Perfect or not, Initiative 502 is the only viable campaign we’ve ever seen in Washington State to end these laws—and surmount a real challenge to federal prohibition—and the measure, as I reported yesterday, is on the road to making the 2012 ballot.
But some medical-marijuana patients have recently come out opposing I-502. As we reported when I-502 was filed in June, the measure backed by prosecutors and public-health leaders is the most cogent, competent effort in US history to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. Certain medical pot activists, however, are complaining that I-502 doesn’t allow people to grow pot at home (only buy it in stores), that it only allows adults to buy and possess one ounce of pot (patients could still have up to 24 ounces, but they say the one-ounce limit is too restrictive), and that a DUI provision is so toxic that the entire measure should be rejected. They’ve even launched a website called Patients Against I-502.
Edward Agazarm, one of the initiative’s loudest critics promoting the aforementioned website, sent an email the other day with a subject line declaring that I-502 was “rape by cops w/guns and the ACLU.”
The “rape”—according to Agazarm—is that I-502 sets a per se cut-off for stoned driving. It would penalize drivers with 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood with a gross misdemeanor. “That level is NOT supported by science and would subject patients to highly-invasive blood testing, unnecessary confinement and a criminal conviction that will haunt them for life,” the activists’ website says. They’re right that the science is minimal and some people could exceed that limit if they are regular medical-marijuana users.
But it’s dishonest to declare that this measure will subject people to more blood testing or result in a change of policing protocol. If voters pass I-502, officers would be held to the same standards as they are today: They would still require probable cause to stop a car, evidence of driver impairment, and any tests would have to be conducted by a medical professional (typically at a medical clinic or an ER). Those are the standards now, they wouldn’t change, and we hardly ever see those consequences for medical marijuana patients now because they aren’t impaired and cops don’t have probable cause to stop their vehicles. If cops didn’t have probable cause or evidence of impairment, but took action anyway, a defense attorney could move to have the whole thing tossed out—just like today.
Some medical marijuana patients note that the cut-off is automatic—anyone who exceeds 5n/mg is automatically guilty of DUI. But I-502 actually does something very useful for marijuana users accused of DUI. It separates active metabolites, which indicate inebriation, from THC-COOH, the inactive metabolite that remains in the system for days or weeks. In other words, it tests to see whether people are currently stoned, not simply whether they’ve used marijuana in the past month.
Why include the DUI language and the provision about only purchasing pot in licensed stores? So the initiative will pass. That’s what New Approach Washington’s polling showed would win (54 percent to 38 percent). That DUI provision alone prompted 62 percent of voters to say they were more likely to support I-502, and only 11 percent said it would make them less likely, according to a poll in May by Quinlan Rosner Research. And the critics should remember: Authorized patients could still grow, use, and exchange pot under the existing medical-marijuana law passed by voters in 1998.
Explaining why the DUI provisions, analogous to the blood-alcohol content limit at 0.08, were so persuasive with voters, New Approach Washington campaign director Alison Holcomb says: “Nobody likes people driving a two-ton piece of metal on the public highway while they are impaired and putting people at risk of death or serious injury. That is not acceptable in our society.”
Is this new measure the perfect package—is it an ideal scenario for marijuana users? No.
No law is ever perfect for everybody, and waiting for the perfect law means waiting forever without ever changing the horrible law.
But is I-502 winnable? Is it better than what we have now? Is it the best shot this country’s ever had at lowering those numbers that keep climbing in the ticker at the top of those post? Yes, yes, yes. It’s too bad that minor—and likely inconsequential—elements of the proposal are being twisted by a handful of “rape”-screaming, histrionic, would-be supporters to undermine their own movement.