Contributed By: Philip Dawdy and Allison Holcomb
NO – PHILIP DAWDY Media Director of the Safe Access Alliance. Co-founder of Sensible Washington.
It pains me to write these words: I-502 is a bad legalization initiative and I ask everyone reading this to join me in voting “no” on it this November. I-502 would set an awful precedent for legalization efforts nationwide, if not worldwide. That’s because it would impose a DUI threshold that would criminalize many cannabis users—MMJ patients especially—based upon a standard that even federal researchers now state is bogus. In addition, it would hit medical cannabis with astoundingly high and unethical taxes.
I’ve worked long enough on cannabis issues—legalization and medical both—to where I understand that compromises must be made sometimes in order to advance the cause. But to penalize medical cannabis patients as blatantly as I-502 does makes no sense. Medical cannabis’ favorability rating with the public is 30 percent greater than is legalization’s. What’s more, it’s the 100,000-plus medical cannabis patients in this state who’ve convinced most of the public that the federal government is flat wrong on cannabis policy and science. And they have also shown the entire state that all the old “Reefer Madness” propaganda, about cannabis use being a menace to society, is bunk.
In other words, medical cannabis patients softened up voters in this state for broader legalization. And now, backers of I-502 want to enact laws that would trash the very people who created the preconditions for their initiative even coming into existence? That makes about as much sense as legalizing gay marriage while restricting and taxing gay sex.
I-502’s five nanograms of active THC metabolite DUI limit is not the result of scientific consensus on how much active THC in one’s system results in someone being incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle. There is no consensus and anyone who tells you different is lying. The fact is that if there were a “driving while stoned” phenomenon in Washington State that needed to be addressed, you would’ve heard about it long ago. Do you think law enforcement would remain silent if MMJ patients and recreational stoners were crashing their cars? Don’t you think you would’ve seen it on the news? Of course you would have because “If it bleeds, it leads” is a mantra of broadcast news. Even prosecutors have testified before the Washington State Legislature that our state’s current DUI laws are sufficient to protect public safety. And federal researchers recently wrote in a forthcoming study that active THC levels, “may not indicate recent cannabis exposure, nor intoxication or impairment.” Worse still is that federal researchers have confirmed that active THC stays in regular cannabis users’ systems far longer, and at higher levels, than was previously thought, but is still not associated with impairment.
I-502’s five-nanogram limit would result in thousands of new cannabis-related arrests a year and would imperil the driving rights of MMJ patients based upon a nonscientific standard ginned up to attract “yes” votes from soccer moms. Even soccer moms know that’s not reasonable.
And then there are I-502’s taxes, from which medical cannabis sold in collectives is not exempt. I-502 imposes 25 percent taxes at each step of medical cannabis’ life cycle—50 percent for dried flowers—and 75 percent for infused products and concentrates. A $10 gram of medicine will go to $15 and a $30 vial of Rick Simpson oil (an essential product for many cancer and chronic pain patients) would hit an astounding $52.50. Many MMJ patients predict that with taxes like those, a new black market for medical cannabis products will emerge. One patient explained it to me as, “Back to our basements!” Why medical cannabis was not exempted from I-502’s taxes is beyond my understanding.
I-502 is simply the biggest threat to medical cannabis patients since I-692 was passed in 1998. Just say “no” to I-502. It’s bad medicine.
YES – Alison Holcomb, Campaign Director for New Approach Washington
Currently, the decision to arrest a patient is entirely up to the police. The decision to file charges is entirely up to prosecutors. No patient is safe. This is because even simply possessing marijuana remains a crime under Washington’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act (Chapter 69.50 RCW), while Washington’s Medical Use of Cannabis Act (Chapter 69.51A RCW) provides nothing more than a defense that patients may be able to raise at trial – that is if the defense is not denied due to some technical failure to comply with the precise requirements of the statute.
I-502 changes this by making adult possession of an ounce of cannabis bud, a pound of cannabis-infused edibles, 72 ounces of cannabis-infused liquids or any combination of all three no longer a crime. If there’s no crime being committed, police have no basis to arrest. Moreover, I-502 achieves these improvements without making any changes whatsoever to the Medical Use of Cannabis Act. So, patients who want to grow their own plants, or who need to possess greater quantities of cannabis, still have the medical defense.
After the veto of last year’s landmark dispensary legislation, SB 5073, dozens of Washington cities and counties passed moratoriums that eliminated reasonable access for several patients and drove some into the black market, which is supplied by street dealers. I-502 will repair this damage by providing a statewide regulatory framework that ensures safe access to cannabis not only in Seattle, but also in Kennewick and Pend Oreille.
Sadly, the veto of SB 5073 was applauded by some dispensary operators who, coincidentally, also oppose passage of I-502. These individuals benefit from confusion, fear and patchwork medical marijuana enforcement across the state because the mess perpetuates prohibition’s inflation of cannabis prices and drives patients to a smaller number of surviving businesses. These dispensary operators actually like to have legal risk surrounding their businesses because that’s what makes it possible to charge the prices they do. Statewide regulation of production and distribution would begin to remove that risk and bring prices down – slowly at first, as Washington, Colorado and Oregon lead the way, but eventually more quickly as other states follow and the indefensible federal prohibition falls.
Ethical dispensary operators support I-502 not only because it will help their patients, but also because they are troubled by the lack of regulation of the industry. While a handful of Washington dispensaries responsibly self-regulate and provide patients only locally grown cannabis that meets appropriate quality standards for patients with terminal and debilitating medical conditions, others pad their profit margins by buying discounted surplus supplies. And this surplus is being grown in California and Oregon in outdoor environments requiring pesticides that might not be safe for patients with compromised immune systems. In some cases, money is making its way south, across the border, to blood-soaked Mexico.
Set aside, for a moment, what is happening to California’s medical marijuana providers in the wake of Proposition 19’s defeat. Consider only this: the notion that smoking or vaporizing the widely variable whole plant form of cannabis would ever fit comfortably into the Western paradigm of medicine is optimistic, to put it gently. In this country, prescribed medications are standardized combinations of molecules packaged in specific doses and controlled by the pharmaceutical industry.
Sativex, the GW Pharmaceuticals cannabinoid mouth spray, already approved for prescription in the UK, Spain, Germany, Denmark, New Zealand and Canada, is well into FDA clinical trials in the United States. The Israeli firm Tikun Olam is breeding a “high-less” strain of cannabis plant for medical uses. As more and more federally-approved, medically-accepted forms of cannabis become available via prescription, state medical marijuana laws will become obsolete and politically indefensible.
Cannabis prohibition must end, and not just for patients. I-502 needs to pass to keep us moving in the right direction. Vote yes.