I-502: How much legality in legalized marijuana?

The News TribuneNovember 28, 2012 

Legal marijuana succeeded big in Washington Nov. 6 – and failed big in Oregon.

One reason: The stoners behind Oregon’s Measure 80 had no interest in restricting the drug. Their initiative specified no limit for possession, no limit on growing, and left regulation in the hands of a commission to be controlled by the marijuana industry.

It jabbered about the wonders and harmlessness of cannabis.

Washington’s Initiative 502, in contrast, specified serious restrictions.

It forbade the public consumption or display of marijuana, required tight licensing of growers and retailers, and – unlike Measure 80 – established a blood-level limit for people caught driving under the influence of marijuana.

In other words, it was written by grown-ups. It’s reasonable to conclude that a measure as lax as Oregon’s would have failed here as it did there.

In a year or so, we’ll find out if Washingtonians enacted I-502 on paper – but got Measure 80 instead.

The campaign for I-502 insisted that the initiative wasn’t about expanding drug use and trafficking. The argument was that the use and trafficking were already happening – and the state should legalize and impose rules on what is now an unregulated black market.

At this point, though, it’s not obvious that the rules will be honored. Will legal selling actually replace illegal selling? One test will be whether Seattle and Tacoma shut down “medical” marijuana dispensaries, which operate outside the law and typically cater to recreational users – including people under the age of 21.

Or does Washington get licensed and supervised retail marijuana stores – and unlicensed and unsupervised dispensaries?

Will city councils and prosecutors enforce I-502’s attempt to separate young people from marijuana? Possession by anyone under the age of 21 remains illegal under the law. Will charges be pressed against those who provide marijuana to young people?

For that matter, will cities and counties continue to prosecute small-time illegal dealers? Will they now tolerate smoking in public? Or will the passage of I-502 become a pretext for ignoring the measure’s own rules?

The legitimate purpose of the measure was to rid the state of marijuana-driven criminality. If it doesn’t do more than make a dent in it, it will have failed.

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