Two big announcements over the past 48 hours regarding the eventual death of marijuana prohibition:
– For the first time ever, a bill to end marijuana prohibition is being introduced in Congress. Barney Frank and Ron Paul are introducing a bill that would allow states to make the drug legal, while only focusing on interstate smuggling. I doubt the drug will go anywhere, but it’s certainly a milestone that shows how quickly things are starting to change.
– Here in Washington, a group called New Approach Washington is launching an effort to pass a marijuana legalization initiative. The group is led by former U.S. Attorney John McKay, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, and travel show host Rick Steves. The initiative represents the opposite strategy from what Sensible Washington has been trying to do with I-1149. While Sensible Washington focused on creating an initiative that puts the federal government in a difficult situation (by removing all state penalties), New Approach Washington focused on creating something that they feel is more certain to win a statewide vote.
As a result, New Approach Washington appears to have the big money necessary to get on the ballot. Their initiative is a different type of initiative, which once it collects the necessary signatures, goes directly to the Legislature first – who can pass it. If they don’t pass it, then it goes to a statewide vote in November 2012.
From what’s been released so far (I haven’t had a chance to read the text of the initiative yet), what they’ve put together is mostly workable, but has some drawbacks. For starters, private growing would become illegal (with an exception for medical growers). There’s no real rationale for this – establishing a personal cultivation limit would be smarter. This is like banning people from brewing their own beer at home.
Second, and more seriously, is their attempt to extend the DUI laws to marijuana. While this may play well politically, the science is not there yet to provide an accurate measurement of impairment. Even worse, people who have very high levels of THC in their system (usually people who use the drug medicinally), don’t become impaired at all when they use it. This was highlighted recently in Colorado when Denver Westword pot critic William Breathes tested nearly three times the 5ng/ml limit while completely sober.
As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the state’s medical marijuana community refuses to assist in this campaign. But if New Approach Washington is to be believed, they have the numbers to win anyway. And they probably do. Voters are ready to start treating marijuana like alcohol, and this initiative moves us a step closer to having an overly-regulated, somewhat-inefficient mess for providing the sale of marijuana to adults – just like what we have for hard liquor.