Should Washington legalize marijuana?

Published:

 

Ballot wording

Initiative 502 measure would license and regulate marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons over 21; remove state-law criminal and civil penalties for activities that it authorizes; tax marijuana sales; and earmark marijuana-related revenues.

Should this measure be enacted into law?

Yes

No

Yes: Under current laws, criminals benefit, public safety suffers

By Charles Mandigo

I do not personally support or condone the use of marijuana. However, as a 27-year veteran of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, I believe it is time to reform our marijuana laws. The prohibition of the purchase and possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults has caused more harm than good. Like alcohol Prohibition did in the last century, marijuana prohibition has enriched criminal organizations and compromised public safety here and abroad.

I believe it is time for better marijuana laws. It is time to pass Initiative 502.

Initiative 502 will establish a system of licensed and regulated Washington businesses that will be subject to safety, security, and quality-control standards. These businesses will provide the state’s 363,000 current marijuana users legal, above-board points of sale. Public safety will be enhanced by substituting regulatory control for the hand-to-hand transactions that are currently happening on our streets and funneling billions of dollars to the gangs and cartels that supply the majority of the U.S. marijuana market.

The threat of these multinational criminal organizations is real and immediate. Last October, 300 officers from more than a dozen law enforcement agencies executed 56 search warrants and arrested 49 individuals involved in a major ring that was growing marijuana in dozens of Clark County homes. That group, under investigation for 2½ years, was netting millions of dollars annually. And it was not alone.

In recent years, state and federal agents have investigated more than 100 large-scale grow houses in King County, seizing tens of thousands of plants tended by members of a Canadian crime ring. Hundreds of thousands of plants have been confiscated from Washington’s tribal lands and national parks. An Everett home that had been turned into a grow operation was the site of a double homicide in 2007.

Prohibition has turned marijuana, a weed that is easier to grow and cure than tobacco, into an extraordinarily profitable black market commodity. Our current marijuana laws have the unintended consequence of increasing violence by criminal organizations as they fight to maintain control of the lucrative proceeds. Initiative 502 can abate this wanton violence by removing the money from the hands of criminal groups at the point of sale.

Fears for teens

Opponents of reform argue that if we create a system for making marijuana legally available to adults, more teens will use it. However, studies of the dozen states that have already decriminalized adult use, and the 17 that have made medical marijuana legal, do not show this to be the case. The fact is that young people have no problem finding marijuana currently. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more high school students now smoke marijuana than tobacco, a substance that is legal for anyone 18 or older, and widely available in convenience stores.

Our laws are not working. Currently, teens can buy marijuana from street dealers who don’t bother with IDs. Initiative 502 brings marijuana under control with a system of state-regulated stores that will require photo identification to prevent underage sales. Competition from these licensed businesses will drive street dealers out of the market.

It is time for a new approach. Criminalizing the adult use of marijuana has resulted in criminals taking control of the market, and public safety is suffering as a result. With tight regulation and investment in prevention, education, and health care, we can better protect our communities.

Please vote yes on Initiative 502.

Charles Mandigo served as Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1999 to 2003.

No: Measure is really a trap to ensnare regular users of cannabis

By Steve Sarich

The first thing we all need to understand is that Initiative 502 does not "legalize" marijuana in the state of Washington. Every single law that makes marijuana illegal in this state will remain on the books. In fact, I-502 adds additions prohibitions, in the form of "per se" DUI laws on marijuana users that have far more serious consequences for both cannabis patients and recreational users.

For the sake of brevity, let's just assume for the moment that I-502's scheme to license the growing and sales of 187,000 pounds of marijuana, and raise billions in state taxes, is not going to go down well with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration of the Department of Justice. Even the sponsors agree that, if passed, the federal government will sue to stop its implementation. The DEA has already shut down 57 state-licensed, -taxed, and -regulated dispensaries in Colorado. I think they've made their position very clear.

What we'll have left is simply the "per se" DUI provisions in the bill. The "per se" standard will allow law enforcement to arrest and prosecute drivers based merely on the presence of THC in their blood, without any need to prove physical impairment of any kind.

Dozens of studies

There have been dozens of studies that have attempted to determine if there was a direct correlation between the amount of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) present in a driver's blood and driving impairment. Some of the studies go as far back as 30 years. The latest studies from 2011 and 2012 were both funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Other studies from NIDA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, the Federal Department of Transportation, along with numerous others, have all come to similar conclusions.

The most common conclusions were that you cannot judge impairment by measuring the levels of THC in blood, or in any other drug besides alcohol. The other telling conclusion was that active THC can be detected in blood for up to 30 days after use.

'Impossible' level

The most recent study from Dr. Erin Karschner, sponsored by NIDA, was released earlier this year. Dr. Karschner concluded that: "THC and THCOOH can be detected in plasma for up to 30 days of monitored abstinence in chronic daily cannabis smokers. Thus, cannabinoid plasma concentrations may not indicate recent cannabis exposure, nor intoxication or impairment, depending on past smoking history."

In the 2011 white paper commissioned by NIDA and authored by the former head of NIDA, Dr. Robert DuPont, stated that "it is impossible to establish an impairment level for cannabis because of the relationship between the concentration of THC and marijuana metabolites in blood, urine and oral fluids is complex." He also concluded that "setting impairment thresholds based on blood levels or drug metabolites for illegal drugs is not a viable option."

Dr. DuPont also pointed out that "The per se standard is not a measure of impairment but a marker of illegal driving behavior."

Enacting a "per se" limit for active THC is obviously not about stopping impaired drivers and preventing highway fatalities. The "per se" limits are there to identify, arrest and punish anyone who uses cannabis. This truly is the new strategy for the War on Drugs.

This law has nothing to do with impairment. This is simply a new and more heinous form of prohibition on cannabis users, being sold to the public as "legalization."

Steve Sarich is manager and spokesman for the “No On I-502 Campaign.”