Washington Initiative 502

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Mexico Reacts to US Marijuana Legalization Votes

Mexican officials are reacting with a mixture of bemusement and frustration after residents in two US states, Colorado and Washington, voted to legalize marijuana. Some are calling for the legalization of Mexican marijuana exports, while others, including key advisors to incoming President Enrique Pena Nieto, are saying that Mexico will have to "rethink" its drug policies in the wake of the vote.

Incoming Mexican President Pena Nieto will have marijuana on his mind when he meets President Obama later this month (wikimedia)
Mexico has seen as many as 60,000 people killed in the last six years as the government of outgoing President Felipe Calderon declared war on the so-called cartels, which traffic large quantities of Mexican marijuana to the US, as well as methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. The Mexican government has grown increasingly frustrated with what it sees as US laxity when it comes to fighting the drug war north of the border, especially with the broad acceptance of medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

And now, two states have moved to okay outright legalization.

In an interview the day after the elections reported by the Associated Press, key Pena Nieto advisor Luis Videgaray, who is heading the new president's transition team, said that his government remains opposed to drug legalization, but that the votes in Colorado and Washington complicated its efforts to prosecute the drug war.

"Obviously we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status," Videgaray said. "I believe this obliges us to think the relationship in regards to security. This is an unforeseen element. These important modifications change somewhat the rules of the game in the relationship with the United States. I think that we have to carry out a review of our joint policies in regards to drug trafficking and security in general."

Videgraray's remarks come just three weeks before Pena Nieto is scheduled to meet with President Obama in Washington.

Conversely, Cesar Duarte, governor of the violence-plagued state of Chihuahua, said Wednesday that the legalization votes north of the border offered a "very clear" hint on what Mexico should do: legalize marijuana exports.

"It seems to me that we should move to authorize exports," Duarte told Reuters in an interview. "We would therefore propose organizing production for export, and with it no longer being illegal, we would have control over a business which today is run by criminals, and which finances criminals."

If the US doesn't want to prosecute the drug war -- as evidenced by the votes in Colorado and Washington -- asked Duarte, why should Mexico?

"We can't go on suffering for the effects of America's vices," he said.

I-502 Fact Sheets from WA State and ACLU of WA

The Washington State Liquor Control Board and the ACLU of Washington have both issued facts sheets on the implementation of I-502. The state's Office of Financial Management projects prices will average about $12 per gram, based on current dispensary prices (via Sirens and Gavels).

Though the law goes into effect on December 6, it is December of next year when the licensing system for sellers is scheduled for. (If you think that's a long time, don't ask me how long we've waited for Washington, DC to get its medical marijuana law moving.) An evaluation is to be published in September 2015. (Which is as long as DC is taking to just get started.)

502 does not provide for home growing. But patients maintain their home growing rights under the state's medical marijuana law.

And the Fast Talking Has Started...

I posited yesterday that federal fast talking about the Colorado and Washington initiatives would start soon. It turns out that federal fast talking hasn't even needed feds to get started, a "Network Media Fail" analysis by Peter Guither demonstrates:

Some of the network media have been trying to cover the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington and clearly are in catch-up mode, not really knowing how to talk about it. And they're completely thrown by the fact that the DOJ, for the most part, isn't coming right out and commenting. So they're all forced to turn to… Kevin Sabet.
 

Kevin is a former Office of National Drug Control Policy staffer -- Phil faced off with him in The Fix on Tuesday. He had a respectable level position at the agency, from what I understand, but he was not the drug czar or near it, and he doesn't work at ONDCP now. Pete questions why media would think he knows what's going on behind the scenes or why we should think he does.

I'll just comment on two things from the ABC article by Christina Ng that Pete highlighted:

"When you have the governors of both states [opposing it] as well as the president and Congress, who has already determined that marijuana is illegal, this is not going to be a walk in the park for marijuana enthusiasts," Sabet said. [...]
 

