would put Washington in 
conflict with federal law, which prohibits any use of marijuana and 
classifies it as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, along with heroin and LSD.

If I-502 passes, opponents say, federal government agencies almost 
certainly would step in, putting anyone involved at risk of federal 
prosecution. State licensing requirements would give federal 
prosecutors a handy hit list of growers, processors and retailers, they say.

Seattle attorney Jeffrey Steinborn, who has defended many marijuana 
clients, opposes I-502, calling it "a law-enforcement sting in plain sight."

The large sums of money the state stands to make from regulation is a 
selling point of supporters. Under the initiative, marijuana sales 
would be taxed 25 percent at the wholesale and retail levels, plus 
sales taxes. The state would receive additional income from a $250 
application fee and a $1,000 fee for issuing and renewing licenses.

But in its analysis of probable economic impacts, the Office of 
Financial Management acknowledged the possibility of the feds 
snuffing out the whole enterprise, making accurate estimates impossible.

It presented a range of possibilities going from zero dollars if the 
feds step in, to nearly a half-billion dollars a year if they do not.

In its analysis, the agency estimated the state would license 100 
growers and 328 marijuana stores. Based on national drug-use surveys, 
they concluded the stores would sell about 94 tons of marijuana a 
year to some 363,000 customers.

Supporters acknowledge the possibility of federal officials stepping 
in, but say that's no reason not to pass the law. The only way 
federal marijuana policy will change, they say, is if states revolt 
and force the discussion.

"It's a political question of what the federal government is going to 
do," Holcomb said. "Our job is to pass this and demonstrate that the 
voters of Washington are ready to try something different."

In terms of predicting what the federal government will do, she said 
the experience with medical marijuana might be the best guide. 
Federal law makes no distinction between marijuana and medical marijuana.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana 
laws now, and several of them have state licensing requirements. The 
federal government has not tried to strike down any of those laws.

"Whether it takes the same position when I-502 passes is an open 
question," Holcomb said, "but I-502 is a solid proposal and a better 
approach. It benefits government by separating adult consumers from 
the black market. It takes the money out of the hands of 
organizations that are killing people in Everett, in Mexico and 
shooting it out in Canada."

I-502 is an incremental approach, Holcomb said, which is why some of 
the tax proceeds are earmarked for ongoing analysis of the law's effects.

"This needs to be monitored and evaluated, and we need to be provided 
with good information if it needs to be changed," she said.

Sarich doesn't buy it.

"You need to write it right the first time," he said.

"I believe the American public is now really sick and tired of the 
war on drugs," he said. "If not this year, maybe next year. I think 
we can do it right and do it the first time."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom