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What is Initiative 502?

(As it appeared on the ballot according to

“Initiative 502: This measure 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 sales; and earmark marijuana-related revenues.”

In a close win of 55 to 45, Initiative 502 has passed (in Washington and Colorado) and will now be taxed and regulated in a similar fashion to cigarettes and alcohol. Here are some things you should know about the rules and regulation of Initiative 502.

  • Adults ages 21 and up may have legal possession of marijuana.
  • Selling marijuana to minors will remain a felony.
  • Washington farmers and businesses will be allowed to apply for special licenses to grow and sell marijuana.
  • Marijuana will only be available in stores that sell no other products, are located at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, and parks, and do not display marijuana in a way that is visible to the public.
  • State employees will not be involved in growing, distributing, or selling marijuana.
  • State agencies will regulate numbers of stores per county, operating hours, security, quality control, labeling, and other health and safety issues.
  • Restricts advertising and bans advertising in places frequented by youth.
  • Prohibits public use and display of marijuana.
  • Does not allow home growing for people who are not medical marijuana patients.
  • According to the state Office of Financial Management, a new 25% marijuana excise tax, combined with retail sales and B&O tax, will generate more than half a billion dollars in new revenue each year.
  • 40% of the new revenues will go to the state general fund and local budgets.
  • 60% will be dedicated to substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care.
  • A new marijuana DUI standard that operates like the alcohol DUI standard will be established.
  • I-502 sets a science-based limit of 5ng/ml active THC blood concentration.
  • DUI standard applies only to active THC, which drops below 5 ng/mL within a matter of hours, not the inactive metabolite carboxy-THC that can be detected days, or even weeks, after last use.
  • Police officers still need proof of impairment to make an arrest and take a driver to a medical professional for a blood draw – just like current law.
  •  I-502 does not change Washington’s medical marijuana law – patients still may grow their own marijuana.

Here are some legal points to consider made by criminal defense lawyer Steve Graham:

“1.  Pending Cases
I-502 does not mean that all pending marijuana possession charges will be dismissed.  By its terms, I-502 doesn’t apply retroactively.  However, prosecutors will be left wondering whether there is any point in continuing prosecutions of simple possessions of marijuana.  Jurors are already ambivalent about having to come to court for small, seemingly-harmless marijuana cases.  If Initiative-502 passes, jurors will really be confused about why the government is even bothering to prosecute.  However, you can expect many police officers to continue to cite people for marijuana possession right up to December 6th when the law goes into effect.

2.  Traffic Stops
The passage of I-502 will not mean the end of harassment for marijuana users.  Rather, the battleground for the war on drugs will merely shift.  If you are pulled over for traffic infractions (such as speeding or a broken tail light), you can expect an increased interest by the police in determining whether or not you are “under the influence” of marijuana.  Initiative 502 places a legal limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter for THC in a person’s blood.  When I first started working as a lawyer in criminal courts in 1994, “marijuana DUI” were almost unheard of.  However, I have defended more and more such cases in the last few years, and the WSP has requested 2 million dollars in extra funding just to enforce I-502′s new 5 nanogram limit.  Many of the arrests for Marijuana DUI will be based on such spurious evidence as the “green tongue” phenomenon.

3.  Medical Marijuana Cards
The passage of I-502 will likely be of some help to medical marijuana patients involved in battles over the legitimacy of their medical card.   Many people charged with possession of marijuana have out-of-state medical cards that aren’t being recognized in Washington.  Likewise many medical marijuana patients find themselves in court because their medical card was expired.  I-502 is likely to help patients fight their legal battles.  This is particularly true in more conservative jurisdictions that have been construing medical marijuana laws very narrowly.

4.   Selling Marijuana / Buying Marijuana
Pete Holmes, the city attorney for Seattle has promised that the passage of Initiative 502 will mean that “adults will be able to buy an ounce of marijuana at a retail store confident that it was produced in Washington free of herbicides pesticides, mold or other contaminants.  502 will thus be a boon to Washington agriculture.”  This will not happen in the short term, and will never occur until the federal government liberalizes its policies toward marijuana.  Despite the limited decriminalization in Washington, the possession or selling marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Anyone attempting to open up a “state-licensed” store will face overwhelming legal obstacles, and will face federal prosecution.  If you have a current pending charge for the delivery of marijuana, I-502 will likely not be of much assistance to you.

5.   Marijuana Possession at the U.S. Border
When travelers are searched at the border entering from Canada, the possession of marijuana can lead to charges in state court, and this can be an absolute nightmare for travelers.  Although it is a felony under federal law to import even small quantities of marijuana, these charges are almost always referred to State court for prosecution. With the passage of Initiative 502, the State courts will have difficulty prosecuting such cases. It is unlikely that the federal prosecutors will bother with such small amounts. People caught with small amounts of marijuana at the border will likely face a small civil penalty and will be served with papers barring the person from ever re-entering the U.S.”

Is this really the best thing for the overall health of Americans?

In my personal opinion I don’t feel that people should see the legalization of Marijuana use for patients-only or recreational use as an endorsement of marijuana as a safe drug. Marijuana like any other mood altering drug can and will be abused and people can become addicted. The legalization of marijuana is just another step taken towards desensitizing people towards the real dangers of this drug. Those using marijuana might see this as a victory gained but the real issue still remains. What about those people who become addicted, whose lives are dictated by the consumption of this drug? It’s not drastic to say that marijuana is a sinister drug that slowly sheds years off of people’s lives. Heavy users of marijuana often find themselves depressed, anxious and with low immune systems.

How do you feel about the passing of Initiative 502? Do you think marijuana will be legalized nationwide one day? Please share your thoughts.

If you or a loved one is in need of drug, alcohol or marijuana addiction treatment please give us a call at 800-951-6135.

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