Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

Why Medical Marijuana Providers Are Opposing Legalization Efforts in Washington and Colorado


Members of the medical marijuana industry have come out against ballot initiatives in two states that would allow consumers over the age of 21 to legally purchase and consume small quantities of marijuana for recreational use.

Washington State's Initiative 502 and Colorado's Amendment 64 would regulate pot similarly to alcohol and tobacco, according to their backers. In Washington, even home growers producing for personal use would have to seek a license from the state liquor board, and consumers would be allowed to possess only an ounce at a time. Colorado's initiative would have the same possession limit, and would allow home growers to have up to six plants. 

The bills, in other words, don't treat pot exactly like alcohol, of which a consumer can own as much as he likes and brew at home without a license, but they're being sold by their proponents as better than the status quo. For some medical marijuana activists, better than the status quo is not good enough. 

Here's what Washington's I-502 would do, in the words of Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and former U.S. Attorney (and drug warrior) John McKay, who are the initiative's most well-known proponents: 

This measure would remove state-law prohibitions against producing, processing, and selling marijuana, subject to licensing and regulation by the liquor control board; allow limited possession of marijuana by persons aged twenty-one and over; and impose 25% excise taxes on wholesale and retail sales of marijuana, earmarking revenue for purposes that include substance-abuse prevention, research, education, and healthcare.  Laws prohibiting driving under the influence would be amended to include maximum thresholds for THC blood concentration.

Gil Mobley, a Washington physician who owns a medical marijuana clinic, created Patients Against I-502 to oppose the initiative. The name has since been changed to No on I-502. It sums up its opposition to the bill simply: "I-502 is not legalization."

It simply creates a legal exception for possession of an ounce and a few other minor cannabis related crimes. Under this initiative it would still be illegal for individuals to grow any amount. In addition, hemp would still not be explicitly legal, passing a joint would still be felony distribution, and a new form of prohibition will be introduced that will cause cannabis consumers to be wrongfully convicted and imprisoned (the per se DUID mandate). People under 21 have the potential to be convicted of a DUID simply for being in the presence of cannabis smoke for an extended period of time. Beyond this, the entire distribution system will be federally preempted (rendered invalid in court) due to the fact that it creates a positive conflict with our federal Controlled Substances Act (you can't force a state to accept taxes from a federally illegal substance).

Mobley and his allies received a drubbing last week when The Stranger's Dominic Holden criticized No on I-502 in a New York Times op-ed, writing, "I haven't found a single scientific study showing that even the heaviest of pot users would exceed the five-nanogram [DUI] cutoff after 24 hours. And the civil liberties attacks are simply dishonest. The rules would remain the same as they currently are for medical marijuana—no registration requirements and no database."

Holden went on to say that "it's more than a little strange to defend the status quo, in which nearly 10,000 people are arrested in Washington for possession each year, on civil liberties grounds. And it's not as if voters would accept a law that didn't include restrictions on smoking and driving." His op-ed also featured an appearance by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws' Allen St. Pierre, who said, "The medical marijuana industry is driven by profit…It's not driven by compassion anymore. It is driven by the need to make money."

(St. Pierre expressed a similar sentiment earlier this year when he wrote that "Cannabis consumers…want good, affordable cannabis products without having to go through the insult and expense of 'qualifying' as a 'medical' patient by paying physicians and/or the state for some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card. How intellectually honest is all of this?")

I reached out to a Washington, D.C.-based marijuana activist about opposition to the bill. He was at odds with both St. Pierre and No on I-502:

Of course there are some bad apples that only care about profit, but they are usually weeded out (no pun intended) by patients themselves and market forces. Others are able to turn a tidy profit while still providing a valuable service to their patients. This is America. What is wrong with wanting your business to make money? As long as no one is being exploited, particularly patients, who is getting hurt? This is the only industry that is being punished by the federal government for being too successful. 

When people lump all members of the industry together, it makes it that much easier for prohibitionists to dismiss calls for policy change and gives the feds carte blanche to shut them all down because they are just 'greedy drug dealers'. 

In terms of politics, I would have to say that when it comes to the opponents of I-502 within the marijuana industry, there are certainly some that are looking out for their own financial interests, while others don't necessarily understand the initiative. Still others simply don't care about full legalization and are convinced that they will lose their driving privileges, or think that this initiative is too restrictive in one way or another.

It is unfortunate that some within the industry do not realize that the best way to ensure safe and affordable medical access for patients is to remove criminal penalties for all adults, or that they will continue to be able to make a living under a taxed and regulated legal framework. That does not make the whole industry a sham.

In Colorado, medical marijuana dispensaries opposed to Amendment 64 are less organized, and less concerned with how the bill will affect users who drive. Here's a sample complaint voiced last month

Although he supports adult recreational marijuana use, Rocky Mountain Remedies co-owner Kevin Fisher said legalizing pot for all Colorado adults could jeopardize the business model he and other state dispensary owners have worked hard to create. Specifically, Fisher said he's concerned approval of a system that permits recreational marijuana use would lead to increased federal intervention in Colorado.

"While we support adult access to cannabis in any form, we're not sure supporting this initiative is right at this time," Fisher said last week.

