Washington and Oregon both legalized medical marijuana in 1998. Since then, there’s been amendments, initiatives, petitions, and proposals. Here’s a breakdown of the laws in our neighboring states, and a look at what lessons Washington can learn from Oregon as we consider legalization.
PORTLAND — During our second day in Portland, with temperatures nearing 90 degrees making it feel more like July than May, the UWEE team found a man collecting signatures at the Saturday Market. He was advocating for two initiatives that would make the Oregon marijuana law more lenient. We had seen similar efforts all over town.
Marijuana legalization will also be one of the hot-button issue in Washington this election season: Initiative-502 will be on your ballot in November.
According to New Approach Washington, a group supporting the ballot initiative, I-502 “would license and regulate marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons over twenty-one; remove state-law criminal and civil penalties for activities that it authorizes; tax marijuana and marijuana sales; and earmark marijuana-related revenues.”
Phew — that’s a mouthful. In simpler terms, I-502 would legalize marijuana in Washington.
Well, sort of.
Sensible Washington is another organization supporting marijuana legalization, and they have concerns about I-502. Douglas Hiatt, the chairman, says his organization is against the ballot initiative.
“It’s not legalization,” said Hiatt, “it doesn’t remove one single law making marijuana illegal. It just makes it not a crime if you follow these rules.”
But the bigger issue for Sensible Washington is the DUI provisions, Driving Under the Influence. If you’re under 21, there will be a zero tolerance policy under I-502.
“That’s just unfair,” said Hiatt, “I wouldn’t vote for it if I was a [young] voter.”
Hiatt was initially part of the group who drafted I-502, but left after finding that he disagreed with too many points the other contributors made.
Washington Democratic State Representative Mary Lou Dickerson was one of the legislators who endorsed I-502. When doing so, she said that the issue needed to be brought up as an initiative because it probably wouldn’t pass otherwise. She said many Washington legislators don’t want to take a position on the issue because it’s too risky.
Meanwhile, Governor Christine Gregoire asked the federal government to reclassify marijuana last year. That is unlikely to be part of the platform for the next Washington Governor.
“Rob [McKenna] is the current Attorney General,” said McKenna spokesman Charles McCray, “and he sees a real concerning liability for the state to legalize a substance that is still … federally prohibited… [But] he has mentioned he’d like to see harmonization between federal and state [regulations].”
Inslee on the other hand, “has a lot of the same concerns that parents, particularly those his age have,” according to Inslee spokesman Sterling Clifford.
So what about our neighbor Oregon? Oregon and Washington both legalized medical marijuana in 1998, so what’s the debate like there?
Actually, they’re not that different. Oregon’s regulation is a bit looser than Washington’s, but nothing jaw dropping. (For a detailed comparison of the two, please scroll down to the end of the article.)
While we were in Portland, we decided to get some political candidates to tell us what they thought about marijuana legalization.
Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith will be competing for the position of mayor come November.
Hales is for medical marijuana, but he says that “it’s not really an issue” in Portland.
“So far, I would say it’s been kind of a yawner as an issue,” said Hales, “the broad availability of medical marijuana… hasn’t caused noticeable problems in the community.”
He added that he thinks legalization is the direction Oregon will go towards “because once you have broad availability of medical marijuana … it calls into questions why we’re regulating it so much… It starts to reduce the boogeyman factor.”
Smith, though, was a bit more weary about commenting on the issue.
“It’s clear that, as a country, we spend way too much on enforcing minor non-dangerous … drug crimes,” he said, but “I think we also want to be careful of jumping from the prohibition frying pan into a Joe Camel for marijuana fryer.”
One issue that Smith raised was “tension between employers and people who have medical marijuana cards,” though he says a solution for that would be tricky to find.
Mind you, Portland is probably not representative of Oregon’s average opinion on marijuana legalization. We tried to get a hold of Dwight Holton, the Attorney General candidate in Oregon who is against marijuana legalization, but he didn’t respond to our calls or emails.
Washington voters are also torn on the issue. According to the Public Policy Polling report in February, 47% of voters say they’ll vote for I-502, and 39% say no. But that’s pretty close. If it passes, I-502 will put Washington ahead of Oregon on the path to legalizing marijuana. But whatever the outcome is, the debates are far from over so long as the federal government bans it.
(Washington Dept. of Health)
(Oregon Health Advisory)
|Cutting to the chase, is marijuana legal?
|Generally, marijuana possession is illegal in Washington. There is state protection for possessing marijuana for qualified patients. No federal protection.
|Marijuana sales and purchases are illegal. Marijuana possession is protected in the state for those with a medical marijuana card. No federal protection.
|How do you qualify to get medical marijuana?
|There’s a list of qualifications, but ultimately a healthcare provider registered in WA must diagnose you.
|There’s a long list of qualifications here. But to give a few examples: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, etc.
|What does having a marijuana card give you?
|No cards — all you need is a written recommendation from a healthcare provider.The document will give you protection from state law enforcement.
|It gives you protection from state law enforcement if you are caught with possession of marijuana.
|No, dispensaries are illegal.
|No, dispensaries are illegal. (One of the initiatives in the signature gathering stage is an attempt to allow dispensaries and more large scale operations in Oregon).
|Where do you buy marijuana?
|There’s no place in Washington where you can buy or sell marijuana legally. Patients must have their own provider.
|There’s no place in Oregon where you can buy or sell marijuana legally. Patients must have their own growers.
|Who can grow/provide marijuana? How much?
|Designated provider must be 18 years or older and the patient must say they’re the provider in writing. A patient can be their own provider. A provider can only have one patient.
|Aside from some regulations (ie. Age, etc.) anyone can be a grower — AS LONG AS a card-holding patient identifies you as one. A patient can be their own grower as well. Reimbursement for the cost of supply and utilities are allowed, but growers can’t take any more money than that (no legal profit for growers).
Growers can have up to six mature plants per patient. Can have multiple patients.
|What’s the limit on possession?
|A qualifying patient or designated provider can have up to a 60-day supply of marijuana on them (24oz. + 15 plants).
|A qualifying patient or grower can have 6 mature plants and 24oz of usable marijuana or a combined total of 18 seedlings.
Contributions by: A.V. Crofts, Alicia Halberg, Betsy Hauenstein, Alex Stonehill, and Elizabeth Wiley.