Not only does the legalization of marijuana breach the federal marijuana policy but the United Nations is now claiming the new cannabis laws violate the U.N. drug conventions as well. This makes implementing I-502 all the more difficult.
However, when a group of students and a panel of four experts gathered Wednesday night in the HUB to discuss these issues, the dialogue remained very positive.
The panel included Sharon Foster, chair of the Washington State Liquor Control Board; Philip Dawdy, media director of the Washington Cannabis Association; Alison Holcomb, who helped pen I-502; and Bob Young, a reporter from The Seattle Times. The “Times Talk” was moderated by Taso Lagos, a faculty member of the Jackson School of International Studies.
“It’s historic; we are doing something that has never been done in the whole world and the whole world is watching,” Foster said. “We get calls every day from places around the world.”
After I-502 passed last year it became the Liquor Control Board’s job to implement it. The board must write the official rules surrounding legalization by Dec. 1, 2013. Foster said the process so far has been complicated.
“Some days are very long; we start with meetings in the morning and public forums through the evening,” Foster said. “But, we were pretty ready to do this. It’s funny to think now, ‘Gee what would I be doing everyday if it wasn’t for marijuana?’”
Marijuana is considered by the federal government to be a schedule-one drug, which puts it in the same classification as both heroin and methamphetamine. This places Washington, as Dawdy put it, in a wrestling match with the U.S. Department of Justice.
“One of the greatest failings of U.S. policy is that they treat all drugs the same,” Holcomb said. “If we think that all illicit substances should be treated as a whole we are completely missing the boat.”
One of the more controversial aspects of I-502 is the age limit that states one must be 21 and over to legally purchase and use marijuana. Many still argue that 18 and up would have been a more just age limit. However, the panelists, with the exception of Dawdy, all believed that the current age limit is better.
“Every study in the world shows that our brains aren’t fully developed until we are about 25 years old and I certainly don’t want young people to do something that doesn’t allow them to reach their full potential,” Foster said. “So we are going to emphasize regulations that don’t allow young people access.”
Dawdy, who said his views don’t represent the Washington Cannabis Association, said that during college he was smoking all the time yet still able to maintain his spot on the dean’s list. Still he offered up some advice on how to avoid any negative run-ins with the policies attached to I-502.
“Anybody under the age of 21 [is] going to have to play by the rules,” Dawdy said. “At the end of the day, voters said 21. We are being watched all over the world so it’s not the time to make the feds mad.”
The group also agreed that the initiative would not have passed had it allowed 18-year-olds access to marijuana.
“I would encourage students on a college campus to find a way to get involved in the overall conversation,” Holcomb said. “We didn’t intentionally say people should be treated like criminals if they are under 21.”
The panelists also emphasized how beneficial the initiative will be as far as producing clean and safe marijuana.
“It’s going to be as clean as a whistle and that’s a really good thing,” Foster said. “There are a whole lot of medical marijuana shops that don’t do any testing, you don’t have any idea of what you are getting. If we can have the legal system in on it then we know we are getting a product that’s safe.”
To conclude their discussion, Holcomb asked the audience to give their input in the future, emphasizing the importance of evaluation and change.
“Our approach is: Tell us, tell us what isn’t working, tell us what needs to be fixed, because nobody is supposed to know what it is supposed to be like in the very beginning,” she said.
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