Pubdate: Sun, 28 Oct 2012
Source: Herald, The (Everett, WA)
Copyright: 2012 The Daily Herald Co.
Authors: Rick Steves and Mary Helen Roberts
Note: Rick Steves is a travel writer and public broadcasting producer. Rep.
Mary Helen Roberts is Vice Chairwoman of the House Early Learning &
Human Services Committee.


Initiative 502 allows us to answer some simple questions regarding 
current policy on marijuana: Are our current marijuana laws working? 
Is their enforcement a good use of our police, prosecutors, judges, 
and jails? Are they reducing marijuana's availability and use, or 
increasing public safety?

We don't think so. One of us is a travel writer who spends a third of 
each year abroad and has had the opportunity to observe how other 
societies deal with marijuana use. The other has served as a state 
representative for eight years, focusing both on the well-being and 
education of children as well as criminal justice issues. Both of us 
have shepherded our own kids through the tricky teen years, and both 
of us agree that our marijuana laws need an overhaul. That is why we 
are voting yes on Initiative 502, and we encourage our fellow 
Washingtonians to do the same.

For four decades, this nation has been waging a war on marijuana with 
the hope that arresting and jailing people who use marijuana will 
decrease its use and availability. Marijuana arrests now make up 
fully half of all drug arrests nationwide as well as here in 
Washington. Ninety percent of those are for simple possession only. 
Between 2000 and 2010, Washington spent close to $300 million on 
marijuana law enforcement. Snohomish County's portion was roughly 
$14.4 million. Yet marijuana's availability and use rates have not 
gone down. According to federal survey data, 363,000 Washingtonians 
have used marijuana in the last 30 days.

At the same time, we have allowed billions of dollars paid for 
marijuana to flow into the black market, enriching increasingly 
violent international drug trafficking organizations. The somewhat 
conservative RAND Corporation finds that an estimated $1.5 billion in 
U.S. marijuana money flows to the Mexican drug cartels each year. 
Lower British Columbia is awash in "B.C. Bud" that is being smuggled 
south by tunnel, tractor-trailer, and hockey bag. Even more marijuana 
comes from large marijuana farms in Washington's national parks, on 
tribal lands, and in rings of rental homes that have been converted 
into indoor grow operations.

Opponents argue that legalizing and regulating marijuana for adults 
will increase use by youth, but they offer no data to back up this 
claim. The reality is that marijuana is already easily available to 
youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 
more high school students now smoke marijuana than tobacco. Teens 
consistently report it is easier to buy marijuana than cigarettes or 
beer. This makes sense when you consider that street dealers don't check ID.

We can also look to the Dutch experience with "coffee shops" that 
sell small amounts of marijuana to adults. This policy has been in 
place since 1976, and youth marijuana use rates in the Netherlands 
are consistently lower than those in the U.S. To maintain this 
success, the Dutch make adjustments to the policy as needed. When 
lackadaisical enforcement, which allowed a proliferation of shops 
that weren't following the rules, led to increased use by young 
people, the government tightened up. Between 1997 and 2007, the 
number of shops dropped 40 percent, enforcement of age limits 
improved, and youth use decreased.

The Dutch experience teaches us that, over time, lessons are learned 
regarding implementation of a new law. I-502 will allow management of 
marijuana while keeping both adult and youth users out of the 
criminal justice system.

We are not claiming that marijuana use is risk free. Nine percent of 
marijuana users will develop dependence. Excessive use can cause lung 
damage. But the number of deaths from marijuana use is zero. The 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 40,000 annual 
deaths from alcohol use, not including accidents or homicides.

Putting the health risks in perspective does not mean they don't 
exist, or that we shouldn't take them seriously. It is important to 
acknowledge that marijuana use is riskier for youth than it is for 
adults. This is why I-502 imposes an age limit of 21 and maintains 
felony penalties for people who provide marijuana to minors.

Arresting adult marijuana users to discourage youth use is an 
ineffective use of our criminal justice resources. Passage of I-502 
will allow Washington State to collect and invest new tax revenue in 
proven evidence-based prevention programs. Such programs are 
available today, but we don't fund them adequately. Instead, we 
continue to arrest adults, hoping this will deter youth use even 
though this flies in the face of decades of empirical data that show 
this approach just doesn't work.

Kids aren't dumb. They know marijuana isn't as dangerous as heroin or 
cocaine. The failure of our current marijuana policy to stick to the 
facts and provide accurate, science-based information has undermined 
the credibility of law enforcement, teachers, and parents. It 
compromises our ability to provide accurate information about the 
actual harms of marijuana as well as other, more dangerous substances.

The bottom line is that it is not marijuana's availability that 
drives youth use -- it's already available to any young person who 
wants it. Youth use of marijuana, like youth use of tobacco, will be 
influenced by robust, science-based, public health education 
programs. It will be influenced even more by our commitment -- as 
parents, teachers, and neighbors who care about kids -- to set 
cultural standards and social norms that draw clear lines about what 
is okay for adults but not okay for kids. In addition, I-502 
establishes tight advertising restrictions while dedicating funds to 
a comprehensive marijuana public health education campaign.

It's time for a new approach to regulating marijuana. I-502 is a 
smart law. It has been drafted carefully and conservatively, and as a 
result has been endorsed by federal and local law enforcement, public 
health physicians, prevention and treatment professionals, elected 
officials from across the state and both sides of the aisle, and many 
community advocacy organizations including the Children's Alliance, 
the NAACP, and the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans. 
Caring, thoughtful people and organizations have studied I-502 and support it.

Some are worried about the response from the federal government, but 
our constitution was designed to allow states to be the incubators of 
change. In the case of marijuana policy, it is well established that 
there will be no change that doesn't start with the states. Since 
1996, seventeen individual states, and even Washington, D.C., have 
adopted laws allowing medical use of marijuana, which is not 
recognized under federal law. The federal response has been to not 
interfere with people who follow the letter of those laws, and to 
focus federal law enforcement resources on the dangers posed by the 
large criminal organizations operating outside the states' rules.

Ultimately, as with the repeal of alcohol Prohibition, the states 
need to demonstrate the political will to change course. Washington 
is ready to take the lead. We know that our current marijuana laws 
are not serving our communities well, and have not been for a very 
long time. Initiative 502 is a sound proposal for taking the first 
step in a new direction. Please vote yes on I-502.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom