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A Critical Review Of Washington’s I-502 Initiative


washington state medical marijuanaFrom The ‘No On I-502’ Campaign

Initiative 502 has caused a rift in the cannabis reform movement. It never had to be this way. Here are a couple of quick, initial points that should have immediately set off alarms for those who wrote this initiative:

  • Some of the most renowned and respected organizations in the cannabis law reform movement have been fighting adamantly, for years, against the same type of limit mandated in Initiative 502. For example, the Marijuana Policy Project calls this same limit “absurd“; theNational Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has warned us about these type of limits, and are currently doing an alert to stop the same limit in Colorado. In addition, many other legalization supporters have worked strenuously to stop per se DUID limits from catching on.
  • When voting to “legalize” cannabis, one doesn’t expect sharing (such as passing a joint/bowl in a circle) to continue as a class C felony, nor do they expect growing even a single plant to remain completely illegal.
  • Those who support legalization know how unethical zero tolerance policies are. The Marijuana Policy Project in a 2010 statement called zero tolerance driving laws “cruel, unusual, and bad public policy“. This is why it’s so alarming that I-502 mandates this type of policy for those under 21, ignoring the fact that individuals can possess and use medical cannabis in our state under 21.

Speaking further on how divided this has made the community; there are many who fear that, if not done right, legalization will lead to a complete government take-over of cannabis. Although this doesn’t have to be the case, Initiative 502 mandates it as truth.Initiative 502, for example:

  • Gives the Liquor Control Board the authority to control and regulate the amount of THC in the cannabis being sold in the proposed retail locations.
  • Gives the Liquor Control Board the authority to control the number of cannabis retail locations per county, potentially setting it at one, or in certain counties, zero: although current legal realities lead us to believe no license will ever be distributed, and the entire distribution system will be challenged and defeated in court as you can’t force a state to accept taxes from a federally illegal substance, as encoded into our Federal Controlled Substances Act.
  • Forces all business applicants (whether for growing or selling) to submit their fingerprints to the FBI, more than likely leading to harsh federal penalties placed upon those who may feel they’re protected under state law.
  • Claims to address the issue of hemp, but they do so by mandating arbitrary restrictions, forcing farmers to keep hemp at or under 0.3% or risk state prosecution (ignoring even the issue with federal law). This is not the route we should be taking with hemp, especially when the North American Industrial Hemp Council declares hemp as typically having up to 1% THC, and sometimes up to 3%.

New Approach Washington (NAW), the sponsor organization of Initiative 502, has continually spread misinformation and lies. For example:

  • NAW claims that I-502 treats cannabis like alcohol. This is obviously a falsity. For example, you can purchase an unlimited amount of alcohol, unlike the arbitrary one ounce limit introduced for cannabis. Passing a beer to a friend isn’t felony distribution as it would be with cannabis under I-502 if passing a joint or bowl. Unlike with alcohol, if two individuals are in the same vehicle, each with their “legal” ounce, they can still be hit with a constructive possession felony charge under I-502. In addition, clearly unlike alcohol; under I-502, possessing just 50% more than the “legal” amount will land you with a felony charge that holds a jail sentence of up to 5 years in prison (the same felony type and maximum sentence in Washington State as reckless burning in the 1st degree).
  • NAW claims that Initiative 502 in no way changes our state’s current medical cannabis policy. However, unlike even Arizona and Rhode Island (who both have legal exclusions to their per se DUID policy for medical cannabis patients), Initiative 502 makes Washington State one of the only states in the country that have a per se DUID policy for cannabis without an exception for patients. Nevada is one of these other states, and the year after they instituted a per se limit for cannabis, there was a 76% increase in cannabis DUIs.
  • NAW claims that they have the science behind the mandated per se DUID limit. This is clearlynot true, as there is absolutely no scientific consensus to support any per se limit, better yet a specific 5 ng/ml limit. After the Colorado legislature voted down this exact limit in Colorado last year, they setup a working group to examine the issue, and they decided, after a lack of consensus, to deny a recommendation of a 5 ng/ml limit. In addition, State Rep. Roger Goodman (a friend of cannabis reform) introduced an even higher 8 ng/ml per se limit for THC not long ago, and revoked it after public backlash and after examining the science.
  • NAW claims that we can easily change these problems later. This is clearly disingenuous, or at the very best, naive. As for the per se limit, “drugged” driving laws are essentially never decreased, and altering it would be a political impossibility, at least for the near future (a bill to retroactively protect patients from this limit didn’t even make it out of committee earlier this year). This initiative may also, and likely will, lead to any meaningful change to our cannabis policies getting pushed off for years, as the citizens of our state will feel like they’ve already “legalized” cannabis (and given that we won’t see the public safety, civil rights or economic benefits of legalized cannabis due to I-502?s faults, this could set a negative example that could turn people away from legalization throughout the state and country).

