I’ve been pretty critical of I-502, the initiative that legalizes possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for those 21 and over and regulates its production and sale. I’m not happy about the unscientific DUI provisions (which I think will be abused in order to continue the typical drug war harassment of minority youths and others), and I worry that the high taxes imposed within the supply chain – along with the continued ban on non-medical private growing – will continue to encourage a rogue “medical” marijuana industry, where sketchy doctors get paid to put recreational smokers on the path towards cheaper tax-free homegrown marijuana. If we’re going to be pioneers and establish a regulatory model that can serve as an example for other states, that makes me nervous.
Those problems aside, passing I-502 this November has the potential to be a massive game-changer in the history of drug prohibition in this country. The conventional wisdom is that any statewide vote to legalize marijuana will go as far as statewide efforts to legalize hemp farming (which is legal in several U.S. states, but still successfully pre-empted by federal law). On the other hand, we’ve seen statewide efforts to legalize medical marijuana successfully push back against the federal ban to the point where dispensaries have become public and even prominent.
Passing I-502 brings that conflict out in the open, and there’s good reason to believe that the dynamics would be similar to what’s happened with medical marijuana. As legalized medical marijuana became a reality in a number of states, it became clear to public officials that this legal market should be regulated, rather than continually driven underground. This led to greater and greater pushback from state and local governments. And even though both idiots running for governor this year oppose I-502, this reality will be clear to them if it passes and there are hundreds of thousands of law-abiding recreational marijuana users who constitute a very above-ground marketplace.
I’ve been disgusted at times by both sides in the I-502 debate. Pro I-502 voices have often been far too dismissive of the potential problems with the DUI provisions and have been far too prone to make things up about the folks in the medical marijuana community who oppose it. Opposition to I-502 in the medical marijuana community has very little to do with greed. It has far more to do with paranoia.
Folks who’ve been staring into the gun barrel of the drug war apparatus for years see the numerous aspects of I-502 that are meant to appeal to moderate voters and instead see loopholes that will allow the persecution of marijuana users to continue. As a result, the anti I-502 crowd has devolved into some grand delusions and have completely lost touch with the more nuanced reality of this initiative.
This initiative arguably isn’t crafted as well as it should have been, but it still has the potential to make important history this fall. In some ways it already has, by picking up the kinds of endorsements that these types of initiatives normally don’t receive. But a big win in November is the kind of endorsement that elected officials here and in D.C. won’t be able to ignore.