Washington voters passed Initiative 502 in November 2012 which legalized the public sale and consumption of marijuana in the state. Regulated by the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the initiative is a hefty 64 pages of legal definitions that will not interest anyone but lawyers and law students. What is of interest in the initiative is the Intent section, describing what the original purpose of Initiative 502 actually is.
The text from the initiative states:
“The people intend to stop treating adult marijuana use as a crime and try a new approach that:
(1) Allows law enforcement resources to be focused on violent and property crimes;
(2) Generates new state and local tax revenue for education, health care, research, and substance abuse prevention; and
(3) Takes marijuana out of the hands of illegal drug organizations and brings it under a tightly regulated, state-licensed system similar to that for controlling hard alcohol.
This measure authorizes the state liquor control board to regulate and tax marijuana for persons twenty-one years of age and older, and add a new threshold for driving under the influence of marijuana.”
This is a clear and simple statement of what supporters of the legalization of marijuana sought when presenting the initiative. A simple summary is a request to the people of the state of Washington to have the police shift their priorities to violent and property crimes, create a new source of revenue that will support education and health care, among other social needs, and give the State Liquor Control Board the authority to control and regulate the availability of marijuana with the intent of stopping drug cartels, trafficking and black market drug dealers from profiting from its sale and use.
Based on the intent of Initiative 502, it is not difficult to see why it was passed into law. Everything in it is a positive step for the State and for the general welfare of the people. There is no indication of promoting the sale of marijuana. If anything, it makes a simple and positive case for the adoption of legal marijuana in the state.
The first point in the Intent section is to have the police focus on violent and property crimes, presumably instead of arresting users of marijuana. People’s lives and property have a greater value to public safety than a person smoking a joint on a park bench or in their car. This argument has merit on two fronts.
The first is that in most cases smoking a joint is an issue of possession, not oppression. While marijuana is a controlled substance, the same argument can be made for alcohol, yet rarely are people arrested for drinking alcohol on a park bench. The second is that the police are public servants whose salaries and resources are funded by taxpayer money. The best use of that money is to protect people and property. Resources diverted to prioritize other criminal activity reduce the effectiveness of the police force to carry out its primary duty.
Adding a new source of revenue to the State’s coffers is the second point of the Intent section. Marijuana sales can be taxed with the revenue being used to expand educational and health care systems, while also dealing with those who have serious substance abuse problems.
For many years the argument has been made that due to the government’s opposition to marijuana it was not able to be taxed unless it was made it legal, and the result was losing millions of dollars in tax revenue every year. Instead, the government chose to conduct a drug war against it and many other illegally imported drugs that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars over the last several decades. Yet even with the government admitting that marijuana was a drug but did not deserve classification with the harder and more harmful drugs such as cocaine and heroin, the opposition to its legalization continued.
As we see in the third point of the Intent section, this continued opposition allowed drug cartels and black market dealers to make considerable profits selling a product that the American government could have easily made legal and collected tax revenues from for its own use. Initiative 502 charted a course for a safe and legal way to regulate, sell, and control the distribution of marijuana and at the same time removes the illegal profiteers from the system.
Opponents of legal marijuana often overlook the American government’s own research and evidence pointing to the many positives that come from applying the drug to medical applications. According to the national Institute of Health (NIH), ““CBD [found in marijuana] is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that may also be useful in reducing pain and inflammation, controlling epileptic seizures, and possibly even treating psychosis and addictions.” Continuing its search for possible medical uses, the NIH states it is moving in a direction “to treat autoimmune diseases, cancer, inflammation, pain, seizures, substance use disorders, and other psychiatric disorders” with the drug.
An interesting point in the intent of the initiative was to place the control and regulation of legalized marijuana in the hands of the State Liquor Control Board. The drafters of the initiative saw that the people most qualified to deal with the legalities and problems, should the initiative come into law, were the people who had experience with another once outlawed and currently controlled substance – alcohol. Making the case for any medically supported uses or advantages of alcohol consumption is difficult. However, despite this lack of any socially beneficial value the State allows its production and consumption. Choosing this regulatory group was definitely the right decision.
Recommending control by the State Liquor Control Board because they are the most qualified addresses another issue brought up by legalization opponents. Many have a valid concern over the effects on a society that makes marijuana legal and available – in particular the children. This concern is answered by placing the regulatory responsibility in the hands of those who have a long history of dealing with such issues. At one point in history the manufacture and sale of alcohol was prohibited by Federal law. Some 80 years later we have not become a nation of alcoholics and the children of the previous generations have served their country well.
As with the introduction of any new law, especially one that will likely have such a significant impact, there will be problems to solve. However, legal marijuana offers a number of benefits including additional revenues to state and federal governments, and its use as a drug in the treatment of various physiological and psychological illnesses. Law enforcement resources can be put to better use, and users will not have to go to the dark corners of an alley to buy it. It is a win-win for the society as a whole.