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Radical Rant: Legalization Always Trumps Prohibition

Russ Belville

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When someone who allegedly supports marijuana legalization starts telling you how much worse off cannabis consumers will be if the legalization they don’t like wins the election, don’t believe the hype.

I recall quite vividly when the No on I-502 people in Washington told me back in 2012 that I should vote against legalization. The problem with this legalization, they warned, is that it came with a per se DUID standard, where detection of 5 mg of active THC in blood would mean an automatic DUID conviction, regardless of impairment. They explained that cops would merely replace possession arrests with DUID arrests and that patrolling outside Seattle Hempfest would be like “shooting hippie fish in a barrel.”

So, alcohol DUIDs went down by 3,000 and drug DUIDs went down about 300 in the first year of legalization in Washington.  Even if all 1,357 drug DUID arrests from 2013 were for marijuana, those would still be just one-fourth of how many marijuana arrests didn’t happen thanks to I-502.

I was also told that sure, possession of an ounce would be legal under I-502, but people with more than an ounce would still be criminals. Furthermore, if you didn’t buy your ounce from a licensed store, it would be illegal, and you’d be arrested for that.

But Washington State misdemeanor arrests declined from 5,531 to just 120 from 2012 to 2013. That’s not just the less than one ounce (or 28.4g) that was legalized, but also the between 29g and 40g that is still a misdemeanor. And there were zero arrests for possession of non-store marijuana, since the law doesn’t distinguish where the marijuana came from.

But what about the felony arrests, like, for growing? The No on I-502 activists lamented the fact that there is no home growing allowed in Washington, and therefore, there would be a massive increase in felony prosecutions as these illegal home growers were busted.

There isn’t a precise way of determining that online, but as I perused the Washington State Statistical Analysis Center, I found that Washington reported 10,672 “drug crimes” in 2012 and just 2,298 in 2013. Subtract out the 5,531 and 120 misdemeanor arrests for weed, and we’re left with 5,141 non-misdemeanor-weed drug crimes in 2012 and 2,178 non-misdemeanor-weed drug crimes in 2013. We can’t tease out the felony marijuana from the felony and misdemeanor other drugs, but still, all drug crime arrests dropping by more than half seems to suggest that even felony marijuana arrests dropped in 2013.

These massive drops in arrests under legalization are really no surprise if you think it through. Cars and marijuana have existed long before legalization, and we never saw massive amounts of DUID arrests before. And when you legalize even an ounce, drug dogs that could discover your pound are retired, and the probable cause tools cops use to bust grows based on pot smell, sight and accessories are no longer usable.

The No on I-502 people also warned me that if Washington State passed legalization without home grow, it would never grant that right to adults later because the state would not want competition for its massively-taxed recreational marijuana.

For now, there is still no home grow in Washington, but bills were filed last session to grant that right, and with Oregon legalizing recreational marijuana with home grow on July 1, pressure will build for Olympia to follow suit.

If you can’t grow your own, No on I-502 people cautioned, you’ll be forced to buy marijuana that is taxed 25 percent at three levels, plus the state and local sales tax, and you’ll be stuck with $600 ounces.

Indeed, when the stores first opened, there were sales at up to $25 per gram (times 28.4 grams and you get $710 an ounce). But since the last harvest, Washington’s experienced a marijuana glut and a dramatic decrease in price. I recently purchased a half-ounce of mid-grade marijuana for $99 in Vancouver, and the high-grade ounces are going for $250, tax included.

Finally, No on I-502 predicted that if legalization passed without home grow and with a per se DUID, it would set a precedent that the following legalization states would adopt.

Wrong again, as both Oregon and Alaska passed legalization in 2014 with home grow and without a per se DUID, and all the proposals likely to be on ballots in 2015 and 2016 don’t follow Washington’s lead, either. In fact, it is more like Washington is now following Oregon’s lead, as their legislature has proposed both adding home grow (like Oregon) and reducing their taxes to just one tax of either 30 percent or 37 percent (to compete with Oregon’s 20 percent).

Legalization always trumps prohibition. Legalization is always better than a consumer’s arrest or a patient’s death. Don’t ever let the legalization naysayers convince you to vote with the DEA, the Drug Czar, the state police, the local cops, the rehabs, the drug courts and the prison guards that need you to remain a criminal in order to fund their businesses.

(Photo Courtesy of ForceChange.com)

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