Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

Tag: Initiative 502

June
11th

What’s holding up that marijuana decision at Justice?

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Is there something about marijuana that leaves Attorney General Eric Holder speechless?

It’s been more than seven months since Washington voters approved a system of regulated, licensed pot sales. But under federal law, everything about marijuana — growing, distributing and selling — is illegal.

Not since the civil rights era has there been such a stark conflict between federal and state laws.

But Holder remains mum on that conflict. State officials are reduced to trying to decipher a handful of opaque statements from the Justice Department.

Washington’s Liquor Control Board is charged with writing rules for the new industry, but its members can only go so far without knowing what Justice will do. Will it move to enforce federal law? Adopt a wink-and-a-nod toleration policy, as Holder did with “medical” marijuana? Try to legally finesse the issue with some kind of a waiver?

Local legalization is a legal dilemma, to be sure, but Justice is full of bright people who get paid a lot of money to untangle legal dilemmas. Holder has thousands of attorneys at his command; it’s hard to believe he couldn’t move faster if he wanted to.

We didn’t like Initiative 502, primarily because we’re worried that it would expand marijuana use among adolescents. But genuinely controlled legalization would be a big improvement on the status quo if it could shut down today’s black market, which readily supplies pot to any interested teenager.

Lest memories fade, we’ll note that Holder and his boss, Barack Obama, also bear heavy responsibility for the existing marijuana bazaar in Western Washington.
Read more »

April
8th

Toking and tippling make for a deadly cocktail

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Forget the Legislature. The real action this year is at the Liquor Control Board.

Under Initiative 502, the board is charged with making an item of two things that normally mix like oil and water – marijuana and regulation.

The new law is, well, a law. It legalizes pot but also tells stoners what they can and can’t do. Stoners tend not to be obsessed with legalities.

The oil and water have yet to mix. The latest example is two South Sound bars – Stonegate in Tacoma and Frankie’s Sports Bar and

Read more »

April
2nd

Despite I-502, illegal pot threatens to undercut legal

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

“Legalize it and tax it,” went the mantra of marijuana advocates trying to mainstream the drug. Washingtonians got the legalization part when they passed Initiative 502; they may not see much of the tax part.

The Liquor Control Board’s new pot consultant, Mark Kleiman, has thrown icy water on giddy projections that the state might collect hundreds of billions of dollars from taxes on legal sales of marijuana.

That’s not likely, Kleiman said, for several reasons. Chief among them is the criminal black market in pot that will continue to lurk in

Read more »

Feb.
24th

So how do sales to minors stop under I-502?

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

One goal should be paramount as the state Liquor Control Board tries to build a legal marijuana industry from scratch: Keeping the drug away from adolescents.

The people behind Initiative 502 promised – we believe in good faith – that the ballot measure would help discourage teenagers from getting into pot. We were skeptical and remain so, though we’d love to be proven wrong.

No responsible person thinks it’s a good idea for 15-year-olds to consume cannabis. For many adults, the drug is a take-it-or-leave-it diversion. It’s another story for kids with developing brains: Marijuana can knock them out of school, turn them into daily users and derail their lives.

I-502 has already removed one of the chief deterrents to marijuana use: the stigma of illegality. Teenagers pick up on signals from adults. This signal says, “Pot? No big deal.”

The initiative proposed to counter this by making the existing black market go away. Thousands of traffickers and grow operations would be replaced by a tightly controlled system of licensed farmers and retail stores. The rules would be written and enforced by the state Liquor Control Board.

The board has been gathering testimony on what the system should look like. At hearings around the state, it has been deluged by – surprise! – big crowds of traffickers and growers who want in on the deal. They want lots of people – namely, themselves – to get the lucrative farming and retailing licenses the board will be passing out some months from now.

A lot of licensees is bad – very bad – if sales to minors are in fact an overriding concern.

Will it be easier for the Liquor Control Board to police 200 retailers or 2,000? The question answers itself. The board cannot direct the flow of marijuana if it waves a magic wand over the existing black market and calls it legal.
Read more »

Jan.
22nd

Legal pot in Washington: What it should look like

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Here’s a gig. The state Liquor Control Board is looking for consultants who can tell it “how marijuana is grown, cultivated, harvested, cured and processed.”

Also, “How marijuana is infused into food and beverages. How marijuana should be packaged, labeled, transported and sold at a retail level.”
There are plenty of experts out there, no doubt. The question is, do they have to pass a background check?

