This is usually Lee’s beat, but I’m at Seattle City Hall and I’ll be live blogging a debate between John Toker of Sensible Washington and Alison Holcomb of New Approach Washington. They’ll be debating if I-502 is the right way to legalize marijuana. Also, a quick note about the link: it says to come in at 4th Ave, but the only entrance that was open was 5th; come on down if you’re interested.
6:58 We’re a few minutes away, and the room has a couple dozen people. More empty chairs than people. I don’t see Licata (who is moderating). Toker isn’t sitting at the table up front, but I wouldn’t recognize him if he is in the room.
7:01 Licata is here, and someone has come up to the podium and said we’ll be 10 to 15 minutes late for “hippie time.” Good to get the nonsense stoner jokes out of the way before the debate starts.
7:10 Looks like 40 or so people now and the room is fairly full in front. We’re going to start soon.
7:16 Each side will do opening arguments and then a response. Licata will then ask questions of the presenters that came from people and then audience questions.
7:25 Holcomb is first: Could be an incredibly historic moment. The debate isn’t about how we’re going to legalize marijuana. We only get the choice of yes or no on I-502. There is always a process and evolution, and we’re at a moment in time where we can sling a sledgehammer at the wall of marijuana prohibition and crack it open. The discussion of how do we legalize is academic until one state actually passes one. We can continue talking about it or we can continue talking about it. We can debate the specific compromises and provisions, but it is important that we not lose sight of the forest while we’re examining the trees. We’ve had an explosion of incarceration in the war on drugs in the country. Washington has moved in the right direction: Hempfest, the King County Bar, Sensible Seattle have pushed toward legalization. There will not be a marijuana legalization initiative in California, so it isn’t going to be an option this year. It did better than Meg Whitman at the ballot. Exit surveys discovered that had it been on the ballot this year, it would have been statistically tied. We have to think about why that is and we need to vote yes on 502 to take a step forward.
7:34 John Toker: yes that’s my name. I really wanted to support I-502. How can you come out against legalization? The simple answer is that it doesn’t legalize [corrected later, the original said legalizes, Carl] cannabis in Washington state. When you legalize, you can have as much as you want, you can share it, you can plant it. But I-502 decriminalizes without penalty. If you pass a joint to a friend, it’s still a class C felony. Pseudo legalization is better than what we have, but it’s not a good foundation. We’re not going to have storefronts. The federal government is going to come in and make storefronts stop. I don’t anticipate a single license being issued or see a dime. DUI provision is a problem. There isn’t a clear connection between THC in the blood and impairment, so we don’t want to put that into law. Your crash risk at 5 nanograms is the same as 0. This is bad for patients, but also for heavy users. You’re not going to get an impairment standard off the books once it’s on the books.
7:37 Holcomb’s rebuttal: If you have a proposal where I as an adult will be able to use, and buy that’s legalization. We can talk about Gregoire and we can talk about Arizona where the federal government has never said they’d arrest state workers. On the DUI issue, when you get to 5 nanograms or higher, you are at a higher risk to crash, and the reality is nobody wants impaired drivers on the road, and the voters are not going to ignore that.
7:40 Toker: please read up on the science. Alcohol effects the body in clear ways, and with marijuana we don’t know. Until we know how to measure that, we shouldn’t be going to courts. I’m not going to vote for 502 because I can’t look at patients and take away their driving privileges so I can feel safe with my ounce at home. I would love to come to a store and buy a tin of doobies, but we have attorneys from the US Government who say it isn’t going to happen. Let’s not tell the rest of the nation this is how you get it done.
7:42 Licata is asking questions on the DUI. New Approach WA fact sheet says there’s no impairment at 5 nanograms. Holcomb says it’s more to do with the way the graph looks like, but less than 5 nanograms is the same crash risk, and it goes up at 5 nanograms. This is better than 0 tolerance laws. Toker says evidence is not as good for a numerical limit as for alcohol.
7:48 There was a question about informed consent of a blood or breath test and if that’s going to change under the law. Holcomb says now if officers think impairment is alcohol they can’t do a blood test. We’ll probably move from blood tests to saliva swabs either way as they’re doing in other countries.