The truth is, whether you’re in support of it or not, it’s hard to deny that Initiative 502 is riddled with faults, inconsistencies and dangerous policies. Washington State is one of the strongest supporters of legalized cannabis. We can do better. We encourage you to vote NO on Initiative 502, or, at the very least, beware of what you’re getting; which is not what it’s being presented as.

Source: No On I-502


About Author

Johnny Green


  1. 502 leaves the current medical laws intact. You will still be able to grow under RCW 69.51A. 502 now gives the extra option of not having to grow (or know someone who grows) to get your medicine.

  2. Baby steps. Legalization is better than the alternative and with time things will be worked out. This law means so much more than the details–and really, since when did authority ever stopped pot smokers from using? Limitations?–get over it

  3. I was worried about this whole DUI test as well after reading “No to I502”. Upon further research I found that either: “No to I502” had been misinformed or they had since changed the initiative. So basically officers will need reason to administer the breath/blood test (red eyes/smell/ect.), and if you haven’t smoked for a few hours and are mostly sober you should be good. Vote yes and good luck to us :)

    “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.”http://www.newapproachwa.org/content/about-initiative

    “I-502 clarifies that THC-COOH, the inactive marijuana metabolite also known as carboxy-THC that is sometimes used to convict marijuana users of DUI under current law, is not to be considered in determining THC concentration for purposes of the per se limit.”http://www.newapproachwa.org/sites/newapproachwa.org/files/I-502%20Factsheet%20-%20DUI.pdf

  4. “Weed” is NOT “totally illegal” now. Right now, I am able to grow a few plants in my home or yard and support my own personal supply of cannabis without fear of losing my home (Real property seizure).
    As a disabled Veteran with more than one qualifying condition, this is a big deal for me. If 502 passes, that all changes. I would no longer be able to grow my own medicine, and I would be forced to pay significantly more for it from a retailer. I cannot afford that!! I would be left without the ability to pay for my cannabis, and most likely would end up back on the 4 or 5 prescription meds I was able to stop taking since using cannabis.
    502 completely SCREWS legitimate MEDICAL cannabis users for the GREED of the state.
    Leave me alone, and let me grow a couple plants in my yard. Why are we doing all this nonsense anyway? It’s a PLANT! HOLY COW

    Simply put, 502 is bad for medical cannabis and I will be voting AGAINST it

  5. So, I’m seeing a surprising amount of comments that actually buy into this notion of voting against this initiative because it doesn’t make marijuana legal enough for them. I’m astounded and appalled by such a stand.

    I take it the main sticking point is this whole DUID thing. Fear that you can get pulled over for a nothing offense and be randomly searched, tested, and booked for being a pothead. Um….really?

    Weed is totally illegal now. Everyone complaining about how this isn’t good enough is breaking the law as it is. I challenge anyone to bear out to me how it makes sense to believe that you’ll be MORE likely to be busted for having any amount of evidence of weed in your system once this initiative passes than you already are.

    I actually saw someone here comment that they believed that, if this passes, “If you look like you smoke, be prepared to get pulled over.” So, *ahem*, tell me. What does someone who smokes weed look like? If we’re talking about the Rastafarian look, with the knit rainbow hat and the dreads and the tie-dyed peace symbol emblazoned tee shirt…well, those folks aren’t getting randomly busted just for looking like they do, or else, (I’d hope,) there wouldn’t be so many sporting the look.

