Both sides favor legalization, divided on method
Jayna Smith, Assistant News Editor - October 3, 2012
Round three of “the great Initiative 502 debate” took place in the SURC Tuesday night with six men, each qualified to argue their side of the issue. They disagreed on most of the proposed law but they all agreed on one thing: Current regulations regarding marijuana are not serving their purpose.
“We all have an agreement on reform of marijuana laws,” said moderator Nelson Pichardo, sociology professor.
I-502 proposes regulating, licensing and taxing marijuana. If passed it would remove state, criminal and civil laws barring the production, distribution and possession for anyone over 21.
Those in support of I-502 were Mark Cook, Roger Roffman and Alex Newhouse. On the opposing side were Douglas Hiatt, Arthur West and Steve Sarich.
The sides differed because of how the initiative is crafted. The teams did not agree on the most basic tenet of the initiative. Those in favor of the initiative contend it would make the possession, sale, distribution and use of marijuana legal.
But those against it say it won’t.
“Contrary to what Mr. Cook says, 502 is not legalization,” Hiatt said.
He is in favor of legalizing all drugs, arguing that there aren’t many people more adamant about it than him. He simply doesn’t agree with the terms of I-502.
“Legalization is on the ballot? I wish to hell it was, but it’s not,” Sarich said. “If you want to legalize something you must remove all the laws that made it illegal in the first place. This obviously doesn’t do that.”
Alex Newhouse said his decision to support the legalization of marijuana developed over time. He rests some of his decision to support I-502 on having children. He said he is concerned with marijuana being easily accessible to youth. He believes that I-502 provides protections and security regarding underage drug use.
“Nothing changes your perspective on this initiative more than having your own children,” Newhouse said.
A marijuana activist since the late 1970s, Roger Roffman also contended that the initiative will protect public safety, and will funnel the illegal funds now spent on marijuana back into the community by way of taxes.
He listed four main prongs that the initiative would focus on if passed: education, prevention, treatment and monitoring the new law for effectiveness. He believes that passing I-502 would set the framework for higher levels of government to follow suit.
“It won’t be very long before the federal government will follow the lead of Washington state,” Roffman said.
The most intense disagreement started once the issue of how DUIs would be determined arose. Minors would have a “zero tolerance” level. That means that minors must test at 0.00 percent for marijuana or they can be given a DUI. The current legal limit for alcohol and minors is 0.2 percent.
“You’re going to be able to have an ounce, just better not have it in your system,” Sarich said.
Those against I-502 believe the initiative is lining teens up for a case they won’t be able to defend.
“If you think these provisions are going to fall harder on kids of color, then you’re right,” Hiatt said.
The Washington State Patrol requested $2 million more to the budget, Sarich said, to train officers on how to handle drug-impaired drivers.
“I don’t think that this initiative is for the people,” Arthur West said.
After admitting that he has been a marijuana user almost 30 years, he said that I-502 makes him scared.
He said that the issue with setting a legal limit on marijuana blood levels is that, unlike alcohol, drugs affect each person differently.
Some people have a high tolerance for weed and are capable of driving a car under the influence, West said, while others are easily impaired.
The legal limit for drivers over the age of 21 would be equal to or less than five nanograms per milliliter of active blood THC.
“The only way out of this mess is science -- and vigorous science,” Hiatt said.
Both sides ended with their beliefs asserted, but there were some in attendance left with questions. “Please just read the initiative for yourself,” Mark Cook said.