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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

Legalizing and Taxing Marijuana: Yes

Initiative 502 offers the chance to abandon prohibition as a lost cause

The Columbian
Published: September 29, 2012, 5:00pm

Prohibition of marijuana has failed as miserably as prohibition of alcohol did back in the 1920s. It’s time to recognize the obvious: The longer we fight the war against marijuana, the greater grows the defeat.Initiative 502 on the Nov. 6 ballot would legalize recreational use of marijuana, which would be highly taxed and heavily regulated by the state. Licensed farmers would grow marijuana to be sold in private marijuana-only stores.

The Columbian endorses Initiative 502 for many reasons, not the least of which is financial. I-502 offers Washingtonians the chance to radically change how we react to marijuana, from wasting $211 million over the past decade enforcing marijuana laws, to creating a revenue stream of more than $500 million annually via a 25 percent excise tax (plus other taxes) on legal marijuana sales.

Drastic as legalizing marijuana use might sound — especially compared to Washingtonians’ beliefs not too many years ago — it is what most people want. Several polls show support for I-502, in some surveys by double-digit percentage points. And, interestingly, there has been scant organized opposition. In fact, the strongest resistance has come from the medical marijuana community. Here’s some additional information about the anti-I-502 op-ed that is published today on the facing page: Its author, Steve Sarich, was described in a 2010 Seattle Times story as a “medical marijuana activist” and a “licensed medical marijuana grower.”

Turning the financial squandering of the war against marijuana into a revenue source for our state would have significant impact on Clark County. According to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (which provided the $211 million figure above), various entities in Clark County spent about $10 million enforcing marijuana laws from 2000-2010. Included were $2.8 million in defense costs and $2.7 million in prosecution costs.

By contrast, the projected half-billion dollars in annual state tax revenue would go mostly to health care ($244 million), the general fund ($182 million) and youth drug prevention programs ($68 million).

Would conflicts arise with federal law? Look what happened after Washington legalized medical marijuana in 1998 (with 59 percent voter approval): The next year, the U.S. Department of Justice notified U.S. attorneys to not spend federal money investigating and prosecuting medical marijuana cases. According to the “Yes on 502” campaign, that DOJ stand-down applied to cases that were in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with the new state law.

More states are putting pressure on the federal government to abandon the war against marijuana. We believe I-502 will add to that pressure. And, if conflicts arise, they can be resolved in the courts.

As for driving laws, I-502 would apply a DUI standard of 5 nanograms of THC (the marijuana component that causes intoxication) per milliliter of blood. Some critics argue the standard is too strict. If so, adjustments could be made legislatively.

Objections to I-502 are unpersuasive. But the need to recognize prohibition as a lost cause could not be more clear. Vote “Yes” on Initiative 502.