The newly formed political action committee New Approach Washington today filed an initiative to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. Sponsoring the measure are individuals prominent in civic life and the public health and legal communities.
The initiative would authorize the Washington State Liquor Control Board to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana for sale to adults 21 and over through statelicensed stores. A new marijuana excise tax would be earmarked for prevention, research, education, and health care. State and local retail sales taxes would be directed to the general fund and local budgets.
The following individuals are sponsoring the initiative:
– Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes
– John McKay, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, 2001-2007
– Travel writer Rick Steves
– Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, Washington state legislator, 36th District
– Kim Marie Thorburn, MD, MPH, former director of the Spokane Regional Health District, 1997-2006
– Salvador A. Mungia, immediate past president of the Washington State Bar Association
– Mark Johnson, past president of the Washington State Bar Association, 2008- 2009
– Robert W. Wood, MD, former director of the HIV/AIDS Program of Public Health — Seattle & King County, 1986-2010
– Roger Roffman, DSW, professor emeritus, University of Washington School of Social Work
– Alison Holcomb, New Approach Washington campaign director
The campaign will have until December 30 to gather the 241,153 signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot. Once signatures are filed, the initiative will go to the legislature for consideration during the 2012 session. If the legislature takes no action, the proposal will go before the voters in the November 2012 general election.
“Ending marijuana prohibition and focusing on rational regulation and taxation will free up law enforcement resources to combat violent and property crimes, and it will restore respect for government and the law,” said Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney. In 2008, there were over 8,200 arrests of Washington adults — more than 20 per day — for simple marijuana possession, and more than 3,200 convictions, costing the state millions of taxpayer dollars.
Marijuana is one of Washington’s largest cash crops — second only to apples — and billions of dollars go into the illegal market untaxed. “We cannot afford to ignore an enormous source of untaxed revenue, and we must stop the financing of drug cartels,” said Mark Johnson, former Washington State Bar Association president. “These are revenues we could capture and direct to effective programs that protect youth from risk factors that contribute to early use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana,” said Roger Roffman, a marijuana dependency treatment expert.
“As a parent and as someone who cares deeply for my community,” said travel writer Rick Steves, “I’ve seen how Europe treats drug use as a public health issue rather than a criminal one. The fascinating result: per capita, Europeans consume far less marijuana and have far fewer people in prison than we do.”
Initiative sponsors pointed out the serious impacts that our current marijuana laws have on individuals. “Criminalizing marijuana use disrupts families and cannot be justified when marijuana is compared to alcohol and tobacco,” said public health doctor Kim Thorburn.
“The public health impacts of alcohol and tobacco are more serious than marijuana, but we do not criminalize the use of these substances,” said Bob Wood, a public health doctor. “It is time for Washington to take a new approach to marijuana focused on regulation and education rather than punishment.”
Further, marijuana laws are enforced disproportionately against people of color. In Washington, an African American is three times as likely to be arrested, three times as likely to be charged, and three times as likely to be convicted for marijuana possession as a white Washingtonian, despite the fact that whites use marijuana at higher rates.
“Even a misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession can permanently alter the trajectory of a person’s life,” former bar association president Sal Mungia pointed out.
The campaign expects petitions to be ready for signature gathering beginning in August.
More information is available at NewApproachWA.org.