That is an inaccurate characterization by Kevin of the positions of the governors. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper opposed the initiative, and according to the Denver Post is speaking with federal officials to assess their intentions -- Eric Holder, head of all DOJ, not ONDCP. But Hickenlooper also told the Post that "[y]ou can't argue with the will of the voters" and they plan to move forward with it. Washington governor-elect Jay Inslee has also said that he'll respect the will of the voters.

The second is a paragraph that was not presented as a quote, so I don't know precisely what Kevin told Ms. Ng, but here it is:

In 2005, the Supreme Court by an 8-0 margin struck down a California law that legalized medical marijuana in the state. The Court said Congress had the power to criminalize marijuana under the Commerce Clause.
 

Raich v. Gonzales was actually 6-3, but more importantly, the court did not strike down California's medical marijuana law! What the court did was decline to limit the reach of federal law. There's a difference.

As I discussed yesterday, state and federal law can be different, but that doesn't mean they're in conflict. And not every type of conflict is legally impermissible. California's medical marijuana law is very much in effect -- the trouble there is to providers, not directly to patients, and it's from federal raids and other actions, and local zoning restrictions. Tellingly, no federal prosecutor in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws has ever tried to undo one of them in court.

Perhaps they'll try now with one of the legalization initiatives, but their prospects for success on that route are unclear. What seems most unlikely is that states would be forced to reverse not only their licensing provisions, but their elimination of penalties for users and some sellers; much less that federal agents, more limited in number than state and local police, would conduct the massive numbers of possession busts (or in Colorado home growing busts) needed to keep prohibition going at that level. That's why the medical marijuana laws work.

In the meanwhile, police and prosecutors in Washington have more or less confirmed the walk in the park beginning December 6th.

Washington Police and Prosecutors Winding Down Marijuana Possession Cases

Dominic Holden reports for The Stranger:

Prosecutors won't charge marijuana possession cases anymore, starting December 6th:

Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for the King County Prosecuting Attorney, says his office is trying to figure out how if they will charge the marijuana possession cases are pending. "We haven't figured out how we will handle all of those cases," he says. But assuming the possession portion of the law is not federally challenged -- and no credible lawyer thinks the possession portion can be -- Goodhew says that in future cases, "we cannot charge someone under state statute."
 

...and police won't make possession arrests:

Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, a spokesman for the Seattle Police Department, says this: "For us, the law has changed, and people can expect no enforcement for possession."
 

Or to put it another way: Yesterday Really Happened.

Several Initiatives' Margins Have Improved

When I first noted last night that Colorado's Amendment 64, marijuana legalization, was ahead, partial results had it leading with a little over 52% of the vote, with exit polling reportedly at 57%. When the Denver Post called the measure as passing, it was over 53%. The official Colorado election results now have Amendment 64 at 54.82% voting yes -- almost as high as Washington I-502's 55.44%.

The Arkansas medical marijuana initiative went down to defeat, unfortunately, but only 49-51 -- up from the 48-52 split we first noted, and pretty darn close -- not bad for a southern state, though frustrating for the same reasons.

When I first noted that Montana's medical marijuana initiative wasn't doing well, I linked to the state election results page but didn't write out the percentage split, 58-42. Maybe I didn't want to. It was still at that level later in the night. But as of right now (with still a bit of counting to go), I-124 was up to 43.45. (As we noted before, our side was hoping for a "no" vote on the initiative -- the "no" referring to a bill passed by the legislature that weakened the initiative passed by voters.)

California's three-strikes reform measure is up to 68.6%, having been closer to 68% when I looked last night.

Every little bit counts, and some of thes increases mean more than a little bit. Of the three defeats (Oregon, Arkansas and Montana), Montana's worries me the most, as it is a tough situation right now for the state's medical marijuana community, with both the state and the feds. But maybe our national momentum for marijuana law reform will make more things possible soon, maybe even in Montana. Phil wrote a feature story on the legalization initiatives last night -- live from Amendment 64 campaign headquarters -- and will be coming out with another on the rest of the election story later today.

