An Open Letter To I-502 Supporters: The Perfect vs. The Good


The Weed Blog

By Bryan Punyon
Special to Toke of the Town
To all of my friends and associates who support I-502,
Hi there. You may know me as a cannabis activist, you may simply know me as a guy on Facebook who keeps asking critical questions about I-502. You may not know me at all.
Whatever the case, I am still genuinely undecided on Initiative 502. Some of you seem to take that to mean that I’m secretly against it, on account of all those pesky questions I keep asking.  That saddens me; it pains me that I would be arbitrarily assigned to the Opposition simply because I choose to ask questions and request clarification, especially when so much of the cannabis legalization movement and Drug War has centered around the control and interpretation of information and knowledge.

To deny the legitimacy of any questions about an initiative that is claimed to make grand steps toward the legalization process does the Movement a disservice, and ultimately only serves to factionalize our efforts and tear apart our communities.

Bryan Punyon/Facebook
Bryan Punyon, a cannabis activist who works with Seattle Hempfest, wrote this piece for Toke of the Town. Seattle Hempfest itself is neutral on I-502.

Allow me to provide a bit of information on my own stance about I-502, since I have been accused of being an agent for the “No” Side: I have no personal stake in I-502 one way or the other.
Let me repeat that: I-502 would have very little effect on me and my life. I’m over 21, an authorized medical patient, and I don’t own a car or drive with any sort of regularity. While I may be somewhat high-profile in using my First Amendment rights on Facebook and other social media outlets to express my support for Legalization and Medical use, the majority of the concerns that the No-Side bring up about I-502
On the flip side, general decrim for up to an ounce and all of the other perks that would happen if I-502 passes wouldn’t affect me much either; I’m still protected by Washington State’s MMJ laws, which by the Pro-502 Side’s own statements [PDF], wouldn’t be affected by I-502. At least not for me, as an over-21 patient who doesn’t drive.
Whether or not this Initiative passes, it will have very little direct effect on me, my medical use, or my ability to get around. I have no personal stake in this. 
I am Undecided.
Theoretically, you want my vote.
So I must ask: Why are you letting the Perfect idea of total support for I-502 get in the way of the Good that comes from open debate and discussion of the subject?

