Roger Goodman Looks Beyond I-502

The lawmaker has spent a decade trying to legalize pot. He says this initiative won't change that.

Rep. Roger Goodman, currently running for re-election in Washington’s 45th legislative district, has been ready to end marijuana prohibition for a decade. He arrived at the conclusion back in the ’90s after witnessing the drug war’s consequences firsthand as the executive director of the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines Commission. “We were incarcerating people, particularly people of color, who were trying to cope with a difficult life with substances, for longer periods than people who’ve committed assault or molested children,” he recalls.

Remedying this injustice has been an ongoing project for Goodman ever since. Now that New Approach Washington’s Initiative 502 is not only on the ballot but could potentially pass, Goodman isn’t afraid to say I told you so. “I think it [shows] demonstrated leadership ability when you stick your neck out on a controversial topic, and within a decade the public catches up with you because they realize you were right,” he says.

Naturally, when the initiative’s campaign director, Alison Holcomb, sought Goodman for an endorsement last spring, he didn’t hesitate. But he recognizes that 502 isn’t perfect. “There’s not a lot of clear science establishing a per se limit of nanograms per milliliter of blood,” Goodman says of the initiative’s controversial DUI provision, which places the limit at five nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. (See “The High Road,” SW, March 7, 2012.) “It seems like the effect of cannabis on driving differs widely from person to person, although there is an impairing effect. I am not as concerned about legions of cannabis users being pulled over to the side of the road, but I do think we need to protect authorized cannabis patients.”

Moreover, the initiative makes no mention of other concerns, like how to regulate home growth of marijuana. Goodman figures that if home distilling comes with rules, pot should too. “There’s still going to be a role for [the] legislature to play, even if 502 passes,” he says. “That’s really where the rubber will meet the road.”

If the initiative succeeds, Goodman hopes to patch up the holes this coming legislative session; his suggestions include preventing wrongful DUI convictions of medical patients by requiring an independent finding of impairment by a drug-recognition expert. If 502 flops, Goodman says he will try to better Washington’s inconsistent and vague medical-marijuana laws, anyway. “Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles and I are committed to putting in place a more uniform statewide system for medical cannabis,” he says, “which could very well be independent from anything that happens after 502 were to pass.”

Granted, Goodman needs to be re-elected before he can help anyone. But the former attorney is confident he can win a fourth term with his education and environmental platforms and legislative record. He hopes New Approach Washington can do the same with drug-war-weary voters across the state.

“[I-502] is a major step in the right direction, and it’s crafted well enough to earn my endorsement, and will certainly send the right message to the public, the Congress, and to the world: It’s time to end prohibition,” says Goodman.