Medical Marijuana Patients Question Legalization Measures
March 26th, 2012
Washington state will be voting on an initiative I-502, to legalize marijuana, and if it passes the November 2012 ballot, it will be the first state to install laws regarding the legal recreational use of marijuana. Seattle has held many annual events such as the Seattle Hempfest festival which draws thousands of people each year to promote strides toward legal protection for marijuana users.
However, many medical marijuana patients of Washington state feel that their rights are being swept away by this initiative, particularly their right to drive. Washington’s I-502 would place a limit on drivers’ THC blood concentrations. Users over the age of 21 caught driving with a THC concentration over 5 ng/mL will face DUI penalties, and those under 21 will face similar penalties for any trace of THC in their system. For many medical marijuana patients who frequently remedy pain or illness with their medical cannabis, this THC concentration of under 5 ng/mL will be impossible to maintain.
Patients and researchers are concerned with this figure, arguing that the 5 ng/mL is an arbitrary number with little scientific basis. Franjo Grotenhermen, a German pharmacologist studying the effect of cannabis on drivers, states, “Scientific evidence on cannabis and driving is not yet sufficient to permit the selection of a numerical enforceable THC limit with the same level of confidence as for alcohol.” According to the initiative, only up to 1% of the revenue created by state-regulated marijuana sales will go back into marijuana research and its effects on users.
This leads to the question, is Washington ready to design recreational marijuana laws? Medical marijuana patients would say that recreational users and lawmakers are being too hasty. One primary purpose of I-502 is to eliminate criminal charges against marijuana possession, but frequent users with a high tolerance of cannabis risk charges every time they get behind the wheel of a car. Traces of THC are detectable even days after use and may not accurately determine impairment. That being said, opponents of I-502 are wondering if legalization will actually be penalizing fewer marijuana users.
Initiative 502 not only threatens medical marijuana patients’ rights to drive, but it would also halt access to medical dispensaries. Washington state dispensaries would be replaced by state-regulated stores, forcing patients out of the comfort and professionalism of specialized medical facilities and into stores where treatment becomes retail. Licensed medical patients currently enjoy the right to cultivate hemp in their home although this alternative would also be eliminated by I-502.
While Washington state’s majority agrees that recreational use of marijuana should be legalized, I-502 creates a pedestal for questions regarding the law’s definition of criminality among marijuana users.