Loopy Lettuce

It seems to me that any Cannabis Legalization Initiative is going to have aspects of it that people, within the Movement and outside of it, will have questions, concerns, and different interpretations about how it will function and what it does. This is only natural, as the legislative process is not something that the majority of legal-age voters fully understand, and it would be completely pertinent to explain and clarify the questions and misconceptions that they have.
So why do you treat anyone who doesn’t jump on board as the Enemy? Insulting people is not an effective tactic for winning them over; all it does is suggest that anyone who doesn’t have the time or energy to read through massive walls of text and interpret political-speak and Legalese must be lazy and uncaring, rather than the more realistic explanation that many people are simply too busy with the realities of life to do that kind of exhaustive research, or lack the proper education in the specialized fields to completely comprehend exactly what those documents say.
It doesn’t make sense to expect Undecided voters to simply accept your word and join your side, which is exactly what you’re doing when you tell people to “do their own research” and require extremely specific citations before actually giving any sort of useful response in forums and on social media sites, while treating general questions as some kind of personal affront.  Yes, you’ve written the articles and posted the research elsewhere; what’s your problem with posting links?
Undecided voters shouldn’t have to quote sections of I-502 and related research at you in order to get a straight answer. We shouldn’t be required to actually quote the language of the per se DUI statutes in order for you to say, “the blood test looks for active metabolite levels[PDF] when we’re asking questions about what they actually mean.
Quite frankly, demanding that level of specificity in questions makes you look like you have canned answers for those questions and can’t interpret your own material in any other way.  While I completely doubt that this is the case, as I know many of you personally and know you to be intelligent and clever individuals, that’s certainly how it often appears.
If you fail to convince people to vote for your Initiative, that is nobody’s fault but your own, especially if the failure lies in your refusal to provide answers and information for those asking.  Let’s be clear and realistic here: without convincing Undecided voters that you’re right, you have little hope of winning.
I have a very hard time believing that you’re not aware of that, knowing how many of you are actively involved in the Movement (and in many cases, have been so, throughout many different groups, for many, many years). It greatly troubles me when I can already see what appears to be the groundwork for the Blame Game being laid before the Initiative has even been voted on. This “With Us or Against Legalization” attitude that many of the people on the Pro-502 side have is disingenuous and extremely alarming, especially with the fallout that’s already being built up if this Initiative fails to pass.
I like the intent behind I-502. I like that it’s been written to appeal to mainstream voters in such a way that takes steps to realistically begin the process of full Legalization. I agree with some of Marc Emery’s assessments, that this would be a foot in the door, so to speak, that can be built on legally and judicially to further the cause of Legalization. I definitely think that even if I-502 doesn’t pass, there are major parts of it that can be harvested and adapted for future legislation Initiatives. 
There are parts of the Initiative that are well-written, with solid language that takes the i
ssue of Legalization in the small steps that I believe will be needed if the legislative approach for Legalization will be effective.
But then there are the parts that I find alarming.
Like the unsure science behind the per se DUI limit. Or how about that bit that would criminalize medical patients under 21? Or when I do read through the language of the bill, and it definitely sounds a lot like what the opposition says has merit, that parts of the Bill (Part 3, Section 6, #9 [PDF] specifically) are worded so poorly that Government Officials could easily just deny the opening of any access point, thus guaranteeing that any “protections” against prosecutions are null and void, because if the police know that there are no legit access points, anyone without a med card is automatically suspect for buying off the Black Market.
Even if you deny this is the case, just saying “Nuh uh, it won’t!” (and then blasting anyone, even on your own side, who expresses anything you don’t agree with) is not the kind of argument that belongs in a serious, world-changing political debate.
You claim that you “don’t deal in speculation” when anyone asks about the potential ramifications of the language of the bill and expect… What? That people will just trust a Government that has a verifiable track record of manipulating drug laws for their own profit and purposes?
Does I-502 specifically state anywhere that the odor of Marijuana will no longer be sufficient Probable Cause to search a vehicle, as some of your supporters have told me? I haven’t been able to find that specific language anywhere in the Bill.
Refusing to even discuss such things in public forums makes it seem like you honestly don’t care about what could happen (which is a troubling and, I think, untrue notion), or have such great and blind faith in the Federal and State Governments’ willingness to allow and approve new revolutions in major aspects of civil rights legislation and the integrity of law enforcement (which flies directly in the face of what’ve seen in recent police actions against peaceful protesters and other political dissidents, or even just journalists, as well as the historic and ongoing applications of State and Federal Drug Laws).
Unless you can point to a part of your own legislation that specifically deals with law enforcement procedure changes, then “speculation” on how I-502 will be enacted and enforced is ABSOLUTELY relevant to the discussion. 
Then there’s the production and taxation guidelines, which first call for a 25 percent tax increase each time the product changes hands, and divides up Growing, Processing, and Distribution in such a way that it has to change hands at least three times, ensuring a 75 percent price increase even before the 10 percent sales tax is applied. That’s at least an 85 percent price increase by the time it reaches consumers, which seems absurdly excessive for what this Initiative is trying to do. 
I’ll even do that math for you: if the Grower sells an Ounce for $200 to a Processor, that’s a $50 increase in price. From the Processor to the Distributor, that’s another $50. From Distributor to Customer is an additional 35% increase because of the 25% increase AND the 10% sales tax, bringing the price of that ounce up to $370.
Keep in mind that the more a Grower initially charges for their product, the higher those numbers get based on percentages of the initial price; there is no standard rate of increase to off-set high initial prices, and the Government sets the specifications for requirements to legally grow. That means they can easily drive up costs with excessive demands that have to be complied with. 
We have seen similar tactics used by city governments to restrict popular activities in the past, such as draconian and unreasonable legislation designed to restrict all-ages shows.
Keep in mind, once again: These issues do not directly affect me. Not one bit. Whether or not this Initiative passes, my medical status won’t change. I’ll still be hitting between 2 and 7 on the Pain Scale on a daily basis, and will continue to be extremely thankful for my medical authorization to use the medicine that lets me function while keeping the amount of prescription pharmaceuticals I have to take to a minimum.
If I vote for I-502, it will be because the Pro Side has convinced me, in my own best judgment, that the benefits of this Bill will outweigh the negatives on a grand scale, and that this is truly a step toward widespread legalization for recreational use by all adults over 21, not just medical patients who actually have a real need to use cannabis.
If I vote against it, it will not necessarily be because the No Side has convinced me that all of their concerns are legitimate. They don’t have to convince me, or anyone else, that everything they’re concerned about is right; all they have to do is cast enough doubt in enough peoples’ minds.
If the Pro side doesn’t put forth the effort to provide on-the-spot information and actually answer questions or address concerns, if your stock answer to every inquiry is, “they’re lying and misrepresenting the issues, go read our website,” then you have no hope of winning over the most critical of the Undecideds. The ones like me, who are either covered in their use by Medical Laws, or else don’t use themselves and would be entirely voting on the behalf of other people. And recent polls demonstrate that you still have a ways to go on this.
With legislation involving drug reform, society’s historical decision is to err on the side of caution. With the huge number of people in Washington who use cannabis recreationally, what makes you think that “normal” people are going to default to the Pro side if they think or fear that it could lead to they themselves personally, or people they know, friends or family or coworkers, being incarcerated for what should be extremely minor offenses?
Like passing a joint being a Class C Felony; whether or not it currently is illegal to do so becomes a moot point if you don’t actually address those concerns, especially for people like me, who aren’t voting for ourselves, but rather for everyone else in Washington State.
Once again, to reiterate: you aren’t trying to convince us all to vote in our own best interests. You have to convince us that passing this Initiative is in the best interests of everyone.
I’m not trying to tell anyone how to run a political campaign, or asking for an apology for past insults and personal attacks (which there have been many, directed at myself and others, simply for voicing personal opinions), or demanding changes i
n behavior, or making any demands of any sort.
I simply want to know: Why is the Pro Side treating the “Good” of engaged, intellectual debate about a Legalization Initiative as the enemy of the “Perfect” idea of total, unquestioning support?
Because just like when that sentiment is expressed in support of I-502, it also applies the other way around.
I’m not the only Undecided who continues to have valid concerns, both about the Initiative and the responses that I see to its critics.  And I continue to fail to be impressed when your responses to our questions feel strongly like misologistic attacks against reasonable discussion and debate.
The Legalization Movement is bigger and more important than any single piece of legislation, no matter who backs it, no matter who opposes it.
Let me ask you this, and I mean this question in all sincerity:
What will you do if I-502 passes, and some or all of the Anti-crowd’s concerns turn out to be valid?
Will you campaign and crusade just as hard to repeal or change the legislation so that people guilty of nothing other than doing the things that you profess to want them to be able to do won’t get arrested and prosecuted in larger numbers?
Or will this be chalked up in your personal Victory column, and further efforts of change will be someone else’s problem?
Because as an Undecided Voter, that seems entirely pertinent.
Yours in Brotherhood of Legalization Activism,
Bryan Punyon