A statewide I-502 backlash or reasonable pushback? You decide.

Marijuana. Just the mention of the word conjures up stereotypical associations: a bleary-eyed dreadlocked hippie in a tie-dye, a teenage slacker lounging on a sofa, bong in hand, or a shady drug cartel mule peddling the illicit shrubbery across a porous border crossing.

For a certain group of people, however, the word marijuana immediately floods their minds with apparitions of jewel encrusted dollar signs. The recent passage of quasi-legalization measures in Washington and Colorado have resulted in what could be characterized as a green-rush.

“Potrepreneurs” have been frothing at the mouth while contemplating the new emerging market that legal weed promises, practically exclaiming “there’s gold in them there buds!”  Many of them are already in the business, and they anticipate emerging from the harsh, cold darkness of the black market into the warm sunshine of a white market.  Time will tell how many of them get left behind.

If money actually makes the world go round there is no doubt that the globe is spinning at a greater velocity than it did just a mere few months ago, with the new prospect of legitimate commerce in a legal marijuana industry. Groups like The National Cannabis Industry Association have sprung up, eager to manufacture a new image for the nefarious vegetable.

In fact, the current condition of our stumbling economy has been a perfect storm for reform. As a full-time cannabis reform activist I have long been frustrated, demoralized even, by the stark reality that speaking of the social inequities, wholesale injustice, and routine cruel mistreatment of American citizens leaves most people unmoved.  But one mention of the potential revenue that legalization could precipitate in terms of tax dollars and retail sales evokes great interest.  Many closed minds seem to suddenly pry open when the subject of making money from a legal open cannabis market comes up. Well, to quote Malcolm X, we’ll legalize “by any means necessary.”

The reality is that in every community in America there exists a healthy black market operating around illegal pot sales. There are few drive-by shootings, and no dead bodies, which is why you rarely hear about the underground pot economy. This has been the case for many, many years. There is so much illegal pot being grown, sold, and consumed that cannabis has been designated as the number one cash crop in several states – while it is still illegal. Imagine what potential lies in a legal white-market for above the ground sales of the sticky green substance.

But with all the interest from venture capitalists and out of state investors there are very few entrepreneurs willing to dive directly into the retail marijuana business. The attorneys I have spoken with tell me that the vast majority of the start-up businesses being created as a result of I-502 are focusing on ancillary goods and services. Intimidated by several factors, including the inability to open a business account at a bank and trepidation that the federal government will intervene, investors are focusing on products such as point-of-sale systems, safes, containers, security services, and industrial strength grow-lights.

During the I-502 campaign the cannabis reform community was divided on the initiative.  There was much controversy over various components of the legislation; chiefly the limits set by the DUI provision, no home production, and a multi-pronged taxing scheme. Others opposed the initiative based upon their contention that it is written in a way as to be easily superseded by federal law. Of course, that issue may only come up if the federal government files a lawsuit in federal court to stop the implementation of I-502 in Washington.

It will be interesting to see how many of the initiative’s proponents are satisfied with the new law after it has been implemented.  It has recently been reported that under I-502’s zoning there are only a smattering of places in Seattle, for example, that a cannabis store would be allowed, chiefly in the industrial areas. The reason for this is the framers of the initiative followed federal guidelines in an attempt to stave off the ire of the feds.

Also, it is being reported that there has already been somewhat of a backlash in areas of the state other than Seattle. There are moratoriums in place and being considered in various parts of the state, and in an amazing display of compassion the cities of Tacoma and Everett have declared medical marijuana a nuisance. This is the new trend as towns and municipalities move away from the criminal courts, where there are now constitutional protections, to civil courts where they still hold the upper hand.

There is an apartment complex on Mercer Island that has banned pot smoking, but they did not stop there.  They actually tried to tell a tenant that he was not allowed to orally ingest his medical cannabis in his apartment. They have since rescinded that absurd directive. The man is a veteran, and he takes cannabis to treat symptoms of injuries he received in service to our country—ironically, “fighting for our freedom.”

There appears to be other people who think that it is a good idea to restrict the vulnerable among us from using cannabis in any form at any time.  State Representative Jan Angel, 26th District (R – Port Orchard), has introduced a bill to make it a requirement for anyone receiving assistance to pass a drug-test.  She has included marijuana, even though Washington voters have legalized its use, because it is illegal under state law.

So, Representative Angel wants to penalize anyone on public assistance who has in any way ingested an illegal substance, including medical marijuana, even though a huge portion of legal medical marijuana patients are so sick they are on assistance. Ah, compassion in action.

“We just want to make sure that on entitlement programs that we are feeding children and families and not a drug habit,” Angel said of House Bill 1190. While there may be noble intent behind the bill, there appears to be no exception for state legal medical marijuana patients, or for anyone on assistance who may be offered a toke by some generous acquaintance.  God forbid anyone on welfare gets a toke of pot. However, they will be forced to take all their prescribed pharmaceutical drugs or benefits can be cut off.

And Rep. Angel works for the citizens of Washington State, not the federal government. Why she feels it is OK to usurp the will of the voters here and sabotage access to medical marijuana for the poorest of us is curious. Does she also plan to test welfare recipients for alcohol and tobacco? Of course not. There is no justice in the War on Drugs.

This is the trend. Some criminal defense attorneys in this state are indicating that multiple jurisdictions appear to be preparing to go after medical marijuana with a vengeance. They predict that these towns and cities appear to be preparing to interpret I-502 as decreeing that only state licensed marijuana grow operations are legal. That means that medical marijuana patients and collectives will be left out in the cold. The same legal beagles think that medical marijuana dispensaries will be treated in an identical manner, despite the fact that a different majority of voters implemented medical marijuana into state law in 1998.

Some areas are already ignoring the community garden directive (Washington RCW 69.51A.085) which allows legal patients to employ community grow operations and distribute medical marijuana throughout their collective. The other way that communities could dance around I-502 implementation is by using zoning laws. They would just zone marijuana stores into oblivion. And it is not just the rural counties. New zoning restrictions are reportedly being created for Seattle as well.

Since nobody has ever dismantled marijuana prohibition before, it is hard to make a general assessment about the effectiveness and practicality of I-502. The jury is still out on the initiative’s impacts. Clearly, an international media grassfire has been ignited by the two states legalizing possession and an unprecedented momentum has energized the national discussion about reform. What remains to be seen is what the local implications will be for the voters who passed the two citizen initiatives and how satisfied they will be with the final result.

– Vivian McPeak, from Seattle PI blog post.