Marijuana Initiative Passes in Washington

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Washington Initiative 502

Washington Initiative 502 passed last night with overwhelming support. The new law will allow people 21 years and older to legally carry up to an ounce of marijuana and it will establish a system of regulated and licensed businesses that can legally sell marijuana.

Supporters of the law argue that marijuana laws need to be revised to deal with the unintended consequences of marijuana prohibition. Black market sale of marijuana has fueled violent and extremely lucrative criminal enterprises. Regulating and taxing marijuana will put more control back into the hands of the government, provide additional revenue while removing a major revenue source for organized crime.

What is unclear is how the federal government will react. Marijuana possession and sale is still a federal crime. California has seen DEA agents close down their marijuana dispensaries, which were private businesses whose legal status was not clearly defined. Hopefully, the Obama administration will allow Washington to experiment with its own law and see if abuses in the system that were pervasive in California can be avoided.

Locally, the defense bar is waiting to hear how prosecutors will handle pending marijuana charges. Currently, marijuana possession less than 40 grams is a misdemeanor with a mandatory minimum jail sentence of one day and a $250 fine.

A similar initiative was rejected by Oregon voters. Most analysts predict that this issue will be brought again to the voters on the next ballot and will likely be crafted closer to the Washington law.

 

 

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