Pubdate: Wed, 18 May 2016
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2016 The Seattle Times Company


MARIJUANA legalization in Washington state has, by some measures, 
been an immediate success. Criminal charges for marijuana possession 
have all but vanished. The once-thriving black market is being 
daylighted. And recreational users' wink-and-a-nod exploitation of 
the medical-marijuana system is gone.

And legal marijuana is producing gobs of tax revenue to pay for 
important state services. The state budget is expected to bank an 
eye-popping $1.1 billion in cannabis revenue through 2018.

But the experiment with legalization has other consequences. Last 
week, a police investigation into the death of Hamza Warsame, a 
smart, ambitious 16-year-old Seattle Central College student, 
concluded he likely jumped from a balcony in a panic after smoking 
pot for the first time.

Warsame's tragic death made news because of suggestions - including 
by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant - that he may have been 
the victim of an anti-Muslim hate crime. Police found no evidence of that.

But his death should remind policymakers that Initiative 502 included 
specific promises to mitigate harmful effects of abuse - particularly 
among teens - with the vast revenues generated by legalization.

Those promises haven't been met. Based on the revenue coming in or 
forecast through 2018, the state Department of Social and Health 
Services should have had $113 million for programs "aimed at the 
prevention or reduction" of substance abuse among middle and high 
schoolers - kids the age of Warsame. Instead, the agency is budgeted 
to receive only about half that amount.

Similarly, the state Department of Health should have had $77 million 
to operate a marijuana-education hotline and a statewide 
public-education campaign regarding marijuana for youths and adults. 
Instead, the Legislature earmarked less than one-third that amount - 
$24 million - and the marijuana-information hotline hasn't materialized.

A dedicated stream to pay for high-school-dropout prevention has been 
underfunded by half. And research at the University of Washington and 
Washington State University, specifically described in I-502, to 
study the longterm effects of marijuana use and for new methods to 
test impaired drivers has been even more grossly underfunded.

Instead, the Legislature in 2015 passed a four-year budget that would 
sweep almost $100 million more into the general fund than I-502 
specifically dedicated - balancing the state budget with pot taxes. 
The Republican-led Senate actually proposed an even more aggressive 
grab of marijuana revenue, but backed off under political pressure 
from Democrats, treatment advocates and from this editorial board.

The budget deal, which passed with broad bipartisan support, kept 
funding dedicated toward other health-care programs, but hollowed out 
I-502's basic promises aimed at teen prevention and education.

There is no telling if fully funded programs would have helped 
Warsame. But with nearly 1.1 million school children growing up in an 
era of legal marijuana, the state must do everything it can to 
provide accurate information about the consequences of marijuana use 
on developing brains. It hasn't so far.

Other states - including California, Nevada and Maine - this year are 
considering replicating Washington's marijuana legalization 
experiment. They, and Washington lawmakers, should learn from what so 
far has been a failure to mitigate the experiment's impact on kids.


Shortchanging the promise of marijuana legalization

To mitigate the impacts of legal marijuana, Initiative 502 dedicated 
funding to help teens avoid marijuana abuse, reduce school drop-out 
rates and educate the public. The Legislature shorted many of those 
promises and swept dedicated funds into the general budget account.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom