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April 27, 2012

Notable discussion in Washington (state) over ending pot prohibition

This local press article, headlined "Initiative to regulate, tax marijuana stirs lively discussion at forum," provides a greater reminder that there is a robust debate over marijuana laws in Washington (state, that is).  Here are excerpts from an effective article which highlights why The Evergreen State joins Colorado as states to watch concerning pot policy in 2012:

If there's one thing that brings people together, it's this: Marijuana regulation is a mess. But the granular details about how to fix it divided a panel of law-enforcement and public-health experts convened Thursday night to debate Initiative 502, a landmark proposal to regulate and tax marijuana like liquor that is on the November ballot.

John McKay, who filed the initiative after witnessing the "complete failure" of marijuana prohibition as the U.S. Attorney in Seattle for six years, said legalization was a "simple solution."

"If it's a failure, does that mean we need to try something new?" asked McKay.  "There's millions of dollars in marijuana produced out there, but it's all going to cartels, it's going to gangs.  The change should be to bring legal business in, and grow it legally."

The state estimates that I-502, the first marijuana initiative on the ballot since voters authorized medical cannabis in 1998, would raise $560 million a year via state-licensed marijuana grow farms and retail stores. If passed, it would be the nation's most radical change in marijuana law in generations.

But Pat Slack, commander of the Snohomish County Regional Drug Task Force, scoffed at McKay's core argument, that heavily taxed marijuana would end the black market.  "You will open a black market where you can sell this product for cheaper than what the government is selling," he said.

The debate, at Mukilteo City Hall, is part of a series of forums kicking off the nationally watched campaign.  I-502 would decriminalize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana, and legalize and heavily tax sales from newly created, state-licensed marijuana stores, with the state Liquor Control Board setting regulations by December, 2013.  Colorado is the only other state with marijuana legalization on its November ballot.

I-502's supporters include another former U.S. Attorney, a retired FBI supervisor, several judges, public-health officials, a drug researcher, the King County Labor Council, the state Democratic Party, as well as Seattle's mayor, city attorney and entire City Council....

But law-enforcement groups and medical-marijuana patients have lined up against I-502, for very different reasons. Police, including Slack, say it is a gateway to greater marijuana acceptance, especially among youth.  Patients fear a new driving-while-stoned threshold in I-502 would effectively prevent them from legally driving.  A strong contingent of them watched the debate, peppering McKay and another supporter, University of Washington marijuana researcher Roger Roffman, with questions....

A Gallup Poll in October found nationwide support for legalizing marijuana was above 50 percent for the first time in the 42 years since Gallup started asking the question. In Washington, a poll in November on I-502's specific approach found 57 percent support.... If passed, the state Office of Financial Management estimates that at least 363,000 customers would buy at least 93.5 tons of marijuana, each year....

About 10,000 people are arrested for marijuana possession each year, although not all are prosecuted. When the debate panel struggled, in response to a question from the audience, to explain why marijuana was classified along with PCP and methamphetamine, McKay paused.  "It's interesting that we can't articulate why," he said. "I think most people know in their experience that it is ludicrous."

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"But Pat Slack ... scoffed at McKay's core argument, that heavily taxed marijuana would end the black market. 'You will open a black market where you can sell this product for cheaper than what the government is selling,' he said."

1) How prevalent is the black market in alcohol and tobacco? Does it exist? Yes. Is it really a problem, so much that the benefits of legalization are not realized? Absolutely not.

2) Yeah, Pat. Because having a small black market in a substance is a reason to keep the entire market "black."

Sometimes these opponents to legalization are so blinded by their stead-fast position they don’t realize reality and common-sense.

Posted by: anon | Apr 27, 2012 1:15:16 PM

What is Washington state planning on doing about the federal CSA? Pretend it's not there? And how well is that working in California?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 27, 2012 3:47:18 PM

About 10,000 people are arrested for marijuana possession each year, although not all are prosecuted. When the debate panel struggled, in response to a question from the audience, to explain why marijuana was classified along with PCP and methamphetamine, McKay paused. "It's interesting that we can't articulate why," he said. "I think most people know in their experience that it is ludicrous."


Bill,
Why is marijuana classified with Meth and PCP? According to a poll in the above article 50% support legalization, are all of these people wrong?

Posted by: Anon | Apr 27, 2012 4:05:37 PM

Anon --

"Why is marijuana classified with Meth and PCP?"

Because it has no recognized medicinal or other value. THC, available in a legal medicine, does have such value. Smoked marijuana does not, since there is no control for purity, doseage or contaminants, nor is there any required or enforced medical follow-up. If you have a problem with this answer, take it up with Congress. If you can't persuade Congress, all I can say is, neither can I (e.g., on more pressing issues like entitlement reform/national bankruptcy).