    As for me, most of the smokers I know look like me. And I look like your average PTA mom. My man looks like your average software sales rep. My smoking friends don’t look any different than my non-smoking friends. Not a one has ever been randomly busted for anything to do with weed. So….I’m pretty sure that, just as now, the only thing that DUID zero-tolerance deal is gonna do is discourage the asshat that’s sitting at the green light holding up traffic because he was too busy sparking his bowl to see that the signal changed.

  6.  Sorry I wasn’t clearer. in making my point. Of course I-514 won’t be on the ballot. I-502 will. One is reality, the other a long shot “maybe.” 

  7. No it will not be on the november 2012 ballot. They still need to collect 240,000 signatures and turn them into the secretary of state office by sometime in december. Essentially 514 is doing what 502 was doing last year and trying to get enough signatures to send it to the legislator first. The legislator will likely not touch it with a 10 foot poll and send it directly to the ballot in November of 2013.

  8. I-514 wont be on the 2012 ballot even if they collect enough signatures. It will be sent to the leg in january which likely won’t pass it and they will send it to the people. The people will get to vote on it in November of 2013. This is assuming they collect 240,000 signatures. So far they are only collecting signatures in a small number of places and they need more places (and probably more money) if they are going to collect enough.

  9. Oldsmoothiebot59 on

    my goodness, you folks on the side against I502 just dont realize, that opportunities to legalize pot are not an election cycle right.  look not further than the disappointing calif. ordeal. while there is a chance to legalize, it has to be taken. it does not make sense to vote against I502, when the argument is about a “possibility” of danger. legalization has to be advanced, or the momentum will be lost, as will the chance we missed on legalization. some medical providers what anyone without a card and arrested, to be prosecuted to the max. of the law. yet, hypocritically, those same people tried to pass legalization two times before, and failed. they dont care about patients, it is not about that, it is about money.  the fear mongering they are engaged in, sounds to me, just like the DEA tactics.  wake up!  take the opportunity to advance legalized pot. where is your american spirit? everything in life is a risk, yet advancement in the usa is still taken, with zest and determination.  stop the whining!! it gets tiresome.  act like an adult, instead of a whining child. face facts, it is time to advance the pot cause in washington, and get rid of all the negativity. think long and hard, before voting I 502 down, for this initaitive is the launch point to a perfected legalization law in the future. all you want to do is destroy any attempt, that does not serve your cause. pathetic!

  10. Looks like Colorado is going to have their DUI-C law. Let’s sure hope it comes with legalization in November. Of course, it couldn’t happen here in Washington, could it? Because it would be a shame for those not profiting from the marijuana industry if prohibition is not repealed (i.e., I-502 fails) and we end up with a nanogram law anyway. Let’s just hope it’s not a zero tolerance law.

  11.  “NORML lies out of both sides of their collective mouths.  They have strenuously opposed the per se DUID law in Colorado…”

    The drug czar’s plan
    is for states to impose ZERO tolerance DUI-C laws. I-502 is not a zero
    tolerance DUI-C law. And it is linked to legalization. In Colorado they might have the DUI-C provision. (A special legislation session has been called in Colorado.) But if the statewide
    legalization initiative fails to pass they are left with a stand alone DUI-C law
    and no quid pro quo–i.e., legalization.So, if it happens in Colorado, can it happen here in Washington state?

    As I have noted before, there would be nothing to prevent the legislature from
    introducing a bill similar to HB 1648 which was a
    virtual per se DUI law! I can hear Pam Roach etal now…Leaving out the
    nanogram limit in I-502 would leave the legislature free to introduce
    even more restrictive and unreasonable cannabis and DUI driving
    regulations.” And, no matter what, DUIC limits are not necessarily
    going away. The can be introduced at any time by legislators. The fed is
    encouraging states to do so. And it could even be a zero tolerance THC
    law for delta-9 and carboxy THC. I-502 DUIC provision is at least the
    devil we know.

