As a Bellingham native, former student of Western Washington State University and a current medical cannabis patient, I find myself in the awkward position of having to strenuously oppose Initiative 502.
New Approach Washington, the sponsors of I-502, have steadfastly mischaracterized this legislation as the "legalization" of marijuana in Washington State. In order to "legalize" anything, including marijuana, you must remove all current laws that make it illegal. Not only does I-502 not remove any of the current laws making marijuana illegal in Washington, it adds new, and even more dangerous laws targeting marijuana users.
The sponsors of I-502 have developed an elaborate scheme that would have the state Liquor Control Board set up regulations for the production, processing and retailing of marijuana in state-licensed stores. The sponsors are selling this bill as a tax bonanza for the State of Washington that, according the state Office of Financial Management, could raise $2 billion dollars in taxes of the next five years. What they have conveniently left out of their million dollar TV campaign ads is the bad news provided by this same fiscal note from the Office of Financial Management.
The Office of Financial Management pointed out that this scheme could just as likely bring in absolutely zero in new state taxes if the federal government chooses to enforce the federal prohibition against the production, distribution and sales of marijuana in Washington State. Even the sponsors of this legislation agree that the Department of Justice will undoubtedly challenge this bill in federal court. Without actually legalizing marijuana here in Washington, which I-502 does not do, the state has no chance of successfully defeating this federal challenge.
So if the production, processing and retailing sections of this initiative are found to be illegal by a federal court, we're left with only the "per se" driving under the influence of drugs provisions of the bill still intact.
The sponsors of I-502 have attempted to sell us the idea that they needed to add a "per se driving under the influence of drugs" provision to the initiative so that uninformed voters would feel safer by knowing that there wouldn't be an epidemic of "drugged drivers" creating carnage on state highways.
The proponents of I-502 are attempting to sell us a Trojan Horse, all dressed up to look like the end of marijuana prohibition when it is, in fact, the latest strategy in the on-going, and totally failed, "war on drugs." This source of this strategy is no mystery. This latest plan is coming straight from the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske.
This strategy is to pursue what they refer to as "drugged driving." Drugged driving, as defined by this strategy, "refers to operating a vehicle with a measurable quantity of an illegal drug in the driver's body."
In 2011, the National Institute on Drug Abuse commissioned a report on "drugged driving." The author of the report was Dr. Robert L. DuPont. DuPont is best known as the first "drug czar" under President Nixon and he was appointed by Nixon to be the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Dr. DuPont stated that "it is impossible to establish an impairment level for cannabis because of the relationship between the concentration of THC and marijuana metabolites in blood, urine and oral fluids is complex." He also concluded that "setting impairment thresholds based on blood levels or drug metabolites for illegal drugs is not a viable option." Dr. DuPont also stated: "The per se standard is not a measure of impairment but a marker of illegal driving behavior."
But setting a "per se" impairment level for THC in a driver's blood is exactly what this intitiative proposes to do. It seems clear that this "per se" driving under the influence of drugs law in I-502 was never really intended to remove impaired drivers from our state's highways, but rather an attempt to support this national drug control strategy by passing this "per se" law here in Washington.
No one is supporting impaired driving, but "per se" drug limits are clearly not about curbing impaired driving. It's obvious that this is nothing more than a new, and even more insidious, prohibition on the use of marijuana.
Poppy Sidhu is a resident of Bellingham and the treasurer of the No on I-502 Committee.