“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” - Mark Twain
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Why was the room nearly empty on Sunday when St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral and the Central Lutheran Church decided to co-sponsor a public forum on I-502, the ballot measure to legalize marijuana in the state of Washington? We could blame it on the intermittent rain, which seems a poor excuse in this city. It may be because most people didn’t want to give up their Sunday afternoon to politics.
This close to the election, perhaps everyone has already made up their minds (though the number of undecided voters in the polls suggests otherwise, most undecideds are outside of Seattle). Regardless of why, most of the seats in Bloedel Hall at St. Mark’s were empty and the few that were filled weren’t occupied by those wishing to change their minds.
In a loose debate format, two representatives of the pro-502 group, New Approach Washington, and one member of the anti-502 group, the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, presented their perspectives and fielded questions about the potential harm, benefits, and legal ramifications of legalizing cannabis as the initiative intends. Including the event organizers and staff from the Capitol Hill Times, eight people sat in the audience during the hour of presentations.
Leading off was Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes of New Approach Washington. The Capitol Hill Times spoke to Holmes earlier this year to discuss the finer points of I-502. Much of his rhetoric was unchanged. He did appear more prepared to address a number of the most prominent, state-specific arguments against the initiative, though. Among them was the recent vote by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to reject I-502 as an organizational policy. Holmes points out that the vote, originally intended to be by secret ballot, was changed to a public “yea or nay” vote.
Understanding how this rendered the vote moot requires some explanation. Essentially, sitting public officials at the state and local levels incur some risk by openly supporting a measure like I-502 because, while it would change the legality of marijuana in Washington, it would run counter to federal law. This would result in law enforcement officials implicitly supporting the contradiction of U.S. law. By making the WASPC vote public, members were being asked to potentially implicate themselves with statements that could put their careers in jeopardy. As is often the case, many former law enforcement officials who no longer hold public positions have come out in favor of I-502, including Anne Levinson, who previously served as a Seattle Municipal Court Judge and the Seattle Deputy Mayor, and former FBI agent Charles Mandigo.
Derek Franklin was the speaker for the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention on Oct. 21. WASAVP is best known for attempting to combat I-1183, the recent ballot initiative that successfully privatized liquor sales in the state of Washington. The volunteer-driven non-profit group lobbies for tighter substance control legislation and is staffed by individuals like Franklin who come from the world of social work. Franklin himself has over two decades of experience as a family therapist and substance abuse councilor. Judging by the questions and comments of the audience at the forum, Franklin was in the minority for his desire to keep marijuana illegal.
“Your solution can’t be legalization if your goal is to protect children and reduce use,” Franklin said during the debate. The crux of his argument, which included a lengthy slide show presentation, was that legalizing marijuana would increase access to the substance for individuals under age 21, the minimum age listed for legal possession in I-502. Pete Holmes and his colleague at New Approach Washington, outreach director Tonia Winchester, took issue with many of Franklin’s assertions.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but did you suggest that we should revive Prohibition?” Holmes asked of his opponent. He was referring to a slide in Franklin’s presentation that claimed the prohibition of alcohol under the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act reduced crime, alcoholism, and the consumption of alcohol by minors, and that the law’s 13-year span was insufficient to determine the lasting social impact of banning alcohol.
One member of the audience also challenged Franklin’s assumptions. His name was Karl, and he was an 18-year-old senior at Ingraham High School. Franklin warned that legalizing marijuana would lead to “the social normalization of pot use” and increased usage by kids. On the topic of acceptance of marijuana, Karl said, “It’s already happening” without legalization, then later said, “If I go to the black market [for marijuana], they’re not asking for ID.”
A slight majority of Washington voters are likely to side with Karl when he files the first ballot of his life this November. Voting to Approve will allow the possession of a small amount of marijuana one month after the election and then institute a series of new laws over the next year allowing for the growth, processing, distribution, taxation, and regulation of marijuana in Washington. Polls show I-502 coming away with an approval vote by as many as ten points. The measure is overwhelmingly popular in Seattle with little to no opposition in Capitol Hill.