Public Policy Polling’s survey results released on February 22, 2012, revealed that 47% of likely Washington voters support I-502, an initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana production and sale for adults over twenty-one, while 39% opposed the measure, with 15% undecided.
New Approach Washington, the sponsor of Washington State Initiative Measure No. 502 (I-502), submitted more than the required 241,153 valid signatures to place the legalization measure on the ballot. The official ballot measure summary states that:
This measure would remove state-law prohibitions against producing, processing, and selling marijuana, subject to licensing and regulation by the liquor control board; allow limited possession of marijuana by persons aged twenty-one and over; and impose 25% excise taxes on wholesale and retail sales of marijuana, earmarking revenue for purposes that include substance-abuse prevention, research, education, and healthcare. Laws prohibiting driving under the influence would be amended to include maximum thresholds for THC blood concentration.
To its credit, this measure will end criminal penalties for all adults 21 and over to possess an ounce or less of cannabis. Currently, approximately 15,000 people are arrested every year for possession of an ounce or less; this measure will end that futile and harmful policy. While the initiative calls for the state to license the production of cannabis for commercial sales and regulate and tax the commercial selling of cannabis, it is unclear whether federal intervention will affect the implementation of commercial production and sales. Unfortunately, the measure also authorizes per se driving under the influence for anyone with 5 nanograms of active THC in their bloodstream. While testing for active THC is far superior to testing for inactive THC metabolites, there is some evidence that active THC can be detected in one’s bloodstream hours after ingesting cannabis. Other research, meanwhile, casts doubt on whether active THC levels can be used effectively in the determination of actual impairment.
As such, the measure has divided many in the cannabis law reform movement. Many within the Washington medical cannabis community fear that medical cannabis patients will always be at risk for falling prey to the new driving under the influence of cannabis provision. Still, many other activists, although concerned about the driving provision, feel that legalizing an ounce of cannabis for all adults over 21 is worth the more problematic portions of the proposed law. These activists hope that the Washington Legislature will amend the measure to include a driving under the influence provision based upon science and actual impairment. Regardless of one’s stance on this measure, it is certainly exciting news that an ounce of cannabis may very well be legal in Washington State.