Washington state medical marijuana patients and advocates find themselves in an odd position this year. New Approach Washington’s I-502, a legalization initiative, is doing quite well gathering voter signatures, and just received a major cash infusion. But every rose has its thorn: The happiness activists would otherwise feel about expanded access to cannabis is tempered by concern at the harsh DUI provisions contained in the measure, as well as the prohibitions on home cultivation and on possession of more than one ounce at the time.
Trouble is, in its determination to appeal to mainstream Washingtonians, some activists say I-502 goes too far by including a strict DUI provision that sets the cutoff for impairment at five nanograms per milliliter of blood (5 ng/ml).
While that provision might make legalization more palatable to Joe Sixpack, it also arguably sets up medical marijuana patients for endless legal nightmares, because patients could show up as legally DUI — if you consider anything above 5 ng/ml as “under the influence” — even when they are completely unimpaired.
|Douglas Hiatt: “The way they are doing it is completely insane”
Making things even more potentially unpleasant for patients is the fact that many local law enforcement officials have a “thing” about marijuana — they hate the damn stuff, and don’t really care much for people who use it medicinally, either.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what officers of this mindset will do with a shiny new toy like a marijuana DUI law: they’ll harass the hell out of legal patients, who, if they are following state guidelines, were practically unfuckwithable before.
Even worse, one medical marijuana movement leader told me that he has been told by Washington State Patrol officers that the WSP has given special training to emphasize marijuana DUIs and particularly to target patients.
One especially nasty provision
of the DUI portion of I-502 is that drivers under 21 would be subjected to “zero tolerance” of marijuana in their bloodstreams. If they show up for ANY amount, even 0.01 ng/ml, they can (and, undoubtedly in many cases, WILL) be charged with DUI. So in effect, sitting across the room from someone who smokes a joint could get you busted for DUI if you’re under 21 years old.
Patients who have dared to point out the glaring flaws in I-502 have been scolded by Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger, which accused them of selfishly “pulling up the ladder after themselves” after achieving medical legalization.
But of course, anybody who thinks patients are happy with the present status quo — under which they practically have targets painted on their backs, victimized by both law enforcement and rip-offs — has a tenuous connection with the heartbeat of the medical marijuana community.
Meanwhile, Seattle attorney Douglas Hiatt, leader of Sensible Washington, which for two years running has failed to gather enough signatures for its own initiative using its all-volunteer method, said this week he will announce a new, broader marijuana legalization initiative to be filed in January, also for the November 2012 ballot.
Hiatt says that I-502 will be quickly slapped down by the feds, even if it passes; he believes the U.S. Department of Justice will simply prevent its implementation.
“The way they are doing it is completely insane,” Hiatt told the Seattle Weekly. “It’s a giant fucking waste of time. Why pass something that won’t work? It’s not real reform.”
Hiatt’s new initiative, like both Sensible Washington initiatives before it, wouldn’t address the DUI question at all, leaving in place current laws which already prohibit driving under the influence of drugs, but are based on actual impairment rather than a numerical cutoff point (a cutoff point which doesn’t have much scientific support, by the way).
The measure backed by Hiatt is akin, the Weekly reports, to how alcohol was removed from Prohibition in the 1930s: The process was started by states removing all mention of alcohol from state criminal codes, thus eliminating the federal government’s ability to preempt their laws.
“If 502 is trimming the hedges of pot prohibition, then Hiatt’s Initiative will uproot the whole bush,” the Weekly’s
One other alternative to NAW is already on the ground: Yes End Penalties, or YEP
, is gathering signatures for “complete legalization” much like that advocated by Sensible Washington. YEP, however, despite having committed leadership, seems to be operating almost entirely without the benefit of any cash.