This sums up the fix the liquor board is in as it tries to turn legal marijuana into reality.

Initiative 502 ordered the board to create a full-blown, highly regulated industry – “from seed to sale,” as the agency describes it. It has to make the rules for everything from licensed grow operations to processing centers to retail pot stores.

The problem is, nothing of the sort has ever been done. Anywhere. In the world. No one knows what it looks like.

As the liquor board proceeds to do the unprecedented, some principles ought to be followed.

For starters, the industry should be given no freebies. This is one case in which an initiative needs immediate tinkering by the requisite two-thirds majority of the Legislature.

The measure lets would-be growers and retailers into the game for a piddling $1,000 license fee. But legal marijuana could turn into a $1 billion-a-year industry. If it does, these would be licenses to print money.

If Washington must have legal marijuana, it should charge applicants what the market will bear. An auction, for example, could produce a bonanza of fees for the state – money that could help fund the looming struggle to keep cheaper and more abundant marijuana away from schoolchildren.
Read more »

Dec.
6th

Public tokers to feds: Please bust Washington

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

True to form, some weed heads hailed the arrival of legal marijuana Thursday by breaking the law that legalized it.

Initiative 502, which took effect Thursday, allows legal possession of up to an ounce of cannabis but forbids smoking it (or otherwise displaying) it in public. That didn’t slow down the crowds of jubilant tokers who jointly lit up in front of cameras in a public park – Seattle Center – the moment I-502 kicked in at midnight.

No surprise: Dope-smokers are not renowned for respecting drug laws.

Nor are the Seattle’s City Council and its city attorney, Pete Holmes, whose attitudes reflect a marijuana-friendly city. Taking their cues from the top, the Seattle Police Department has announced it has no plans to issue the citations for the open-air consumption that is explicitly forbidden under I-502.

Seattle may be OK with public pot parties, but blowing smoke at the TV cameras does no favors to I-502 statewide.
Read more »

Nov.
27th

I-502: How much legality in legalized marijuana?

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Legal marijuana succeeded big in Washington Nov. 6 – and failed big in Oregon.

One reason: The stoners behind Oregon’s Measure 80 had no interest in restricting the drug. Their initiative specified no limit for possession, no limit on growing, and left regulation in the hands of a commission to be controlled by the marijuana industry.

It jabbered about the wonders and harmlessness of cannabis.

Washington’s Initiative 502, in contrast, specified serious restrictions.

It forbade the public consumption or display of marijuana, required tight licensing of growers and retailers, and – unlike Measure 80 – established a blood-level limit for people caught driving under the influence of marijuana.

In other words, it was written by grown-ups. It’s reasonable to conclude that a measure as lax as Oregon’s would have failed here as it did there.

In a year or so, we’ll find out if Washingtonians enacted I-502 on paper – but got Measure 80 instead.

The campaign for I-502 insisted that the initiative wasn’t about expanding drug use and trafficking. The argument was that the use and trafficking were already happening – and the state should legalize and impose rules on what is now an unregulated black market.
Read more »

Nov.
7th

State voters were generous – if there wasn’t a price

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Tuesday’s election returns suggest that Washington is becoming a libertarian paradise – a place where gays can marry, marijuana is legal and parents might even be given the choice of independent schools for their children.

But oh, by the way – not a penny more for public education or other state programs.

A telltale piece of evidence lies deep in the down-ballot election returns, in the tally on two advisory votes that have no legal effect whatsoever.

The 2012 Legislature voted to end a tax break for big banks and maintain a soon-to-expire tax on petroleum inventories.

Both moves got broad bipartisan support in the Legislature. When candidates talk about “loopholes,” they’re talking about items like the banks’ deduction for home-loan interest and tax breaks for the petroleum industry.

What did the voters think? Apparently, if it can be construed as a tax increase – even for a coddled industry – they don’t like it. On election day, the big banks got a 58 percent thumbs-up from the electorate.

Meanwhile, voters overwhelmingly enacted Initiative 1185, which reaffirmed the existing requirement that new taxes need a two-thirds majority in the Legislature. Even with two-thirds, the lawmakers in that supermajority must be publicly shamed through the advisory vote process, which involves publishing their names in the voters’ pamphlet.

Referendum 74’s narrow victory was a breakthrough for marriage equality. But it was no money out of pocket for Washingtonians. One wonders how it might have fared had it actually required some minimal financial sacrifice to enact it. It’s a fortunate thing that civil rights don’t come with a price tag attached.
Read more »