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Feds break silence on I-502; U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan says marijuana still illegal

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Dec. 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
December 5, 2012 5:09 pm

President Barack Obama’s administration hasn’t swooped in to try to prevent Washington’s Initiative 502 from taking effect at midnight. And his Justice Department still isn’t saying what it will do once it is in effect. The agency is still reviewing the law, local U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan wrote in a statement today.

But Durkan did say in her statement that it’s still illegal under federal law to have marijuana, even if it becomes legal to possess small amounts under state law.

Jenny Durkan

Here’s the statement. Parse away:

The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington State.   The Department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.  Neither States nor the Executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance.  Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses.

Here’s a news release the state ACLU issued today cheering the new law:

New Law Is Historic Step in Reforming Marijuana Policies

Initiative 502 Goes Into Effect on December 6th

Passed by Washington’s voters with an 11-point margin in November, Initiative 502 goes into effect on December 6. Legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana, the measure is an historic step in reforming our state’s marijuana policies and its criminal justice system. Adults in Washington no longer will 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 ACLU has strongly supported I-502 to end these abuses,” added Taylor.

I-502 received 55.7% of the vote statewide, winning a majority of votes in 20 of the state’s 39 counties. The measure drew widespread support. 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 Alison Holcomb, who served as the Campaign Director for Yes on I-502. “New Approach Washington sponsors and the ACLU look forward to working with state and federal officials and to ensure the law is fully and fairly implemented.”

The immediate impact of I-502 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 Marijuana Arrest Research Project found that from 2001 to 2010, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans made up 14% of Washington’s residents, but they were 25% of the people arrested for marijuana possession. Blacks were arrested at 2.9 times 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.

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 rule-making process that will end in December 2013, 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.

In addition to public funds saved from no longer arresting, prosecuting, and jailing marijuana users, the state’s Office of Financial Management estimated that legalization could yield upwards of a half-billion dollars annually to public coffers. I-502 provides that the revenues will be allocated to expenditures on health care, youth drug prevention, public health education about marijuana, and the state’s general fund and local budgets.

The ACLU of Washington has created an interactive chart detailing I-502’s estimated annual tax revenue distribution.  To embed a copy on your website or blog, visit:  http://www.aclu-wa.org/embed-chart.

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