Washington Law Viewed as Historic Step in Reforming Marijuana Policies

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
December 5, 2012 4:12 pm

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State Marijuana Legalization Goes into Effect Tomorrow

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SEATTLE – An historic measure to legalize marijuana that was overwhelmingly approved by Washington voters in November goes into effect tomorrow.

Under the law, adults in Washington will no longer be subject to arrest for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use under state law.

“Washington’s new law provides a safe and smart alternative to marijuana prohibition,” said Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington. “Our state’s unfair and ineffective marijuana laws have damaged civil liberties in many ways – eroding protections against searches and seizures, putting large numbers of non-violent individuals behind bars, and targeting people of color.”

The immediate impact of the law will be to end arrests by Washington law enforcement of adults possessing up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use in private. A report issued this fall by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project found there have been over 240,000 arrests for adult marijuana possession, consuming over $300 million in taxpayer money, since 1986.

These arrests have disproportionately affected communities of color. The project found that from 2001 to 2010, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans made up 14 percent of Washington’s residents, but they were 25 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession. Blacks were arrested at nearly triple the rate of whites. Latinos and Native Americans were arrested at 1.6 times the rate of whites – even though they use marijuana at the same rates as whites.

“Eliminating penalties for low-level marijuana possession prevents thousands of people from becoming entangled needlessly in the criminal justice system, will eliminate many collateral consequences that flow from marijuana arrests, and allow Washington to reinvest the money it saves for important community needs,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project.

The ballot measure, Initiative 502, received 55.7 percent of the statewide vote winning a majority of votes in 20 of the state’s 39 counties. Put forward by New Approach Washington, I-502 was sponsored by individuals prominent in the civic, public health, and legal communities and was endorsed by diverse groups ranging from the state Labor Council to the regional NAACP to the Children’s Alliance.

Prominent supporters included two former U.S. Attorneys, the former head of the regional FBI office, Seattle’s city attorney, and King County’s recently elected Sheriff.

“The voters of Washington sent a very clear message that they are ready for a new approach to marijuana policy,” said the ACLU of Washington’s Alison Holcomb, who served as the Campaign Director for Yes on I-502. “We look forward to working with state and federal officials and to ensure the law is fully and fairly implemented.”

A year from now, individuals will be able to purchase marijuana in stand-alone stores that are very similar to Washington’s old hard alcohol stores. During a rulemaking process that will end next December, the State Liquor Control board will create a tightly regulated system for the production, processing, and selling of marijuana. Private entities licensed by the state will produce, process, and sell marijuana, and it will be taxed at each step along the way.

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