Pot Legalization's Grass-Fed Battle

Pro-ganja forces can't agree on how to paint the state green.

Despite high expectations, the panel of eight marijuana experts assembled for last week's forum, "Toke Signals: The Future of Marijuana in Washington State," failed to agree unanimously on a foolproof plan to usher in cannabis reform in the state of Washington. The panel did, however, have a hell of a conversation in the process. The event, co-sponsored by Seattle Weekly, took place at KCTS-9's studio near Seattle Center, with the station's executive director of production, Enrique Cerna, moderating the discussion. The panelists were: John McKay, former U.S. Attorney and Seattle University law professor; Roger Roffman, director of the University of Washington's Innovative Programs Research Group and longtime researcher of cannabis use and abuse; Rick Steves, author, PBS travel correspondent, and marijuana law–reform advocate; Roger Goodman, Washington State Representative and candidate for U.S. Congress; Josh Berman, Washington Cannabis Association member and co-founder of the 4evergreen Group; Steve Elliott, Seattle Weekly's "Toke Signals" columnist & Toke of the Town blog editor; Alison Holcomb, Drug Policy Director at ACLU of Washington; and Doug Hiatt, public defense attorney and longtime legalization advocate. The discussion touched on how much to tax marijuana if it's legalized ("You cannot overtax marijuana," warned McKay); whether alcohol prohibition is an accurate example on which to base pot prohibition (definitely not, said Holcomb); and whether a blood THC level is an accurate measure of a driver's impairment (it's not, pretty much everyone agreed). All eight panelists agreed on a few basic points, among them: The country's war on drugs—particularly marijuana—is an utter failure; Washington's cannabis laws are a sad mess; and something needs to be about this all right now. But let's just say that "middle ground" was not a frequently used term. For example, two dueling cannabis-related initiatives were seeking to get on the ballot next year: I-502, sponsored by New Approach Washington, which was successful, and I-1149, sponsored by Sensible Washington. While 1149 failed to gather enough signatures to proceed to the ballot, its supporters are promising a similar initiative effort as soon as possible, and are opposing 502. A plurality of panelists (McKay, Steves, Roffman, Holcomb) support 502 and its method of legalization through the creation of a large new framework of taxes and regulations on pot sales, with the establishment of chemical thresholds for the crime of driving under the influence of marijuana. Others (Hiatt, Elliott, Berman), however, supported 1149, which simply would have removed all state criminal penalties for marijuana use, manufacture, delivery, and possession—thus instantly legalizing the drug and in turn putting the onus on the state legislature to work out some kind of regulatory framework. "I will not support 502 for many reasons," Hiatt declared. "First, I believe 502 puts an unasked-for and unnecessary change into the DUI laws. And I think the initiative creates a zero tolerance for people under 21. I don't believe in unnecessary laws and I don't believe in zero tolerance." 502 supporters, meanwhile, accused Hiatt and company of being unreasonable "purists" pushing a radical bill with no chance of passage while refusing to compromise. "I'm struck by the sadness coming through that we can't come together," Roffman told Hiatt at one point. "I'm listening to your argument on your views, Doug, and I just can't believe that the public will vote to give you the chance to do it that way."

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