Patrick Robinson
Washington's Initiative 502 would legalize over 21 recreational marijuana purchases taxed and regulated by the state. Sen. Sharon Nelson and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, two legislators covering West Seattle and North Highline, have endorsed the initiative.

Two of three local legislators back I-502: the legalization of recreational marijuana sales

New Approach Washington, the lobbying force behind Initiative 502 to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana sales for adults 21 years and older, sent out word this week that sixteen Washington state legislators endorsed the initiative, including two local legislators.

I-502 will appear on the November general election ballot.

Locally, Senator Sharon Nelson (D-34) and Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34) announced their endorsement.

Representative Eileen Cody (D-34) has not endorsed the initiative and said in an email, “I don’t think marijuana use should be illegal but I also don’t want to encourage its use. It is helpful in some medical conditions but I don’t support its recreational use any more than I do tobacco use. I really support the Governor’s approach of getting the FDA to reclassify marijuana so that it could be handled through pharmacies and prescribed when needed.”

Rep. Fitzgibbon wrote the following of his support in an email to the Herald:

“I am supporting I-502 because our nation's drug policy is an abject failure. We jail thousands of people and spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a prohibition policy that we have known since the 1920s does not work. What does work is prevention, to keep kids from starting using harmful drugs in the first place. The law enforcement resources freed up by I-502, as well as the new revenue it generates, would be far better spent on serious crime and on marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco prevention programs that have been proven to work.”

Senator Nelson was unavailable for comment due to a family emergency.

If I-502 passes, here is how it would work, according to New Approach Washington: “Privately owned and operated standalone, marijuana-only stores would be licensed to sell limited quantities of marijuana to adults 21 and over. Washington growers and processors would be licensed to provide marijuana to the stores. Advertising would be restricted, and a new DUI threshold for THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, would operate like the .08 threshold for alcohol to keep impaired drivers off the streets.”

Anyone over 21 would be allowed to possess up to one ounce of smoke-able marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused food (such as brownies or cookies), and 72 ounces of pot-infused liquids (such as teas or lotions).

Eighty percent of taxed marijuana sales “would be dedicated to health care, prevention, research, and education,” with the remainder going into the state’s general fund and local budgets, according to New Approach. The Washington State Office of Financial Management estimates I-502 could generate $560 million in annual tax revenue.

While I-502 is separate from Washington’s medical marijuana laws, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36) said there is crossover protection in a press release, stating, “… patients would finally have protection from arrest for possessing marijuana. They would also have safe access to quality-controlled marijuana locally grown and sold by licensed Washington businesses.”

Opposition to I-502
Three main arguments against I-502 have arisen, including fear it will make marijuana more easily accessible to those under 21, worries the black market will continue to flourish by simply undercutting the price of legal sales, and – the argument that has certainly had the most media coverage - concerns that a DUI provision will put regular, medical users at an unfair risk of being arrested.

“I-502 establishes a marijuana DUI cut-off of 5 nanograms of active THC metabolite per milliliter of whole blood (5 ng/mL), analogous to the per se 0.08 BAC cut-off for alcohol,” according to New Approach. Officers would still need probable cause in a traffic stop to call for the blood test. Alison Holcomb with New Approach said after smoking marijuana, it would take the average person three to four hours to drop below the 5 nanogram threshold.

In an opinion piece ran by The Stranger, Dr. Richard Bayer put the concern thusly: “Patients who use cannabis regularly develop tolerance to the psychoactive or behavioral effects of marijuana even though blood THC levels may never drop to zero. A major flaw in I-502 is the sponsors failed to test any doctor-approved medical marijuana patients to determine how tolerance affects blood THC concentration.”

Rep. Fitzgibbon took the time to address all three concerns listed above. Here are his comments:

DUI provision
“I believe having a threshold for active THC in the bloodstream is an appropriate and necessary way to keep unsafe drivers off the roads. There is no doubt that smoking marijuana impairs driving abilities, even for experienced users such as medical marijuana patients, and I have zero tolerance for drivers who make our roads unsafe for other users.”

The black market
“The black market is flourishing today. That is why Mexico is in the midst of an incredibly bloody drug war and why drug cartels and other criminal enterprises get rich off of selling marijuana. By bringing that industry out of the shadows and into a regulated marketplace, we deprive drug cartels and criminal organizations of a major source of income.”

Marijuana and minors
“Finally, marijuana is available to minors today, often more available than tobacco or alcohol, which are much more strictly controlled with ID checks. No drug dealer ever checks the ID of a high school student who is trying to buy marijuana. Like alcohol is today, marijuana will be more difficult for minors to get a hold of if it is taken out of the hands of street gangs and criminals and put into a heavily regulated marketplace. In addition, the new revenues derived from legal marijuana sales will help fund prevention programs to keep kids off of marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol.”

Here is the full endorsement list for I-502:

Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-23)
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36)
Sen. Maralyn Chase (D-32)
Rep. Luis Moscoso (D-1)
Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-36)
Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34)
Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-44)
Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43)
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34)
Sen. Margarita Prentice (D-11)
Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45)
Rep. Chris Reykdal (D-22)
Rep. Bob Hasegawa (D-11)
Rep. Mary Helen Roberts (D-21)
Sen. Adam Kline (D-37)
Rep. Cindy Ryu (D-32)

To read I-502 in its entirety, please click here.

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