Norm Stamper, the former SPD chief turned outspoken critic of the war on drugs, says claims from the opponents of Washington's initiative to legalize marijuana about federal preemption and rampant DUI arrests are a throwback to the old "Devil's weed" propaganda campaigns.
Speaking from his home in the San Juans, Stamper says that opposition to the initiative -- now projected to generate half a billion dollars in annual tax revenue for the state --
from the law enforcement lobby and medical marijuana industry is a shortsighted attempt at "sabotage."
"It just strikes me as a modern version of reefer madness," Stamper says. "It's important that the people of states that are so inclined speak up and let the federal government know we're squandering huge sums of money that could be invested in state programs."
Stamper says I-502 is a "sane and sensible" policy on pot.
Specifically, the ex-chief disputes the claim that has been made by Sensible Washington and other critics of I-502 that the federal government would quickly put the kibosh on the state-run pot store system, and perhaps even take the unprecedented step of prosecuting state employees.
"If you've got operators of these liquor store equivalents being handed citations or carted off to jail in handcuffs that defies the intent of the people in the state of Washington," Stamper says. "I think the people will rise up if in fact that little drama unfolds."
Stamper suspects that the DEA and other agencies would continue to target illicit dealers, but otherwise the Justice Department will be grudgingly tolerant of the new arrangement and let challenges to the law unfold in court. That is similar to the arguments previously made by former U.S. Attorney John McKay and Charles Mandigo, the former special agent in charge of the Seattle FBI office, two other prominent supporters of I-502.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs has condemned the initiative, claiming pot legalization would lead to more traffic fatalities and crime. But Stamper, echoing the other ex-cops at LEAP, says the measure would have a "chilling effect" on the black market.
As for the well-publicized DUI fears, he admits it's likely that police will be more vigilant trying to sniff out stoned drivers, and that heavy users will have to be more cautious when they get behind the wheel. But making a major breakthrough in the push for nationwide marijuana law reform, and generating a deficit-erasing revenue windfall for Washington is worth the trade-off, Stamper says.
"It's time for the states to stand up to the federal government," he says. "This represents a much more sane and sensible policy on marijuana."