    In fact, there was a push in the Colorado legislature for zero
    nanogram levels. And this month in Michigan the appellate court ruled
    that the state’s “zero tolerance”law that forbids driving with any
    amount of a THC in the body applies for drivers who legally use medical

    The inclusion of the nanongram limit in I-502 prevents a zero
    nanogram limit from being enacted and the DUI-C provision is linked with

  12. John McKay did not write I-502. He is a sponsor of I-502 but not its author.

    The largest supporter of marijuana reform in all of America is Peter Lewis, a medical cannabis user who was once arrested. He is also the largest cash supporter of I-502 at $450,000. No one but an ingrate would suggest that Peter Lewis is anything other than the best friend of financially supporting cannabis reform in our country. Next is Harriet Bullitt at $100,000. The DPA and Rick Steves each gave $150,000.

    I’m following the money…
    Here’s the list http://www.pdc.wa.gov/MvcQuerySystem/AdvancedSearch/ContributionsData?contributee=TkVXIEFXIDExMQ%3D%3D%3D%3D&electionYear=ALL&committeeType=IGNORE&election=ALL&orderBy=amount-desc

  13. IslandBound on

    So what are you doing to support putting an alternitive on the ballot?

    Is there anything in this initiative you would oppose?


  14. IslandBound on

    The only type of person I know that would call something legal if it was a felony to give it away is a lawyer.

  15. Steve Sarich on

    “NORML believes that the time has come to amend criminal prohibition and replace it with a system of legalization, taxation, regulation, and education.”NORML lies out of both sides of their collective mouths.  They have strenuously opposed the per se DUID law in Colorado, even sending out a “Legislative Alert” last week calling the law “unneccesary”, “unscientific” and “draconian”.  Apparently, it’s only “unscientific” and “unscientific” in Colorado however,  at least according to NORML who is actively supporting I-502 which contains EXACTLY the same “draconian” per se limit.  There they argue that sending non-impaired drivers to jail for DUID is “OK”, and somehow defensible, if it’s attached to anything that calls itself “legalization”.I-502 is NOT legalization!  It’s just the latest wave of criminal prohibition on the use of cannabis by anyone.  So you can possess up to an ounce of cannabis, but you’ll be going to jail for a DUID if you actually smoke it?  Tell me this isn’t just the government’s latest way to criminalize cannabis users.  Please don’t argue that we have to accept new criminal penalties on cannabis users to get rid of others ….and then have the nerve to call that “Legalization”.  Please don’t tell me we have to lock up everyone under 21 for having ANY sign of THC in their blood….and that those young people should just have to accept that because this is NORML’s “new and improved” vision to “amend criminal prohibition”.  I’m guessing NORML shouldn’t count on much support from younger voters anymore.  It’s interesting to note that NORML and the Drug Czar are on the same page in their support of this new “amended criminal prohibition”.So besides the fact that we’ll be going to jail for DUID’s, is there anything else that NORML thinks we ought to let the cops shove up our butts under the guise of “legalization”?Oh, I forgot…..you’re also putting the government in sole control of the manufacture, distribution, sales and taxation of cannabis and they are already promising to provide us limited potency  “pot-lite” at $700 an ounce.  (If you want what you are currently smoking, you’ll still have to risk going to jail to get it…but somehow, according to NORML, this is an “Improvement”)Is this what we’ve fought for all these years?  Are we really going to get this close to legalization and then wave the white flag of surrender because we’re told that this is the best we can expect?  When even staunch supporters of I-502 call it “seriously flawed” should we just throw in the towel and accept the government’s version of “legalization”?  When NORML tells me that their new definition of “legalization” will still make it a felony for me to grow a single marijuana plant in my home and the only way I can legally purchase it is through a government licensed store, I know that they have totally lost their moral compass and they no longer deserve our support.  Steve SarichNo On I-502

  16. IslandBound on

    Remember John McKay, the same person who wrote I-502, got rid of our State Liquor store last year with I-1138 and now wants to use that outdated model for marijuana. It is hard to imagine that he does not have a substantial financial interest in making sure that people are forced to choose alcohol instead of marijuana. I-502 is continued protection for the alcohol industry and added profits for lawyers and the insurance industry. Follow the money, the people that paid to get I-502 on the ballot, at roughly $5 per signature, stand to profit handsomely from its DUI provision. The booze industry and the lawyers that profit off of the DUI industry knows the only way it they stay in business when marijuana becomes legal is for the internal possession of THC to be illegal while doing an activity Americans take for granted as do, driving. Follow the money 1.3 million in total contributions, 6,634.35 in small contributions.