Toker says field sobriety test is still the best way to measure impairment. But this is problematic because it assumes you can see impairment from the blood.
8:00 Another question on DUI: Why not include an exclusion for patients. Holcomb: The science doesn’t support that distinction. Not all patients use cannabis the same way, and since not every patient is a heavy user. The political reality is The Seattle Times, The Tacoma News Tribune will say it’s a get out of jail free card for DUI.
Toker: The reason you see the inclusion is in the aftermath of prop 19 where the fear mongering around drug driving sunk it. It’s a political appeal to the middle. This is polls trumping policy. As patients, and as advocates when we’re explaining, we’re winning.
8:03 There are access questions, and Holcomb is making the point that the law doesn’t change medical marijuana, just people selling to adults. Toker says it doesn’t matter because licensing won’t happen. Holcomb says we will have dispensaries at the state, and even if Gregoire could do away with them, we’ll have licensing at the local level even if the state doesn’t.
8:12 We’re having audience questions. Wouldn’t repeal be better? This is a narrow decriminalization. Why cling to the idea that misinformation is the best way to write the law. Holcomb: The short answer is you have identified the problem: we have a culture that has been misinformed for decades, and that’s the population we have to ask to do something new. Most voters in 2006 didn’t realize we had a medical marijuana law and they didn’t know we had misdemeanor laws on the books. We did education all up until this year, and voters have moved a great deal, but where we are right now 55% support ballot title for 502. That’s not 70%, and the voters aren’t ready for full repeal. That’s how we did alcohol, but that’s not the culture. We’re not in the same place as we were with alcohol.
8:21 Chuck from Cannabis Defense Coalition. Asking about taxes. With the tax structure that 502 builds, the state will collect twice as much as the grower, and there will be a raise in price. You’re going to have 2 price points for medical and recreational marijuana. Holcomb: the tax structure is by percentage. The cost is high because there’s a risk cost so the prices will come down. You’ll see growers adjust their prices down because we’re in a capitalist society. Toker: I don’t think this means prohibition goes away, so prices won’t go down.
8:32 Mimi asked about patients who wants to drive. I am not impaired. I will be over the limit, but I am not impaired. A lot of patients don’t have bus service, and can’t walk. What’s the plan for people who aren’t allowed to drive? Holcomb: There have been marijuana users for a very long time. The law is that you can’t be pulled over if you’re not exhibiting impairment, and that won’t change with 502. A police officer can’t look at you to see your THC count. They’ll still have to have reasonable suspicion. People are in prison for less than 5 nanogram per millimeter. We have had 0 tolerance THC laws in this country. If we could expect a rash of people for cannabis DUI, we would have seen that by now.
8:42 Why is it a felony for two adults to pass a joint if it’s legalization? Holcomb: when is the last time you heard of someone arrested for passing a joint in Washington? The delivery offense is already on the books because people are selling marijuana. No police officer is going to waste time on people passing a joint.
8:47 A patient who was raided in 2010. The laws are not applied in the same manner in East and West in this state. Why should we believe it will be any different? Holcomb: Right now medical marijuana doesn’t make it legal to poses. After you’ve spent a night in jail, you can present an affirmative defense. It doesn’t play that way in Seattle, but it does in Okanogan County. The code needs to change, so people can posses anywhere in the state.
8:51 Closing arguments. Holcomb: These issues are going to be continued to be debated up to and after November 6. But ask yourself will you be in a better position to advocate your point of view if Washington State has said yes to legalization or not. There isn’t another option after 502.
Toker: It’s pretty clear we’ve already lost if you vote yes or no with the DUI clause. We’re not going to get the chance to really change things. It’s prohibition 2.0. You’re going to have to say to patients you’re going to have to sacrifice your driving rights for me to have an ounce. Alison has put out a good faith effort: There are good steps forward, but there is a step backward.
9:02 Hopefully I did a good job conveying this. I’m glad we’ve been able to have the conversation. A quick reading back over this, I think I gave Holcomb more time than she took, and that’s not me editorializing but the fact that she often spoke first, and I can’t type as fast as they spoke. I came in leaning toward the initiative, and I’m still there.