|Could this have been what I-502 proponent Roger Roffman was thinking about when he said “It is injurious to young people and their families. There are people who are victims of marijuana”?|
By Philip Dawdy
A debate on the merits of I-502 was held on May 8th at a theatre in Monroe in Snohomish County. About 100 people attended and they were treated to one of the initiatives main sponsors, Roger Roffman who is a social work professor at the University of Washington, calling cannabis “injurious.” So why is he a sponsor of an initiative that would make it legal for adults 21 and older to buy, possess and consume one ounce of cannabis?
Roffman explained that he thinks we can do better as a society in addressing the “harms” of cannabis by bringing it into a public health model of control and working to educate and discourage people from using it. Yes, one of the main proponents of the initiative said this.
|I-502 proponent Roger Roffman thinks cannabis hurts young people and their families|
In response, Douglas Hiatt said that cannabis is “almost harmless” and that there’s plenty of science on this point. Hiatt is a longtime medical cannabis attorney and legalization advocate.
He stridently opposes 502 because he says it is not real legalization–“It doesn’t take one law off the books that makes cannabis a crime,” he said at one point–and because he says he believes its THC DUI provision will harm medical cannabis patients and many recreational smokers.
Hiatt is a co-founder of Sensible Washington, which has failed twice in the last few years to get enough signatures to get its own legalization initiative on a state-wide ballot.
There were other odd surprises in the debate, too.
Tonia Winchester, a former prosecutor who’s with the I-502 campaign, said that 502 is a “thoughtful, articulate approach’ to legalization and said it was important that legalization efforts take a “more public health approach.” She also claimed that the initiative would protect medical cannabis patients from arrest (true if they possess only one ounce purchased from a state-licensed pot shop) and added that “502 doesn’t change DUI laws.”
That despite the fact that 502 introduces a specific per se THC active metabolite level over which one is automatically considered an impaired driver and would lose their license and possibly see jail time. Under current law for someone to be convicted of a green DUI, proof of actual impairment is required.
“You can’t say that it doesn’t change the law, when you take away one of the defenses,” said Hiatt.
The debate was much like that–a lot of back-and-forth over specific provisions of the initiative with not very much being settled or agreed upon. But toward the 90-minute debate’s end something odd happened not long after Hiatt had again declared that cannabis use is almost harmless. Roffman took it upon himself to address Hiatt on this point.
“It is injurious to young people and their families,” Roffman said. “There are people who are victims of marijuana. To hear an advocate say it’s close to harmless is troubling.”
You are welcome to make whatever sense you care to out of that.
More 502 debates are coming, including one next week on Whidbey Island.
Because I’ve long been involved in cannabis issues, I need to let you know my conflicts of interest (which is something The Stranger won’t do). I’m a co-founder of Sensible Washington and was co-author of its two legalization initiatives. I was campaign director for I-1068 in 2010.
I was kicked out of Sensible Washington for my work on medical cannabis in 2011, when I co-founded the Washington Cannabis Association and worked on S. 5073 and various successor bills in the State Legislature. I’ve worked with the ACLU of Washington, the prime force behind 502, on medical cannabis issues in Olympia.
For the record, I am currently neutral on I-502.