There’s a new move afoot to legalize cannabis in Washington state. The newly formed political action committee New Approach Washington on Wednesday filed an initiative to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in the state. Sponsoring the measure are prominent civic leaders, along with members of the public health and legal communities.
The initiative would authorize the Washington State Liquor Control Board to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana for sale to adults 21 and older through state-licensed stores. A new marijuana excise tax would be earmarked for prevention, research, education, and health care. State and local retail sales taxes would be directed to the general fund and location budgets.
Unfortunately, the initiative would not allow the cultivation of marijuana by recreational users (medical marijuana patients in Washington are already allowed 15 plants). Cannabis users would be required to buy their supply at state-licensed stores. Another possible sticking point is the codification a THC blood level of of 5 ng/ml as per se driving under the influence; that would criminalize any driving by most medical marijuana patients, although very few daily medicinal users would be impaired at that level.
• Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes
• John McKay, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, 2001-2007
• Travel writer Rick Steves
• Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, Washington state legislator, 36th District
• Kim Marie Thorburn, M.D., MPH, former director of the Spokane Regional Health District, 1997-2006
• Salvador A. Mungia, immediate past president of the Washington State Bar Association
• Mark Johnson, past president of the Washington State Bar Association, 2008-2009
• Robert W. Wood, MD, former director of the HIV/AIDS Program of Public Health – Seattle & King County, 1986-2010
• Roger Roffman, DSW, professor emeritus, University of Washington School of Social Work
• Alison Holcomb, New Approach Washington campaign director
The campaign has until December 30 to collect 241,153 signatures to qualify for the ballot. If and when those signatures are filed, the initiative will go to the Legislature for consideration during the 2012 session. If the Legislature takes no action, the proposal will go before the voters in the November 2012 election.
|Photo: Don Skakie
|Alison Holcomb, New Approach Washington campaign director
“Ending marijuana prohibition and focusing on rational regulation and taxation will free up law enforcement resources to combat violent and property crimes, and it will restore respect for government and the law,” said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.
More than 8,200 Washington adults were arrested for simple possession of marijuana in 2008 — more than 20 a day — with more than 3,200 convictions, costing the state millions of taxpayer dollars.
Marijuana is already one of Washington’s largest cash crops — second only to its famed apples — and billions of dollars go into the illegal market untaxed.
“We cannot afford to ignore an enormous source of untaxed revenue, and we must stop the financing of drug cartels,” said Mark Johnson, former Washington State Bar Association president.
“These are revenues we could capture and direct to effective programs that protect youth from risk factors that contribute to early use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana,” said Roger Roffman, a “marijuana dependency” treatment expert.
“As a parent and as someone who cares deeply for my community, I’ve seen how Europe treats drug use as a public health issue rather than a criminal one,” said travel writer Rick Steves. “The fascinating result: per capita, Europeans consume far less marijuana and have far fewer people in prison than we do.”
Initiative sponsors pointed out the serious impacts that current marijuana laws have on people. “Criminalizing marijuana use disrupts families and cannot be justified when marijuana is compared to alcohol and tobacco,” said public health doctor Kim Thorburn.
“The public health impacts of alcohol and tobacco and more serious than marijuana, but we do not criminalize the use of those substances,” said Bob Wood, a public health doctor. “It is time for Washington to take a new approach to marijuana focused on regulation and education rather than punishment.”
Further, marijuana laws are enforced disproportionately against people of color. In Washington, an African American is three times as likely to be arrested, three times as likely to be charged, and three times as likely to be convicted for marijuana possession as a white Washingtonian, despite the fact that whites use cannabis at higher rates.
“Even a misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession can permanently alter the trajectory of a person’s life,” former bar association president Sal Mungia said.
The campaign expects petitions to be ready for signature gathering beginning in August, giving New Approach Washington a five-month window within which the gather the 241,153 signatures.
Key Features of New Approach Washington
2012 Marijuana Law Reform Initiative
- Distribution to adults 21 and over through state-licensed, marijuana-only stores; production and distribution licensed and regulated by Liquor Control Board (LCB)
- Severable provision decriminalizing adult possession of marijuana; possession by persons under 21 remains a misdemeanor
- Stringent advertising, location, and license eligibility restrictions enforced by LCB
- Home growing remains prohibited; except, initiative does not affect Washington’s medical marijuana law
- Estimated $215 million in new state revenue each year1, with roughly $40 million going to state general fund (B&O and retail sales tax) and $175 million (new marijuana excise tax) earmarked:
- Evidence-based prevention strategies targeting youth, chosen in consultation with UW Social Development Research Group2
- Dedicated funding stream for Healthy Youth Survey3
- Washington’s Building Bridges program for at-risk youth4
- Science-based public education materials regarding health risks of marijuana use hosted by UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute5
- Research by UW and WSU into the short- and long-term effects of marijuana use, including driving impairment
- Dedicated marijuana Quitline analogous to tobacco Quitline operated by state Department of Health6
- Additional marijuana-related public health educational programs administered by Department of Health at the state and local level
- Biennial evaluation of impacts of law by Washington State Institute for Public Policy7
- Washington’s Basic Health Plan
- Community health centers
- THC blood concentration of 5 ng/mL or higher is per se Driving Under the Influence8
- Remedy provision that stays implementation of any provision found to be preempted by federal law until federal law changes
Download the complete text of the initiative.