Of course smoked marijuana does have recognized value in getting people high, which is the actual reason people want it. This "medical" stuff is a sham, as the California experience shows. No one takes it seriously anymore, so let's just call the push for dope what it is: The push to get zapped.

"According to a poll in the above article 50% support legalization, are all of these people wrong?"

Yes. You, of course, believe that the considerably greater number who favor the death penalty are wrong, so what's your point?

In addition, what the article actually says is that, "nationwide support for legalizing marijuana was above 50 percent..." To your credit, you don't repeat that, since it's false (the figure was 50 percent, not ABOVE 50 percent).

Finally, every other poll, including one somewhat more recent than the one the article cites, uniformly finds pluralities or majorities opposed to legalization, see http://www.pollingreport.com/drugs.htm. The most recent poll (CBS News) finds 51 percent opposed to legalization (40 percent in favor).

To quote you, "are all of these people wrong?"

And now that I've answered your questions, I wonder if you would answer the ones I previously asked: What is Washington state planning on doing about the federal CSA? Pretend it's not there? How well is that working in California?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 27, 2012 5:09:46 PM

Given that the vast majority of arrests for marijuana possession are at the state level, and not the federal level, ignoring the federal CSA and legalizing marijuana at the state level will result in many fewer prosecutions. You only rarely hear about simple possession of marijuana being prosecuted in federal court. I assume they have bigger fish to fry.

So the answer to your question, Bill, is yes, pretending the federal CSA is not there will still result in fewer prosecutions.

As far as simple possession goes, it's working out fine in California. Since CA made possession of less than an ounce an infraction, akin to a speeding ticket, I haven't seen any jump in the number of federal prosecutions for simple possession, but there certainly have been far fewer state-level prosecutions for that.

The federal government is cracking down on large-scale medical marijuana distributorships, as they certainly have a right to do. I don't agree with the strategy, but if that's how the DEA wants to justify their budget, have at it.

Posted by: pourquoi | Apr 27, 2012 5:25:58 PM

But it won't generate any actual positive tax revenue because the feds will prevent that from working. They have in the past and I have every confidence they will continue to do so into the future.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 27, 2012 5:40:26 PM

pourquoi --

Your post lends support to something I've been saying all along: I don't know what the frenetic legalization fuss on this blog is all about. You're quite right that the feds scarcely bother with simple possession. But you should go farther: Neither do the states. Sure, theoretically you can go to jail for it, but (for by far the most part) ONLY theoretically. If the case doesn't just get dropped, it results in a nominal fine.

The truth is that simple possession of pot is already quasi-legal. Out of the gazillions of instances where people actually have a joint's worth of pot on them, what percentage would you say get caught at all, much less wind up in jail for even one day?

Right. Not even close to 1%.

The issue drives dopers crazy, along some libertarian extremists, but, Professor Berman to the contrary, the reason it never registers in the campaign is that NO SIGNIFICANT PART OF THE ELECTORATE GIVES A HOOT, and among those who do, more oppose pot than support it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 27, 2012 5:56:23 PM

Bill -

While there is some truth to what you're saying, the fact is that, in the pre-infraction days in California, people got locked up for simple possession regularly. I know, because I had a bunch of them as clients. In the county where I worked, cops regularly busted people for having as little as a joint on them, and the prosecutors charged them, and the cases sometimes went to trial. A remarkable waste of judicial resources, but that's the DA for you.

At the time (I don't know if it's still the case), a conviction for simple possession had collateral consequences like a permanent bar to receiving federal student aid, so it was a rather big deal to a lot of people, and worth fighting for that reason alone.

So the short answer is, as long as there are consequences, and in some cases very serious consequences, legalization is still worth pursuing.

Posted by: pourquoi | Apr 27, 2012 6:05:27 PM

There is "no known medicinal value" because, for decades, the United States prevented any but the most limited research. The Government's money was in preserving old stereotypes, not promoting new knowledge. But now, at UNC, I know there are finally studies about cannabanoids reducing brain inflamation, and the early results are promising.

So, that "reason" for Schedule I status is less a reason than a self-fulfilling prophesy -- one that's disappearing study by study.

Most of the electorate doesn't give a hoot about anything. The better questions to ask are: (a) whether current criminalization is based on accurate, complete data (it isn't); and (b) whether continued criminalization is doing more good than harm (it isn't).

I don't know that taxing and licensing will produce all the benefits that proponents cite. But, I do know that we're wrecking thousands of lives and wasting millions of dollars annually, fighting a substance less physically dangerous than alcohol (to self, and to others). That's simply irrational.