Colorado, Washington Legalize Marijuana! [FEATURE]

Colorado voters made history Tuesday night, passing a constitutional amendment to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana and becoming the first state in the US to break with marijuana prohibition. Hours later, voters in Washington state followed suit, passing a legalization initiative there, but a similar effort in Oregon came up short.

Brian Vicente, Rob Kampia, and Steve Fox listen to Mason Tvert in Denver as Amendment 64 passes.
Even though marijuana legalization didn't achieve a trifecta, two states have now decisively rejected marijuana prohibition, sending an electrifying message to the rest of the country and the world. Tuesday's election also saw a medical marijuana initiative pass in Massachusetts, a sentencing reform initiative pass in California, and a limited legalization initiative pass in Detroit. Medical marijuana initiatives failed in Arkansas and Montana. [Editor's Note: Look for Chronicle news briefs soon on the election results we have yet to publish stories on.]

"The victories in Colorado and Washington are of historic significance not just for Americans but for all countries debating the future of marijuana prohibition in their own countries," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is now a mainstream issue, with citizens more or less divided on the issue but increasingly inclined to favor responsible regulation of marijuana over costly and ineffective prohibitionist policies."

According to the Colorado secretary of state's office, Amendment 64 was leading comfortably with 55% of the vote, compared to 45% voting "no." But an early lead was enough for Amendment 64 supporters and foes alike to call the victory. Rising excitement at Casselman's, the downtown Denver bar where campaign supporters gathered, turned to gleeful pandemonium as Colorado media began calling the result little more than two hours after the polls closed.

"Colorado voters have decided to take a more sensible approach to how we deal with marijuana in this state," said Mason Tvert, director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which had brought together state marijuana reform groups such as SAFER and Sensible Colorado with national reform organizations such as the Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Action, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition in a well-organized and well-funded winning campaign.

"Today, the people of Colorado have rejected the failed policy of marijuana prohibition," said Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente. "Thanks to their votes, we will now reap the benefits of regulation. We will create new jobs, generation million of dollars in tax revenue, and allow law enforcement to focus on serious crimes. It would certainly be a travesty if the Obama administration used its power to impose marijuana prohibition upon a state whose people have declared, through the democratic process, that they want it to end."

"I'm so happy we not only did this, we did it right," said MPP's Steve Fox, who had worked closely with Tvert, Vicente, and Yes on 64 spokesperson Betty Aldworth to bring the effort to fruition. "Now, it is legal in the state constitution to possess and grow marijuana. It can't be repealed on a whim; it is permanent. Thirty days from now, any veteran -- any person -- in this state can use marijuana."

"Colorado is the starting point, the tipping point, but it's not the end point," vowed MPP executive director Rob Kampia, who promised to take the effort to more states in the future.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), a staunch opponent of Amendment 64, conceded its victory as well Tuesday night. "The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," he said in a statement. "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or goldfish too quickly."

According to the Washington secretary of state's office , as of 9:28pm Pacific time Tuesday, Initiative 502 was holding a comfortable lead of 55% to 45%. Sponsored by New Approach Washington, the initiative had excited opposition among segments of the pot-smoker and medical marijuana communities, but created a carefully crafted and financially well-backed campaign featuring a series of establishment endorsers.

Betty Aldsworth thanks the voters of Colorado.
I-502 legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over, but does not allow for personal cultivation, except by or for medical marijuana patients. It will license marijuana cultivation and retail and wholesale sales, with restrictions on advertising. Regulation will be the remit of the state liquor control board, which will have to come up with rules by December 2013. The measure creates a 25% excise tax on marijuana sales, with 40% of revenues dedicated to the general fund and 60% dedicated to substance abuse prevention, research, and healthcare. It also creates a per se driving under the influence standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

By contrast, Colorado's Amendment 64 allows adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or six marijuana plants, three of which can be mature. It will create a system of state-licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities and state-licensed retail stores. Local governments would have the option of regulating or prohibiting such facilities. The amendment also requires the state legislature to enact legislation governing industrial hemp cultivation, processing, and sale, and to create an excise tax on wholesale marijuana sales. The first $40 million of that annual revenue will be dedicated to building public schools.

