SurveyUSA, Washington State's Initiative 502, calling for the decriminalization of marijuana, 57% of likely voters responded favorably to the initiative, while only 34% responded unfavorably and 9% were undecided. (Altieri, 2012) In terms of election results, 57% is considered to be a wide margin and with only weeks until the November election, it is likely that Initiative 502 will pass. But as those on both sides argue the possible effects of passage, it is important to look into the various claims made by those both supporting and opposing the measure.
According to the text of I502, the intent of the proposed initiative is to "stop treating adult marijuana use as a crime and try a new approach…" ("Initiatives Measure 502") This approach would reallocate law enforcement resources toward violent and property crimes, generate new tax revenue to be used for the benefit of the community, and, most importantly, remove the illegal, gang-related aspects of marijuana trade and bring in the regulation and control of the government. Those who support this measure feel that the benefits of decriminalization will outweigh the potential problems that may arise. On the other hand, there is a large segment of the population that does not see toleration of drugs as the solution to the problems associated with drugs.
One of the major benefits touted by those supporting I-502 is the potential revenue generated by those wishing to participate in the marijuana business. Participants, either growing or selling, would be limited to those with state approved special licenses; and the only marijuana offered must be sold in marijuana-only stores. In addition, "there would be a 25% sales tax, with 40% of the new revenues going to the state general fund and local budgets, and the remainder dedicated to substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care." ("Initiative") According to supporters of Initiative 502, this could generate millions of dollars for the state and local governments in a time of fiscal downturn. Since many will use marijuana regardless of the law, I-502 allows for the state to collect at least some money from this industry. The Washington state Office of Financial Management predicts that with a "fully functioning marijuana market…estimated total revenue to the state could be as high as $1,943,963,000." ("Initiative 502: Fiscal Impact") In a time of economic crisis, the passage of I-502 could bring much needed revenue into state and local coffers, provide a much needed benefit to the community, and solve many of the economic problems currently faced by the government..
Besides regulating the growing and sale of marijuana, as well as the collecting and distribution of revenue generated by the decriminalization, supporters point to the effect Initiative 502 will have on illegal drug growers and dealers, particularly the medical marijuana outfits that already skirt the law. ("I-502 Has Flushed Out") These "doctors" and "pharmacies" will no longer profit at the expense of the state, and will be shutdown under I-502. One of the biggest arguments made by those supporting I-502 is that the marijuana business will be taken out of the hands of criminal organizations and put under the control and regulation of state officers, cutting off a lucrative source of money for the gangs who plague the community and solving part of the problem of street violence.
Another major point made by supporters is that I-502 is a grown-up law for grown-ups, with limits and controls. Only those over the age of 21 will be allowed to partake, there will be restrictions on the amount of marijuana a person can purchase, those seeking licenses will be required to be fingerprinted, and DUI laws will be expanded to include those driving under the influence of marijuana. Supporters claim that these regulations and restrictions can allow or the decriminalization of marijuana in the state of Washington under conditions that are safe to the general public.
And while those who support Initiative 502 make a clear and reasonable argument as to why marijuana should be available to adults over the age of 21, those who oppose claim that there are a number of reasons why it is a bad idea. Firstly, the law may allow for adults over the age of 21 to use marijuana, "but adult use is not the chief issue with marijuana." ("Juvenile Marijuana Use") While adults who are first exposed to marijuana as adults are unlikely to become compulsive users, for juveniles the odds of becoming a drug abuser are much higher. And because marijuana is relatively inexpensive, approximately $60 an ounce, it puts this drug well within the price range of juveniles and a definitive problem that the community will face if I-502 becomes law. ("Epidemiological Trends")
Another point made by the opposition is the fact that drug use by young people can have a more detrimental effect on their health, and psychoactive drugs like marijuana can have "a much greater impact on adolescents than on adults." ("Juvenile Marijuana Use") Along with this, opponents claim that the use of marijuana by juveniles will cause addictive and physical illnesses, diminished productivity caused by cognitive abnormalities, as well as higher levels of driving under the influence and the resulting increase in mortality. ("I-502 Gains Expected Opposition") And it is likely that with I502's passage, more young people experimenting and using marijuana increasing the problems associated with such use.
Even if a person does not immediately die from smoking marijuana, the opposition claims that I-502 will open the door for the increased use of marijuana and the other types of health problems that can accompany it. For instance, the cumulative effects of using it over many years can lead to a number of long-term health problems, including damaging bronchial passages and a decrease in the lungs ability to fight infections, weakening of the body's overall immune system, specifically macrophages and T-cells. ("Health Concerns") And not only can regular use of marijuana increase a person's chance of infection, "it has been shown that marijuana use can accelerate the progression of HIV to full-blown AIDS and increase the occurrence of infections and Kaposi's sarcoma." ("Health Concerns")
Beside physical ailments, marijuana has been suggested to cause a number of mental disorders, including acute toxic psychosis, panic attacks, flashbacks, delusions, depersonalization, and a number of other mental problems. ("Health Concerns") This can be especially dangerous for cancer patients or others with terminal illnesses as marijuana is often used to alleviate the effects of treatments because these types of patients often suffer from depression associated with their condition. And finally, since marijuana is most often smoked by its users, the increased possibility for respiratory consequences are a major problem that society will be forced to deal with if I-502 is passed. Marijuana smoke and cigarette smoke contain many of the same toxins, including the one that is the leading cause of lung cancer. As lung cancer currently claims more than 125,000 Americans each year, chronic marijuana smoking can only lead to an increase in that number.
Supporters of I-502 claim that the intent of the initiative is to allow adults the freedom to use marijuana if they choose. They also claim that the regulation and taxation of such behavior will be of benefit to society, particularly the revenue generated and the elimination of the criminal element associated with the drug trade. These arguments are both logical and most likely true. However, they do not face the major issues brought up by the opposition: juvenile drug use and potential health problems. If I-502 passes, it is almost certain to be accompanied by an increase in the use of marijuana by young people, as well as the long-term health costs that will accompany it. Even with strict regulations, kids will find a way to get it just like they do with alcohol.