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Letter to the Editor: Is I-502 Better Than What We Have Now?

Troy Barber of SensibleWashington.org writes that the proposed I-502 will be worse than what we have now, and will actually mean stiffer penalties for many in possession of marijuana.

If I-502 passes, national headlines will read “Washington State Legalizes Marijuana!” This is what national marijuana law reform groups have been dreaming of for over 40 years. The practical application of the law however will be something very different, the end results could yield some very negative impacts, and all the headlines would be for naught.

I-502 is not legalization, it is decriminalization. The language creates a narrow exception for the right to possess limited amounts of marijuana or marijuana infused foods and beverages. The tax-and-regulate portions conflict with federal law and are likely to be preempted. This will leave no legal production or retail sale of product for consumers, leaving illegal markets to fill new demand.

Current marijuana laws in Washington State treat possession of less than 40 grams as a misdemeanor. In many simple possession cases, a first offense may be deferred, leaving no criminal record, or carries a mandatory minimum penalty of one day in jail and a $250 fine. I-502 only protects people from arrest for possession for up to 28 grams — it does not allow non-medical home grows, nor does it remove any of the civil or criminal penalties from the state code. Any violation outside their narrow exceptions are fully prosecutable under state law as it currently exists.

I-502 creates new limits for driving under the influence of cannabis (DUIC, more commonly known as DUID, or “drugged driving”). These limits are 5 nanograms of active THC for adults aged 21 & over, or amounts over 0.00 for those under 21. Anyone guilty of driving impaired deserves to be penalized to the fullest extent of the law, but these limits are arbitrary, and not based on actual impairment.

Marijuana impairment is not equal to alcohol impairment; there are too many variables, such as rate and frequency of use, which affect the build up of measurable levels in the human body. Medical marijuana patients test well over the 5ng limit, while completely sober. Active THC can remain in the blood stream for as long as 30 days, making this a zero-tolerance law for minors. Science does not currently support implementation of these limits. National reform organizations such as NORML, MPP, and DPA, have all fought against the establishment of these laws. The state of Colorado has shot down three attempts so far, and Washington State Representative Roger Goodman retracted an 8ng recommendation after learning that such a law stands to incriminate innocent people.

A DUID charge is a gross misdemeanor, and for first offenses carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 24 hours in jail, an $866 fine,  a 90 day license suspension, and alcohol & drug evaluation, plus any recommended treatment. SR22 auto insurance will be required at a higher rate. Any conviction involving marijuana can make people ineligible for federal aid in education, housing, and food assistance, and potentially ruin future job prospects.

These charges are “per se”, meaning the defendant is presumed guilty until proven innocent. It is currently illegal in Washington State to drive under the influence of any drug, but only alcohol has a set limit. Impairment from other drugs is evidence-based, and the prosecution is tasked with proving impairment on preponderance of the evidence. The 5ng limit for adults 21 & over, or any measurement over 0.00 for minors will become the new definitions for impairment — guilt will be automatic and indefensible in a court of law.

New Approach Washington is correct in stating that we need to end prohibition on marijuana, but their brand of reform is an extension of prohibition — not a solution to it. Law enforcement will have a new weapon in its arsenal to guarantee conviction rates for crimes carrying stiffer penalties than simple possession. Suspect cannabis consumers, especially youth, minorities, and medical marijuana patients, will be profiled in their anti-marijuana cross-hairs. The threat of a DUI(C) conviction can be leveraged to get information from a suspect about the source of their illegally produced “legal” pot.

Is I-502 better than we have now? Not when you consider that it trades lesser penalties for simple possession, and replaces them with the stiffer penalties and expenses of a DUID conviction. The war on marijuana could become worse under I-502, causing a public backlash of buyer’s remorse, and set the entire legalization movement backward. We need real reform, not pandering to the fears of a public that has been lied to for over 75 years. There is too much at stake to sacrifice our freedoms, just to gain a fleeting headline. Vote No on I-502.

 - Troy Barber

Sensible Washington: Graphics, Outreach & Media Relations

www.sensiblewashington.org

Troy Barber November 01, 2012 at 03:40 AM
email response part 2: Industrial hemp, which does not possess the psychoactive effects of its cousin marijuana, could bring creation of new industries — this means jobs for Americans. Hemp is one of the most nutritious food sources, its raw fiber is superior to cotton for textiles and to wood pulp for paper. Hemp has the highest yield per acre of almost any crop and can be harvested in three to four months. Oils from the plant can be used for fuel, creation of biodegradable plastics, and varnishes. The fibers are long and strong which makes them useful for construction materials like Hempcrete (the Romans uses a hemp-based mortar for much of their construction, much of which still stands today, more than 2,000 years later). Hemp makes a rigid press board as well, without the additional chemicals needed for wood-based press board, or the formaldehyde used in the more toxic MDF. The debate over whether marijuana is useful as medicine is over, despite what the federal government claims. Voters in 17 states and the District of Columbia have said it is medicine. This is much in line with the thinking of civilizations all over the world, where cannabis was considered medicine for thousands of years, before special interests began to demonize the plant for personal gain in the early 20th century.
Troy Barber November 01, 2012 at 03:41 AM
email response part 3 (sorry, these are posting in reverse order): The fight to end prohibition is fought by those that realize all these things; that a genus of the plant species known as Cannabis can practically heal the planet, both fiscally and environmentally. Prohibition didn't work for alcohol, and it doesn't work now. The special interests that have purchased our democracy are what stands in the way of liberating one of the most useful plants known to man. Oil & fossil fuels, chemical, pharmaceutical, timber, cotton industries all lobby to keep this plant illegal because their selfish interests all serve to maintain the status quo. The private prison industry and the military industrial complex profit from keeping prohibitionist laws in place. All of these industries invest in sympathetic politicians to ensure their interests are protected — all at a cost of human suffering, dignity, and poisoning our air, water, and farm lands. There is no honor in a war on a plant, especially when the plant is winning. The war drugs is a war on people, and is America's longest running war. So, again, I ask, what exactly are you opposed to?
Local Guy November 01, 2012 at 03:51 PM
"So, again, I ask, what exactly are you opposed to?" Those that are obstructing the building blocks of legalization. For the first time since prohibition began, we have the opportunity to begin removing bricks from the wall. You want to knock the whole wall down all it once. It starts with a single brick...
Lola Rodriguez November 15, 2012 at 08:22 PM
As I understand it... it will be legal to purchase weed FROM ANY SOURCE after 12/6... so if anyone knows where, in the Gig Harbor area I can purchase recreational week please email me at Lola.799@hotmail.com Thanks Lola
Local Guy November 15, 2012 at 10:04 PM
I do not believe that entirely accurate Lola. Yes, you may legally possess on 12/6, but there have been no infrastructure, nor legal avenue, put in place yet to acquire. Classic catch-22.

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