Opinion

Vote yes on Initiative 502 | Guest commentary

A little over a year ago in this space, I wrote about Kent city officials who were forced to shut down marijuana dispensaries due to state and federal laws prohibiting them.

But then in January, state legislators and the governor delivered a set of messy guidelines to allow them to exist.Those guidelines turned out to be a line-item veto disaster, and the law didn’t help city or county councils at all. The councils in our area declined to participate, and instead used the excuse that marijuana is still banned under federal law.

I don’t blame them. It’s far easier to go the safe route, and live quiet lives of insignificance. I’ve taken that route many times myself.

This time seemed different, however. I serve on a local planning commission, and when the issue of allowing zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries came up, I voted yes, in the majority. Of course, the vote was largely symbolic since it was only a recommendation to the Decision Makers, who subsequently ignored it. Again, it’s easier to take the safe route.But now, you and I have a rare opportunity to influence the national conversation on marijuana with Initiative 502.

Californians might normally take the lead on this issue, but they are usually regarded as the crazy aunt who mutters endlessly to herself and only flushes once a week.We don’t have that reputation. I grew up on the east coast, where the Other Washington is never part of the news. No controversy, no identity, and no reputation, except for an oversupply of rain and mediocre sports teams.

Would a yes vote on this initiative give us a California-like identity? I tend to think it won’t, any more than North Dakota would if it passed a similar initiative. Rather, people in other states would likely be curious, and would wait to see how the experiment worked.We’re still living in an experiment of self-government in this country, and the prospect of such a direct influence alone would be enough to get me to vote yes. Are we mature enough to handle liberty, or are we unable to control our impulses, requiring more regulation?

Back in the early 19th Century, we drank. A lot.  Consumption was about four gallons of pure alcohol (200 proof) per person, per year. The temperance movement began due to alcoholism’s impact on society, and it reduced drinking to less than half of that.

Prohibition attempted to take that further, but it failed. Initially, alcohol consumption declined, but by the end of Prohibition it had actually increased. Once Prohibition was repealed, we went back to our regular drinking levels.

The lesson here is, social pressure worked, and moral legislation didn’t.

I think the biggest and most valid concern of legalization is that kids will have easier access to marijuana. Personally, I don’t believe that is true. High school kids that I talk to say marijuana is easier to get than alcohol. Most of them don't bother with it because they see the kids who do use it, and they don't want to be like them.I'm very worried about those kids.

Their potential for a good life has likely been destroyed. Sometimes their parents care, and sometimes they don’t.These are anecdotal stories of course, but they highlight the fact that we are not winning the drug war with prohibition. We can win it by changing our culture.

We can win it with social pressure.But keeping marijuana illegal enables us to be lazy citizens by claiming it’s a law enforcement problem.

We don’t have any incentive to create social boundaries for responsible use. As a result, we are letting the criminal element define those boundaries.

That has to change.

It’s time for us to take another step towards a mature citizenry, and vote yes on Initiative 502.

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