In November of 1998, Washington voters legalized medical cannabis use. A 59 percent majority passed that historic legislation. Since then, an entire industry has developed to support patients. Doctors prescribe it, dispensaries sell it, and co-ops provide classes on its proper use and growth.
Now, 14 years later, with national polls showing cannabis decriminalization to be supported by a majority of Americans for the first time in history, there is an initiative on the ballot this November to legalize and regulate cannabis. This is Initiative 502 (I-502). Current polls show the majority vote is in favor of 1-502. With the variety of benefits to it, it’s not hard to see why.
The initiative states several compelling reasons for cannabis regulation.
Regulation would allow law enforcement to focus on more damaging behavior, like violent crime, without having to devote resources to cracking down on the cannabis black market. This is because, like shown time and time again, as soon as a substance is legalized and regulated, the illegal market for it dries up. This is because people would much rather purchase marijuana at a store rather than an illegal distributor and all the dangers that can entail. It’s the same reason you don’t see speakeasies anymore since the legalization and regulation of alcohol.
Regulation would also bring in a good deal of new tax revenue, a much-needed new source of income for Washington’s struggling budget. Recent estimates from the state Office of Financial Management have claimed that the passing of I-502 could raise at least $560 million in revenue from taxes and possibly as much as $606 million. With a budget shortfall of close to $1 billion, this added revenue could go a long way towards helping Washington balance its budget.
With all these positive factors going for it, it seems difficult to imagine how anyone could oppose such an initiative. Perhaps even stranger is the fact that some of this initiative’s strongest opponents are regular cannabis users themselves and benefit from Washington’s current medical cannabis policies. I’m talking about a group called Patients Against I-502, which is made up of doctors, lawyers, dispensaries, and even some medical cannabis patients.
Their main complaint is against a provision in I-502 which would make driving with active Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC (the psychoactive compound found in cannabis) greater than five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood an automatic driving under the influence offense.
While there are indeed some problems with this provision, they are minor at worst. Testing someone’s blood would still require a level of reasonable suspicion and active THC remains in the user’s bloodstream in the five nanogram concentration for less than 24 hours. All in all, this sort of testing is rather reasonable. While not entirely reliable, it’s still the best option currently available.
Then why is this group so vehemently opposed to legalization? The most likely answer is also the simplest. Money.
Medical cannabis is a niche market with little competition. With legalization and regulation, the medical cannabis market would have to compete with a far greater variety of providers. We’ve seen this before, when a group of medical cannabis dispensaries helped to narrowly defeat a similar initiative in California several years ago.
This November, Washington has the chance to pass a historic initiative that could raise hundreds of millions in revenue taken out of the pockets of cartels. It can stop the arrest of almost 10,000 people a year and allow police to focus on more threatening criminal activity. All that is needed is the support of the voters.