NORML’s Official Reply To ‘Patients Against I-502’

by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director

NORML supports (and publicly endorses when requested by the principal organizers) marijuana legalization, regulation, and medical use initiatives that qualify for the state ballot, so long as they move us closer to full legalization, even if they contain provisions we do not believe should be included in a perfect proposal.

Every cannabis law reform initiative dating back to the 1972 proposal in CA has included some flaws, but nonetheless when the initiatives have been approved, marijuana consumers, (including those who use cannabis for medical reasons) benefit by legal protections that did not exist under prior law.

When any marijuana law reform initiative qualifies for the ballot, it instantly creates a much needed public policy discussion and debate about the need to end cannabis prohibition. The mainstream media, editorial boards, columnists and radio talk shows FINALLY start to focus on the problems created by 74 years of prohibition and the benefits of alternative public policies.

The value of this public discussion, even if the initiative loses, clearly moves us closer to eventual victory.  For example, Prop. 19 in CA, which ended up getting nearly 47% of the vote, sparked a national debate over the merits of legalization that helped move the support for full legalization to the highest point ever, measured by a recent Gallup poll as 50% support nationwide.

At NORML, we support these efforts, even when imperfect, because the greater good achieved by legalization proposals outweighs the imperfect language; and what flaws exist in individual initiatives can be amended in future legislation (or if necessary, via another voter initiative). But in the meantime, tens of thousands of marijuana arrests are avoided by the new law.

We fully recognize the per se DUI marijuana provisions in I-502 are arbitrary, unnecessary, and unscientific, and we argued strongly with the sponsors for provisions that would require proof of actual impairment to be shown before one could be charged with a traffic safety offense. NORML, arguably more so than any other drug law reform organization, has a long track record of opposing the imposition of arbitrary and discriminatory per se traffic safety laws for responsible cannabis consumers. But we failed to persuade the sponsors of I-502, and now we must decide whether to support the initiative despite those provisions. We believe the overall impact of this proposal, if approved by voters this fall and enacted, will be overwhelmingly helpful to the vast majority of cannabis consumers in the state, and will eliminate tens of thousands of cannabis arrests each year. Thus, NORML’s Board of Directors voted unanimously (including the two members from WA) to endorse the initiative, while maintaining our opposition to per se DUID provisions in principal.

Additionally, at NORML we also support the right of consumers to grow their own marijuana, and there is no such legal protection in the WA initiative. However, qualified patients already protected under existing law will be able to continue to grow cannabis, as I-502 does not alter existing medicinal cannabis laws. The sponsors found through their polling that the inclusion of the right to cultivate marijuana for personal adult use would reduce their level of public support below that needed for approval. Again, while we continue to support personal cultivation, we believe the initiative still deserves our support, despite this calculated omission by I-502’s sponsors.

We would urge those who support marijuana legalization, but oppose specific provision of I-502, to nonetheless support this initiative because of the importance of 1.) having one state actually approve legalization and confront the federal government on this issue, and 2.) stopping thousands of expensive and damaging arrests, prosecutions and incarcerations annually in WA for cannabis-related offenses, notably for simple possession.

For those who feel they cannot support the current initiative, because it is not perfect, we would hope they would step aside and take no public position, in order not to undermine what is an historic opportunity to end marijuana prohibition, by popular vote, under state law.

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