Posted by: Jay Hurst | Apr 27, 2012 9:04:44 PM

Jay Hurst --

What's irrational is for people to continue to do what they know is illegal, and whose main advertised virtue is that its not as bad as booze, knowing that there is a chance, albeit miniscule, that they'll wind up in legal trouble.

Very little is easier in this life than putting down the joint. So put it down. It's not like it's doing you a lot of good.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 27, 2012 10:01:27 PM

FREE VIDEO CONTEST: Tell us why you like weed in 45 secs or less. The top 10 will appear in the upcoming comedy film Gone to Pot. The best three will share $10,000. Celeb judges include comedian Margaret Cho. Enter on our Facebook page at gonetopotmovie.

Posted by: Ziggy Sirjack | Apr 27, 2012 11:22:17 PM

Yes. You, of course, believe that the considerably greater number who favor the death penalty are wrong,

Bill,

Your assumption that I don't believe in the death penalty is incorrect. I know you do not like post by Anon perhaps you have me mixed up with another. The support will continue for legalization of marijuana there are to many proponents,its just a matter of time,it's a debate that's long over due.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 27, 2012 11:39:23 PM

What is irrational is to keep in place a policy of prohibition that has not produced one identifiable benefit, but which has produced almost unimaginable suffering, which has eroded the protections of the Constitution, and which has enriched violent thugs beyond their wildest dreams. That is irrational.

Washington is free to change its law to reflect the opinion of its people that the federal approach is both irrational and antithetical to democracy, freedom, and the principles enshrined in the Constitution. It has no obligation to worry about the CSA--that's Congress', the DEA's, and President Obama's concern.

Posted by: C.E. | Apr 28, 2012 12:30:48 AM

Anon --

"Your assumption that I don't believe in the death penalty is incorrect. I know you do not like post by Anon perhaps you have me mixed up with another."

This is one more reason it would be better for commenters post under their real names. I have no way of knowing which Anon is which.

"The support will continue for legalization of marijuana there are to many proponents,its just a matter of time,it's a debate that's long over due."

I agree with everything except your last clause. The debate has been going on for at least 40 years, probably more like 100.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 28, 2012 9:41:53 AM

C.E. --

As to your first paragraph: One might think a degree of modesty would be due from the side that's been losing the same debate in Congress for 40 years (and is losing it so badly now that the Hinchey Amendment doesn't even get introduced anymore), lost Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, lost Raich, then lost Raich again when the Ninth Circuit, no less, rejected the medical necessity argument made on remand.

The idea that pot prohibition "has produced almost unimaginable suffering" is True Believerism run amok. Slavery produced almost unimaginable suffering. The Holocaust did. The Soviet porgroms did. North Korea's treatment of its political prisoners does. Pot prohibition? Please.

"... has eroded the protections of the Constitution..."

There are those who think that anytime the cops question a suspicious character on the street (police statism), every time there's a plea bargain (innocent people being coerced by thug prosecutors), and every time a mandatory minimum sentence gets imposed (draconian infringements on the Eighth Amendment), we have "eroded the protections of the Constitution." It's just a rote defense bar punchline.

When you continuously lose in court and in Congress, I guess that's what's left.

"... and which has enriched violent thugs beyond their wildest dreams..."

All the more reason to wage a determined fight against violent thugs rather than give up and facilitate more widespread consumption of drugs that range from unhealthy to occasionally lethal (i.e., violent thugs will just increase their importation and sale of harder drugs, plus human trafficking, if we were to legalize pot).

"Washington is free to change its law to reflect the opinion of its people that the federal approach is both irrational and antithetical to democracy, freedom, and the principles enshrined in the Constitution. It has no obligation to worry about the CSA--that's Congress', the DEA's, and President Obama's concern."

How 'bout this: "Mississippi is free to change its law to reflect the opinion of its people that the federal approach is irrational and antithetical to the purity of the race and the principles enshrined in the Constitution. It has no obligation to worry about the federal civil rights law -- that's Congress's, the DOJ's and President Eisenhower's concern."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 28, 2012 10:21:54 AM

My name is genie and I am starting a petition to stop the Prohibition on Cannabis on the federal level. I am not a user nor do I like the smell of it. I am, however a firm believer in choice. So I started a facebook page and a petition on change.org. My goal is 100,000,000 signitures because I want it taken seriously. I also want federal pardons for those who followed state guidelines and were complient with state laws, but were sent to prison anyway. Please help. Thank you!
Please help change federal law about the Prohibition on Cannabis. Please sign my petition @ change.orghttp://www.change.org/petitions/the-president-senate-and-the-house-stop-the-federal-prohibition-on-cannabis or visit and like my facebook page @ http://www.facebook.com/stopprohibitionnow or both! thank you.

Posted by: geniem | Nov 11, 2012 4:39:58 PM

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