"Marijuana policy reform remains an issue where the people lead and the politicians follow, but Washington state shows that many politicians are beginning to catch up," said Nadelmann, noting that the Obama administration had failed to denounce the initiatives. "That bodes well, both states' prospects of implementing their new laws without undue federal interference."

In Oregon, Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), didn't fare so well. As of 11:30pm Pacific time, it was losing 45% to 55%, with 69% of the vote counted.

It came late to the ballot compared to the efforts in Colorado and Washington, could not demonstrate majority support in polls, and, as a result, did not manage to attract substantial funding from outside donors, sealing its fate.

But despite the loss in Oregon, when it comes to passing groundbreaking marijuana legalization initiatives in the United States, two out of three ain't bad.

Is Marijuana Prohibition About to Get its Ass Kicked?

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/marijuanaplants.jpg

Ballot measures to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington are polling strong on the eve of the election, and for many, this is a moment as momentous or more so than the presidential race itself. I've been too focused on other projects to comment regularly this time around -- and it hasn't been easy -- but tonight I can think of nothing else. And if you're reading this, I imagine you're thinking what I'm thinking.

Whether we win, lose, or a little of both, there's no question that we've taken this fight further than a lot of people thought possible when I was a young activist (and I'm still not that old yet). I haven't forgotten the time I spent explaining to friends and family why I was doing this work and that I wasn't doing it for fun; we do this to change lives and change our country for the better. As those changes grow ever more tangible, the momentum of our movement becomes self-evident and the people who once stood in our way step slowly back into the shadows.

Where once a powerful alliance of prohibitionist power players dogged us at every turn, it feels lately as if there's no one on the field anymore except us, Kevin Sabet, and a random assortment of disoriented profiteers on both sides who'll continue to fear change until they learn not to. The polls, meanwhile, move in our favor as fast as you can count them and the myth of marijuana policy's fringe position in American politics is dying an overdue death before our eyes.

All of this is true even if we don’t move the ball as far forward tomorrow as we hope to. I'm saying it now because we have a lot to be proud of either way.  I also just wanted to say something because I've been quiet for a little too long lately. If tomorrow goes our way, you can bet I will be anything but quiet.

I-502: Too Important to Lose (Steve D'Angelo, Harborside Health Center)

The founder of the flagship medical marijuana center, Harborside Health Center in Oakland, speaks out about how important it is to pass I-502 and how damaging a "no" vote on it could be for people's lives.

If You Care About Medical Marijuana Patients (Among Others), Support I-502

Readers of StoptheDrugWar.org know that we've supported Initiative 502, a ballot measure to legalize and regulate marijuana in Washington State. I-502 has seen the strongest polling among the three legalization measures on state ballots this year, and has attracted significant mainstream support -- its chances of passing this Tuesday are good. The measure has also been the subject of controversy within the movement, particularly over a "per se" DUI provision some advocates believe will unfairly snare some users including patients. If you've followed our coverage of I-502 in Drug War Chronicle, including two of our recent features (here and here), you're familiar with all of this.

Today StoptheDrugWar.org formally endorses Initiative 502. In this post I explain why we believe the measure helps, not harms, most medical marijuana patients, and defeating it would therefore harm patients; why I believe other attacks leveled against the measure to be misguided, despite some legitimate concerns; and why we at StoptheDrugWar.org consider passage of I-502 to be critically important.