    Medical marijuana states have seen a 5% drop in beer sales and a 9% drop in traffic deaths. What do you suppose the drop in booze sales, DUI arrest, and spousal abuse rates would be if marijuana was just as legal for all adults as it is currently for patients? Let alone if it was really going to be as legal as say alcohol? Or tobacco? Are you kidding me?

    Want real reform without profits for corporate giants?


  17. “I know what you’re thinking.” I don’t think so. First, I agree that there is a connection between personal choice behavior and marijuana usage. It is a great argument to use by those who insist that “a law is a law and must be obeyed because it’s a law.” In Massachusetts, prior to 1965 it was illegal for a married couple to practice birth control. How many otherwise law abiding citizens choose to ignore and violate that law?

    But I digress. Though the sodomy laws are no longer on the books, that does not mean that there are no laws and regulations concerning such behavior and that “it’s perfectly legal to do whatever you want sexually.” For example, sexual behavior “among consenting adults” might be unregulated. But sodomy with a child remains illegal. So there are some regulations and laws. Further, the sodomy laws do not apply to the commerce of sex whereas marijuana usually involves some sort of commercial transaction.

     I wish to suggest that your definitions of legalization and criminalization are inaccurate.

    Marijuana decriminalization involves removing the threat of arrest for the personal possession or cultivation of marijuana, but maintains prohibitions on commercial cultivation and retail sale.

    Legalization is a system that allows the use and sale under a system of regulations (such as with alcohol). Since every legal business transaction operates under some form of regulation, legalization necessarily involves varying degrees of regulation.

    “NORML believes that the time has come to amend criminal prohibition and replace it with a system of legalization, taxation, regulation, and education.”

    Under your definition of “legalization” which you define as “removing laws from the books so that nobody can be arrested under any circumstance” a person would be able to sell marijuana to high school students across the street from their school. If you decide that that’s not OK, you have introduced a “regulation,” e.g., no sales to minors.

    If you would have waited for the same demands for repealing alcohol prohibition that you are demanding for marijuana legalization, you would still be going to a speakeasy for a beer.

  18. About the 10 billion dollar medical cannabis industry, ” US debates use of marijuana and its effect on urban areas,” author Tony Favro, USA Editor, City of Mayors Foundation’s website writes.

    “Voters in the State of Washington will vote this autumn on a measure to legalize marijuana, with the prospect of generating over $600 million in new annual state revenues. Ironically, the legislation is opposed by the state’s medical marijuana industry, which regards a general legalization as a competitive threat. The industry helped defeat similar legislation in California in 2010.”  (May 10, 2012)

    In Favro’s article, at a website that receives millions of unique visitors per year, not a single mention of any of the issues in the “critical review.”

  19. Sodomy and oral sex used to be illegal. You could actually be arrested doing either, even with another consenting adult. We got rid of those laws. The people said the government had no business in the personal decision of what hole to use during sex, and now it’s perfectly legal to do whatever you want sexually. Why? Because there are no laws against it.

    They could have gone another way. They could have said you can only have sex with a government licensed sodomite, and only twice a week.

    I know what you’re thinking. Twice a week sounds good. But other than that, if the entire concept sounds absurd to you, how can you not find I-502 equally absurd. Neither are legalization in any sense of the word.

    If I-502 is legalization, as some say it is, then what do you call removing every law on the books concerning the possession, cultivation, transportation, sale, and use of marijuana? REAL legalization? Super hot rah rah USA big time legalization?

    Legalization is removing laws from the books so that nobody can be arrested under any circumstance. If Feds want to enforce Federal law, that’s up to them and not the job of local law enforcement. Let’s give local law enforcement NO LAWS TO ENFORCE. That’s legalization, and that’s what I will keep fighting for.

