Today I cast the most difficult vote of my life. I voted "No" on Washington's marijuana "legalization" ballot measure, Initiative 502. Why on earth would someone who devotes so much energy to changing cannabis policy vote against an initiative that does exactly that? Because I-502's writers have realized just how badly a measure must be written before I can no longer look myself in the mirror if I support it.
The first and most egregious flaw in 502 is its DUI provision, under which drivers will be considered "per se" guilty of driving under the influence of cannabis if their THC blood level is 5 nanograms per milliliter (5 ng/ml) or above--even though daily users of cannabis, including practically every medical-marijuana patient in the state, wake up in the morning over this level. And when they do, they're unimpaired.
Early polling by New Approach Washington, which sponsors 502, revealed that some suburbanites have fears of stoned drivers turning our highways into rivers of blood. Of course, if that were going to happen, it already would have.
When you confront ignorance, it's better to educate it than legislate it. But NAW didn't see it that way, so it seems inevitable that Washington state marijuana users will face a legal nightmare unless this unscientific and arbitrary 5 ng/ml limit is removed. That seems extremely unlikely, since I can't find any instance of a DUI law being relaxed, rather than made even stricter.
The problem with NAW's DUI measure is so obvious that even Alison Holcomb of NAW admitted, in a Hempfest 502 debate (in which I took part), that "it could be fixed after 502 passes." If the chief author of 502 admits the DUI portion "needs fixing," then why include it in the first place?
Another glaring flaw of 502 is its zero tolerance for drivers aged 18 to 21. Since so many pot busts impact young adults, they are presumably one of the target audiences for I-502's brand of legalization. So it seems bizarre that this demographic would be especially susceptible to a DUI conviction, which, ironically, is currently a more expensive and serious charge than possession of under an ounce.
You might imagine that if 502 passes, you'll be able to grow your own marijuana. But home cultivation will still be a felony under 502. You'll be required to buy your cannabis from state-licensed stores, who will be required to purchase it at a 25 percent markup from state-licensed processors, who will be required to acquire it at a 25 percent markup from state-licensed growers--only a few of which will be awarded $1,000 cultivation licenses.
And did I mention that 502 would "legalize" only up to an ounce, and that 40 grams or more of weed would still be a felony?
This isn't marijuana legalization, folks; at best, it's decriminalization on steroids. We can do better.
Steve Elliott edits Toke of the Town, Village Voice Media's site of cannabis news, views, rumor, and humor.