The reality facing Washington's patients today is that they may soon lose safe access to marijuana. The federal government is conducting a sustained attacked on the medical marijuana supply system in states across the nation, including Washington's, and local opponents have also stepped up their efforts. Legislation that would have authorized dispensaries, which could have provided some political cover for providers in Washington, was vetoed by the governor. Just this August the DEA sent 23 threat letters to dispensaries in Washington, only the latest of many moves against the industry. And there is no indication that DOJ under Obama or Romney will let up after the election, hope for that as we might. Washington a few years from now may have no medical marijuana supply system at all, if something doesn't change to shift the balance in our favor.

In Washington, the medical marijuana system is already a smaller one than available in some other medical marijuana states, despite courageous efforts by its leaders. Fewer patients qualify for legal protections under the list of conditions authorized under state law; it's likely that a smaller proportion of the state's residents live within easy geographic proximity to a dispensary as well. A 2011 report by See Change Strategy, prepared before the escalated federal and local crackdowns, found 11,000 dispensary customers in Washington, compared with 500,000 in California -- fewer than 1/8 as many, adjusted for the states' populations. Compared with Colorado, Washington's system -- again, before the crackdown -- served fewer than 1/14 as many people, adjusted for population.

But even those numbers understate the true depth of harm done to patients by the current system. All of us know people who suffer from conditions that could well be treatable using marijuana, but who may never find that out -- because they won't try it while it's illegal, or because their physicians aren't comfortable recommending marijuana without being able to guarantee the quality of the supply. Along with the current patients whose current safe access to marijuana may be slipping away, this other, possibly much larger group of potential patients, are also being badly harmed by the current situation -- by prohibition.

In the face of the federal onslaught, we believe a victory is needed at the ballot in order to shift the political dynamics in our favor. While some have suggested this could be accomplished in 2014, with a different initiative, that seems poorly thought out. Along with that meaning two more years and all that can happen in that time, 2014 is an off year election. That means that election turnout demographics will work against any such initiative, because off years favor the conservative voting base that leans against marijuana reform, over the liberal base that leans toward it. Funders witnessing a loss this year by a carefully regulated initiative, will in turn be unlikely to bet on a more loosely written one passing the next time. Progress of this scale -- enactment by a state's voters of actual legalization, not just medical marijuana or decriminalization, a historic first -- will probably be out of reach again until 2016. Public support for legalization in principle continues to grow and is now around 50% nationally. But while we believe support for legalization is likely to continue to grow, we don't know that it will and we can't take that for granted, especially if we don't win something. Legalization needs a victory this year.

We also believe that more people than just the currently recognized patients need the protections that legalization of possession -- and of legal sales, if I-502's state-licensed stores survive the likely federal opposition -- will provide for them. Washington had between 12,000 and 15,000 arrests per year between 2006 and 2010 -- 240,000 total marijuana arrests from 1986 to 2010. Those include minors who will still face age limit laws under I-502. But half or more of these arrests would clearly stop under the new law. A marijuana arrest is a big deal; in Washington it includes a fine and mandatory jail time in most cases. Defendants spend money on legal fees; they face restricted access to housing and college aid; they become disadvantaged in the job market.

I-502 won't undo all of this harm, but it will undo a lot of it. The characterizations opponents have made of the initiative as providing only "limited" or "modest" benefit are bogus. Even more strained is the claim some opponents have made that I-502 is not even legalization. But I-502 legalizes possession and sale of marijuana, albeit within a particular framework -- of course it's legalization. Some forms of legalization do more of what we want than other forms. Advocates make compromises, if they are effective, because they understand that that is what's needed to change things.

A final argument opponents have made is that I-502 is not legalization because federal law will preempt the state licensing system and could endanger other parts of the law. But while preemption is a risk, it's not a given -- no federal prosecutor has even tried to legally preempt a state's medical marijuana law, for example, in 16 years of them. And the same line of reasoning would say that any legalization bill passed by a state would really not be legalization, because federal prohibition is still in place. Which of course makes no sense -- and which would mean that initiatives some critics of I-502 have attempted to place on the ballot were not legalization either. Obviously our goal is to change both federal and state law.

