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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

November 5, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Unlikely support and opposition for Initiative 502

Initiative 502, which would legalize marijuana use, is on the Nov. 6th ballot in Washington state, but its supporters are not who you’d expect.

SEATTLE — Washington may soon become one of the first states to pass an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana use.

King County Sergeant Cindi West believes that keeping marijuana outlawed is a waste of money and resources that could better be used to prosecute more harmful crime (Photo by MJ Hoecherl / UW Election Eye).

If passed by the voters tomorrow, the initiative would license and regulate marijuana production, distribution and possession for persons over 21. A sales tax of 25 percent would be enforced on all sales and a new DUI standard would also be established, much like the present alcohol DUI standard. Marijuana is currently the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.
Among the groups in support of I-502 is a likely one: young voters, and a seemingly unlikely one: King County law enforcement.

Ironically, when state legislators introduced the initiative last summer, they anticipated much of the support to come from medical marijuana businesses and activists, but that has not been the case.

Businesses that sell medical marijuana and their customers are those that are most strongly opposed to the initiative. They say that the regulations of the drug’s DUI standard would cause users to fail days after smoking, which is not consistent with an alcohol-related DUI.

Kate Borgnes is a University of Washington student who plans to vote in favor of I-502. (M.J. Hoecherl / UW Election)

Opponents also claim that the initiative would not generate nearly as much money for the state as supporters have said it will.

But according to the Office of Financial Management, I-502′s new 25 percent marijuana tax combined with retail sales tax would generate more than a half billion dollars in new tax revenue annually.

It’s not surprising that many college students support I-502.

“People are going to [use] regardless,” said third-year University of Washington student Shawn Tramble.

“They have and will continue to do so. The fact that we can start to tax it will one, reduce usage and two, allow the government to benefit from it.”

Kate Borgnes, another UW student, agrees that the initiative should pass, but from a different perspective. “I think that alcohol is a lot more dangerous than marijuana because it is a lot easier to overdose on alcohol,” said Borgnes. “I think the decriminalization of drugs is an important step because so much time is wasted on stopping marijuana when I personally think it could be spent doing more productive things.”

But Steve Sarich, a spokesperson for “No On I-502,” says that college students are the ones that will suffer the most if the initiative is passed, citing a National Institutes of Health study released this past April that says THC levels can be detected in plasma for up to 30 days after using marijuana.

“It means that if they smoke today and get pulled over a month from now, it will still show up on the DUI test if a cop pulls you over,” Sarich says.

He stresses that college students, specifically, need to understand this because they have so much at stake. “If you’re in college and you get charged with something like this, even though you weren’t actually impaired at the time you tested positive like you would be with alcohol, you’ll lose your Pell Grant, you’ll lose your scholarships, it will negatively impact everything you have going.”

The No On I-502 Treasurer, Poppy Sidhu, said that she experienced the consequences Sarich described firsthand when she was a student at Western Washington University last spring.

“I was a college student at Western until I got arrested for a drug-related crime. I have never even been to court for it and they took away my student funding within 24 hours and I’ve been out of school ever since,” she said. “College students really need to know about the consequences they could face if this passes.”

Sergeant Cindi West of the King County Sheriff’s Office [full disclosure: where I currently intern] supports I-502 because she says it’s in alignment with law enforcement’s priorities.

“As time has gone on, we’ve enforced it less and less. But, it still takes up a lot of manpower and money when we do enforce it,” said West. “It’s just not worth the effort.”

Comments | More in State | Topics: I-502, law enforcement, marijuana

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