I love the saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But there’s a corresponding maxim: If it’s broken, don’t be afraid to fix it.
And there’s one truth that everyone acknowledges: Our marijuana policy is as broken as Humpty Dumpty.
Buying pot is as easy as finding a burger at midnight; you just have to know where to go (or so I’m told – I’m not a pot smoker and have never been one, making me both one of the best and worst sponsors of Initiative 502).
The current policy of attempting to address marijuana usage through our criminal justice system is making gangsters obscenely rich, costing the lives of thousands of people and sucking up scarce resources. Is it time for a change? After a week, is it time to change your underwear?
It’s time for I-502.
First, I-502 recognizes that, like alcohol prohibition, making people who use marijuana criminals, with all the attendant costs to society – the cost of prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, jails, etc. – isn’t the best use of our ever-shrinking checkbook. Our state and local governments don’t have money to burn; they are facing more cuts than a football team in August.
If we did nothing more than decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, we would take thousands of cases out of the criminal justice system each year, freeing those resources for more important needs. I’m a believer in getting a bang for my buck; under our current policy, we aren’t even getting a good fizzle.
Second, I-502 does something the government is great at doing: imposing taxes. I know this is shocking, but from the large cartels to the street dealer, none of them pay taxes. The Office of Financial Management has concluded that taxes will raise $1.9 billion (that’s no typo, not “million” but “billion”) within five years.
Third, I-502 allows the government to do something else it’s great at doing: regulate the heck out of something. Marijuana will be regulated tighter than my brother’s belt after Thanksgiving dinner.
You have to be 21 years or older to buy it. You can’t buy more than an ounce. It can only be sold in state-licensed, stand-alone stores. The stores can’t advertise and must be at least 1,000 feet from any school, park or playground.
If you are driving erratically and have a certain level of active THC in your system, then you will be presumed to be driving under the influence of marijuana. And for those of you who were hoping that you could turn that little patch of lawn into a true “weed” garden, ain’t gonna happen.
I know there are those of you thinking: What about our youth? But that’s exactly who we are failing under our current marijuana policy. Drug dealers aren’t asking for ID. They’ll sell the stuff whether you’re 9 or 90. Youth usage of marijuana has been increasing. We don’t have effective research or education programs to keep youth from using marijuana. I-502 requires that a portion of the tax revenues be put to such use.
The Children’s Alliance, a Washington group that has 125 organizations and 9,000 individual members, endorses I-502. Its mission is to improve the well-being of children by effecting positive changes in public policies, priorities and programs. As they put it, they ask the simple question – “Is it good for kids?” They answered with a resounding “yes.” And so should you.
Is it time for a change? Well, if you like a system that rewards criminals; puts millions of dollars into the hands of drug cartels; promotes violence, death and corruption; taxes our justice system without taxing the producers and users; and, in the end, doesn’t stop anyone from getting marijuana, then vote no.
But, if you’re like I am, and think that it’s time to try a new approach, then vote yes for I-502.
Salvador A. Mungia is one of the 10 sponsors of I-502, a former president of the Washington State Bar Association and the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association, and is in private practice with the law firm of Gordon Thomas Honeywell.