  20. I find it difficult to believe anything No on I-502 has to
    say about this subject considering the fact that their website contains
    multiple, critical, factual errors that the proponents of No on I-502 utilize
    as a basis for their opposition.  Here is
    an excerpt of an article I wrote on this very subject with a link to the full
    article, for it is too post in this comment.


    Is No on I-502’s “Important Resources” webpage an honest
    mistake or a blatant lie?

    I was perusing No on I-502’s webpage “Important Resources”
    when I noticed that while some of what is stated is true other portions of the
    information provided on this page are in stark contrast to the actual language
    put forth by I-502 which places these sections of the “Important Resources”
    page into direct conflict with the actual language, or facts, of I-502 making
    these lines of text untrue, or false, if you prefer, to say the least.

    The easiest way in which to address the issue at hand is to
    first look at the pertinent content of the page and then sequentially
    evaluating the assertions put forth on the page to see what facts exist to
    establish the truths and falsehoods within in their statements to then
    determine whether it was an honest mistake or a blatant lie.

    To do this I have taken the liberty of copying and then
    pasting the text that is most relevant to the question at hand, ‘if this was a
    mistake or a lie’, while preserving the integrity of the content as best I can
    with the editing features provided by WordPress.com to their bloggers.

    Now, before moving on to the question of this day I want you
    to keep in mind the following as we evaluate No on I-502’s propositions:

    If the goal is to deceive to achieve one’s own end, the
    person(s) who set this goal must use honesty in the majority of their words and
    actions insofar as honesty is a tool that develops the trust necessary to
    effectively use dishonesty as a means to achieve the goal of deception to
    achieve one’s own end.

    Read the rest of the article here:



  21. “The scary “76% increase in cannabis DUIs” is wrong on two fronts: 1) it was an increase in “DUIs” of all types, including alcohol and other drugs and 2) the “increase” was due to the fact that in 2001, 31 law enforcement agencies reported DUIs to the FBI; in 2002 it was just 3 agencies; in 2003, they submitted incomplete data; and in 2004, they went back to 31 agencies reporting.  So the 76% increase from 2002 (pre-per-se-DUID) to 2004 (post-per-se-DUID) is like noting that 31 soccer teams scored 76% more total goals in 2004 than 3 soccer teams didin 2002.” per Radical Russ Belville

  22. The potriot on

    The biggest thing for me is follow the trail of money. Yes, adults being not being able to grow is bummer but not enough to vote no. What is enough is the select “few” who profit off the system, ironically most big government is for….and call it a day, quality control, will be an oxymoron, kind of like military intelligence. 
    The dui thing is tough, the facts say that the provision is junk science, DUI arrests in states with Medical Marijuana are going down and Nevada’s junk science law increased arrests 76% on an arbitrary limit, that is cause for contemplation, I guess.It’s progress, but deep down, I have a hard time swallowing that fact.  

  23. Great. When you actually get something on the ballot then perhaps your opinion will carry more weight. I think you’ll find it’s more difficult and expensive than you imagine. Meanwhile, Washington and Colorado will lead the way for the benefit of the other, less progressive, states. And you’re welcome.

  24. Thank goodness for Russ Belville. A response to each one of these points can can be found at the Stash Blog. http://stash.norml.org/once-more-into-the-breach-the-lies-of-the-no-on-i-502-campaign

    In fact, for the sake of  fairness, I would suggest that Russ’ article be posted as well.

  25. Skywolf Neal Smith on

    I can understand writing legislation less than what we want to convince lawmakers the sky won’t fall if someone legally uses Marijuana, but 502 goes too far in that direction, in my opinion. Here in Indiana we’re probably going to have to do some incrementalism, but legislation like this will have to be written to be expanded later. I don’t think 502 will go in that direction and our brothers and sisters there will have a major battle to improve this later. 

  26. Greenrooster81 on

    Completley agree 502 is a joke the people who want it voted in are the ones who are looking at the legalize side of things rather than the consequences of 502, so if you look like you smoke be prepared to get pulled over

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