The vote this November on I-502 will write the future for cannabis, and it will be felt far beyond the state’s border.
What would you do for a half a billion dollars annually? It’s not the same as if this was a direct deposit into your bank account, but you personally are all that matters. This is an election of one. There is no slam dunk, easy-money vote to cast on Initiative 502. It’s hard citizenship, as complicated and convoluted as any debate we have seen in this state. The voters of the highest, most left located, state in the lower-48 have always guided our politics with admirable stewardship. Never afraid to adopt liberal legislation even before the wave of public opinion is at their backs, and just as quick to avoid cliche and strike down half-baked referendums when the conservative ethos suits them. More than anything we trust in voters.
Polls show overwhelming support for the passing of I-502, and politics follow polls like silver traders follow commodities reports. Real or perceived, the forecast is pretty damn accurate. We know the American Civil Liberties Union is quarterbacking the “Yes” campaign, and a million dollars has been spent on TV air-time alone. They have reached a lot of hearts and minds, and done so while the medical cannabis community has cried foul for depictions of their businesses as criminal enterprises. At 4E we have friends on both sides of the line. It’s hard for us to embrace the idea of this legislation as legalization, it calls for any adult (21+) to be able to purchase and possess up to 1 oz. of dried cannabis. And that is a triumph in itself, considering decades of living with the drug war and watching simple possession turn in to jail time far too many times.
“We are united in the belief that Washington should stop wasting law enforcement resources on adults who use marijuana, and instead create a tightly regulated system that takes money away from criminal organizations and generates tax revenue for our state and local governments,” declares New Approach WA, the Political Action Committee supporting the campaign for 502.
What I-502 is really asking you to do is come on the grid. Be counted, pay taxes, help the general fund, substance-abuse prevention budgets and health care costs, while allowing law enforcement to focus attention elsewhere. These are noble sacrifices. You will be voting to raise the price of what we all consider “medicine,” to prices high enough that it won’t contribute to nationwide market value readjustments that make access easier for people. Prohibition was always in place for this reason, to keep prices high and deter us from partaking through threat of penalties, which in a roundabout way is a public health safeguard. The same argument is used for alcohol and tobacco, but you have to ask yourself if that works for you. Does it really deter? Or does it make the local economy dependent on vice taxation to the point that our state can’t function without people making bad health decisions? 4E is concerned about the message this sends. So are both candidates for Governor, Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee. They agree on very little, but both are united in their opposition of I-502.
“I oppose it and think it’s going to fail at the ballot,” Republican McKenna told a Seattle news conference on Mar 20, 2012. He went so far as to call it a “recipe for disaster if it passes,” citing primarily how it would make access to cannabis more difficult for those who need it for medicinal purposes. Going after criminals, keeping it out of the hands of children and keeping the roads safe are extremely important facets of this debate. But you, we and they would be wise to remember the cancer survivor that ingests CBD-rich capsules to lessen the effects of chemotherapy, or advanced-stage HIV patients who need the appetite inducing properties of cannabis to avoid life-threatening weight loss. To assume medical cannabis was nothing but a sham is just ignorant.
I-502 is asking you to make cannabis the government’s business from SEED to SALE. It’s only grown in licensed facilities, processed by licensed handlers, distributed by licensed deliverers and sold by licensed retailers. Possession of unlicensed cannabis, whose origins cannot be traced, would have to be assumed to have come from cartels. Inter-state trafficking would be much more difficult, and we all can agree that’s a good thing. The emergence of an even stronger black market economy, built to undercut the legitimate operations by avoiding taxation, is a legitimate concern. Couldn’t it actually help criminals make more profit if legitimate patients move back to the “homie hookup” model because they can’t afford the price increases?
While you consider that on one hand hold this in the other, the state would need time to figure out how to develop this new business and all signs point to regulation from the WA State Liquor Control Board. This could take up to two years to implement, and lawyers would be in court litigating loopholes that entire time. Private enterprises would sell cannabis to anyone and everyone that meets requirements, and would become de facto state employees. Will it mean legitimate standing with the banks? Actual credit lines for business start-up and day-to-day operations? Loans? A period of gross uncertainty would be unavoidable, but if you believe it’s for the right reasons cannabis culture has a chance to be a difference maker in this country’s return from recession. But will employers be more reasonable regarding drug testing for cannabis before considering candidates? Will this really become more acceptable in society if pot is putting people back to work?
“This fall, voters in Washington are being offered Initiative 502. For marijuana activists, it probably is not the ideal offer,” writes the Seattle Times Editorial Board on August 20th. “The proposed law limits possession of smokable marijuana to one ounce. It has a blood-THC standard for driving a car, and no such standard exists now. It has heavy taxes. It doesn’t allow private growing of marijuana plants except by medical patients… Our advice: Get real. Voters in Washington are just now ready, for the first time, to allow marijuana to be grown, processed and used for recreational purposes. They are not ready to do this without a standard of intoxication for driving, or without licensing and regulation of people in the business, or without taxing marijuana like tobacco and alcohol… Think carefully before rejecting the offer.”