Washington Voter GuideBy Stephanie Bishop
Voters in Washington State have been inundated with information on Initiative 502 this voting season with good reason. Should voters decide to move forward with I-502, it could potentially set a model for the rest of the country to follow as the prohibitive laws—disallowing production and personal use of cannabis—are lifted. I-502 allows adults 21 and over to possess and use up to one ounce of marijuana and defines a legal system of cultivation and distribution.
Here are some of the issues and questions that have arisen.
Many experts are speculating federal interference should I-502 pass. There is some precedent for that. In April 2011, SB 5073 was passed by Washington State House of Representatives. But soon after, Gov. Christine Gregoire vetoed portions of the bill that would have allowed the licensing of distribution centers of cannabis products to qualified patients. Why? The U.S. Attorney General threatened to prosecute anyone for participating in the voter-approved program, including the state employees issuing such licenses.
Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I Drug, which means the federal government considers cannabis harmful to society with no medical benefits, on equal footing with heroin. As far as this status quo goes, it is still illegal to use, possess, produce or distribute marijuana under any circumstances. Industry leaders expect to see a similar reaction from the federal government should I-502 pass.
Growers, Producers and Retail
If everything goes well and no court orders are issued by the federal government to stop the implementation of the initiative, when can voters expect to see distribution centers in Washington?
I-502 directs our State Liquor Control Board to lay our criteria for the program with a December 2013 deadline. Representatives of the board will decide licensing issues, zoning restrictions for growers, producers and retail establishments as well as advertising restrictions and more. Residents in Washington State will not be seeing “pot shops” on every corner like convenience stores. These establishments will be subject to heavy zoning restrictions, and will have to keep their business away from public view. Advertising that is visible to children will be strictly prohibited.
Once the program is defined by the liquor board, business owners will be allowed to apply for one of three licenses: retail establishment, producer or processer. No one business is permitted to have financial stake in more than one business license, so a grower would not be able to own a retail establishment and vice versa.
After a license is issued to a business owner, he or she will be able to find a commercial building and request a permit. Retail establishments are not expected to be open until late 2014, and supply for these establishments would not be available fully until February 2015.
For the first time in Washington state’s history, anyone over the age of 21 would enjoy arrest protection for possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana within 30 days of the initiative’s passing. Currently, only qualified MMJ patients are able to use affirmative defense in court well after the arrest is made.
Motorists would be subject to DUID driving restrictions with a limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood tested. Restrictions for motorists ages 15 to 21 would be 1 nanogram per milliliter.
Patients will be most affected by the DUID driving restrictions as heavy users of cannabis almost always have more than 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood drawn regardless of whether they consumed cannabis hours— even days—before driving.
Impacts on MMJ
The passing of I-502 changes nothing for our state’s patients as far as access to their medicine. They would still be allowed to participate in a local collective garden and grow their own medicine or designate someone to grow cannabis for them.
Jay Inslee (Democrat)
The U.S. representative for Washington’s First Congressional District (1990-2012) is running for governor. Inslee supports ending the War on Drugs to stop senseless spending on mass incarceration, but is not a proponent of I-502. In an interview with local media, Inslee expressed concerns, stating he was “not comfortable” with sales and distribution in the state.
Rob McKenna (Republican)
McKenna is serving his second term as State Attorney General, and running for governor against Jay Enslee. McKenna has stated he holds the same views as President Obama with regards to medical cannabis, and has chosen not to allocate funds to prosecute legitimate MMJ businesses working within current state laws unless local authorities request intervention. McKenna does not support I-502.
Maria Cantwell (Democrat)
Cantwell is the junior senator from Washington who’s been serving since 2001. Cantwell supports licensing and regulating medical marijuana, but does not support legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Michael Baumgartner (Republican)
Baumgartner is a member of the state Senate running against Cantwell. Baumgartner released this statement just a few weeks ago: “While I remain a strong supporter of our state’s medicinal marijuana laws, I don’t believe it should be legalized for recreational purposes based on concerns expressed by law enforcement and the current drafting of the initiative. Whatever the result, I will honor the will of the voters’ decision in November.”