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I-502 gains expected opposition, surprising ally this week

September 11, 2012

A measure that would legalize recreational marijuana use in Washington state picked up one thumbs up and one thumbs down this week.

A ballot initiative that would legalize but strictly regulate recreational use of marijuana in Washington state picked up a predictable thumbs down along with a surprising thumbs up this week.

Not surprisingly, the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention formally announced on Monday its opposition to I-502, noting that marijuana use is the top reason that teens enter treatment in Washington. Also, according to a statement released by the organization,  students carrying a D average were four times more likely to have used pot in the past year than students with an A average.

“The anticipated public health costs of marijuana legalization are significant and are not sufficiently appreciated by the general public or by public policymakers,” the group’s website says. “Physicians and other health professionals must become more aware of the anticipated undesirable outcomes of marijuana legalization and encourage public education on these facts.”

I-502 would allow – but heavily tax — sales of up to one ounce of marijuana from state-licensed pot stores to buyers over the age of 21. It would also beef up driving-under-the-influence laws related to marijuana.

It is the first marijuana-related initiative on the statewide ballot in 14 years.

Advocates argue marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol, which is legal but regulated, and that taxing the drug could be a source of revenue for cash-strapped social programs.

According to the WASAVP website, however, such thinking, “…ignore(s) the many associated costs which will quickly swallow the revenue described. These include increased utilization of the drug at younger ages with associated addictive and physical illnesses, diminished productivity caused by cognitive abnormalities and increased drugged driving and associated morbidity/mortality.”

Meanwhile, however, the ballot measure picked up an unexpected endorsement from the Alliance for Children, a Seattle-based child-advocacy group.

While it does not support use of the drug, the Alliance argues that inequitable enforcement of existing laws outweigh the actual problems.

“Current marijuana enforcement policy is failing children and families,” wrote Alliance Spokesman Jon Gould in a press release on Monday. “Decades of study have proven the unequal treatment of communities of color in the criminal justice system, especially in enforcement of marijuana policy. Washington’s kids pay a terrible price for these persistent racial disparities: Children are separated from their parents and families are trapped in poverty when adults are denied access to educational and economic opportunities.”

Marijuana usage is similar between whites and African-Americans, but blacks are three times as likely to be arrested, charged and convicted of marijuana-related crimes, Gould said.

“Public policy should move us closer toward justice and equity,” he said. “Initiative 502 is necessary to eliminate one source of the impact of racial disparities that are currently harming Washington’s children, particularly children of color. Kids shouldn’t bear the burden of system failures.”

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