It's possible we might have reached a different conclusion about I-502, if we were persuaded that DUI busts because of I-502 could happen commonly. But the critics have ignored key facts about the issue in order to make that case. The provision excludes the inactive but long-lingering marijuana metabolite, THC-COOH, from the reach of the law, counting only the shorter acting THC metabolite. It leaves in place the "probable cause" requirement on police of impairment being demonstrated before they can lawfully stop a driver and order a drug test. Police still need to spend time and money taking a driver to the station for a full drug test -- they can't just write a ticket and drop the drugs off for testing later.

Perhaps for these reasons, the 13 states that already have similar provisions have not seen perceptible increases in DUI busts. Yet movement opponents of I-502 scarcely acknowledge any of these points; a recent editorial by Sensible Washington treasurer Anthony Martinelli is a good example. Leaving them out skews the issue very badly. Conversely, however, one should admit that some marijuana users in Washington may get stuck with a DUI charge that they don't deserve -- and if you're one of those few people, it won't necessarily help you that there are only a few. There is a legitimate issue at stake with the DUI provision and it's a legitimate discussion to have. But it's a very different scenario than the doomsayers have presented.

It has been charged that movement opposition to I-502 is driven by the financial motivations of people profiting from medical marijuana under the current system. But while this is doubtless one thing that is going on, some of the critics of I-502 are respected advocates, including personal friends, who have never had a financial motivation for their activism. With all due respect to them, we believe they have badly misjudged the I-502 question, in at least the following ways: They have misidentified the primary threats facing medical marijuana patients. They have dramatically overestimated the realistic impact of the DUI provision -- ignoring relevant facts in order to do so. And they have underplayed the scope and significance that passage of I-502 will have, both legally and politically.

StoptheDrugWar.org endorses Initiative 502, a major step forward for the legalization movement, and a necessary step to help secure the rights of many thousands of marijuana users, including patients, and others.

[Washington's I-502 is one of three initiatives on state ballots to regulate rather than prohibit marijuana. We encourage all supportive parties, as we have before, to make phone calls to likely supportive voters in Colorado and Oregon -- for which a "phonebanking" web site has been provided by our allies -- for those in Washington to contact the campaign to volunteer in person. Links to the campaigns and to a "phonebanking" web site provided by our allies are linked to from our election resources web page at http://stopthedrugwar.org/election2012.]

Five Days Out, Washington Marijuana Measure at 55%

Washington state's I-502 marijuana legalization, taxation, and regulation initiative appears headed for victory with increasing support, according to the latest KCTS 9 Washington Poll, released last Thursday. The poll had support among likely voters at 55.4% in surveys conducted during the second half of October, compared to 47.1% in surveys conducted in the first half of the month.

[Editor's Note: I-502 passed with 55.44% of the vote]

Similarly, opposition to I-502 was declining, from 40.1% earlier in the month to 37.6% in the second half of the month. The figures suggest that undecided voters have been breaking in favor of the initiative.

The 55.4% support figure includes 48.7% who are "certain yes" voters, 4.3% who are "yes -- could change," and 2.8% who are "undecided -- leaning yes." The 37.6% "no" figure includes 35.5% "certain no" voters, 1.6% "no -- could change," and 0.5% who are "undecided -- leaning no." Some 6.8% of voters remained truly undecided, while 0.3% said they would not vote on I-502.

I-502 is winning majorities of every age group except seniors (44%), including nearly three out of four (74.8%) voters under 30. It is running strongly (63%) in the progressive, heavily populated Puget Sound area and among Democrats (69.1%), men (64.2%), and independents (60%). It is doing less well with women, although women supporters (48.0%) outnumber opponents (40.6).

One-third (33.4%) of those surveyed have already voted, the poll found.

Pollsters surveyed 722 registered voters between October 18 and 31. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.6%.

WA
United States

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