Fisher said the state's medical marijuana industry has come a long way in a short time. He didn't want anything to jeopardize his business, which now employs 40 people.

"We still have plenty of growing pains on the medical side on the local, state and federal levels," he said. "Moving forward with the retail model for recreational use, I'm not sure where we sit. I don't want to go to federal prison."

The sense I get from some activists is that internecine fighting over the best way to make marijuana fully legal at the state level is a) limited to big-time activists and players in the medi-mari industry, not medical or recreational users; and b) bad for the movement. 

And yet it seems as if the reform movement can't progress until it addresses opposition from protectionists in the medical marijuana community, as well as people who want better protections for recreational users and home growers. A failure to address that first concern led growers in Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino counties to vote against California's Prop 19 in 2010, and the inability of I-502 advocates to thoroughly address No on I-502's complaints—the DUI aspect, the penalties for sharing marijuana—may seal the initiative's fate long before November. 

"Every recent poll except one has shown most Washington voters are now ready to pass the initiative," Holden writes in his op-ed. "But support has slipped since last fall, down to only 51 percent, according to SurveyUSA. The flagging enthusiasm correlates with the escalating effort to stop the initiative." 

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  1. Is there one single sound reason for MJ to be illegal? All the arguments I have ever heard against it were sensational bullshit.
    This is coming from a guy who tried it once back in the early 80’s and didnt like it.

    1. I smoked it regularly back in my teen years. Then I realized I couldn’t remember shit and haven’t really touched it since.

      Still, why the fuck should I care what someone else does to their self?

    2. You should’ve inhaled.

  2. You didn’t need a full blog post on this: It cuts into their profits.

  3. And a new generation of business owners attempting to sway legislation to stifle competition has been born!

  4. Alcohol is only legal to make at home if you stay under the proscribed quantity limits and are only maiing beer and wine. I forget what the quantity limits are for beer and wine, but they do exist. I have’t heard of anybody getting busted for exceeding them, though. Maybe robc has some insight on this one.

    But distillation of alcohol is 100% pure illegal, and they do come down on it hard because of the tax issues. So the proposals are very in line with alcohol regulation.

    Also, this is just fed. YMMV, depending on state.

    1. Isn’t it illegal to grow wheat without some type of permit?

      1. Wickard v Filburn, bitches.

        1. filburn knowingly exceeded the limits established by agricultural plebiscite in which he had the opportunity to vote. >poar FIFY’s spoiled crops

          1. Wow, way to blow past the whole rationing issue and get right to the straw man.

            1. right to the straw man

              Wheat. EOM.

            2. yep, facts ARE stupid things anon…like voting right!?

              1. Stupid, like saying that wheat grown and used in a single state is commerce among the several states.

          2. Voting result: 99-to-1
            woohoo! All your wheat and [insert asset] belong to us!

          3. Its okay if everyone else votes to take away my individual liberty as long as I was able to vote, too. Cunt.

            1. agricultural policy aint for the faint of heart…or the faint of mind

              1. What the fuck. Is that a retort?
                There is no mystical qualities about agricultural bureaucracy. It exists plainly to fuck around with commodity trade.

      2. If you are ever considering doing anything at all, especially selling something, consult an attorney to find out if you require a permit.

        1. If you are ever considering doing anything at all, just don’t.

          revised for brevity.

    2. New Zealand is probably the only place where home distillation is legal.

    3. 100 gallons per person; 200 gallons maximum per household.

      Allows any fermented product including, but not limited to, beer, wine, cider, perry, mead, saki, etc.

      Concentration of alcohol (by distillation or fractional crystallization) is not allowed without federal permits (which a home brewer cannot get).

      1. Took a brewmaster at the local brewery about 7 years to go through the hoops so he could set up a still.

        1. Or as John might say, go through the hops.

      2. Wait, fractional crystallization is covered as well? Damn, those sneaky bastards covered everything.

        1. Concentration of alcohol without a permit is verbotten.

        2. I don’t see any mention of ion exchange or osmotic filtering…

        3. Concentrating by that means is ill advised since it also concentrates the methanol and fusel oils, which can be easily separated and discarded when distilling.

          1. Yup. So I have heard.

      3. which a home brewer cannot get

        There is a valid zoning issue here, because of the potential fire/explosion hazard a still presents, which is not present in a beer/wine home-op.

        still (heh), if people can get setup to make fireworks on their property, they ought to be able to run their own distillation op too.

        1. (standard libertarian disclaimer about zoning, permits, etc)

        2. (just started wondering what would happen if you set a liquor cabinet on fire….like, you know, if you were crazy or something)

          1. Not a whole lot. Even 100 proof spirits are half water. It would probably be far less intense than, say a kitchen oil fire. Also, you can put it out with water safely because you aren’t going to get a huge steam cloud full of ethanol that then ignites.

            1. Anything less than 100 proof will not catch fire.

              1. What? Look up “flash point.” You can light 80 proof stuff as long as it’s above 79 F. That’s it’s flash point. You can light 10% wine on fire in a frying pan because it’s flash point is 120 F.

                1. That was implied.

                2. I understand flash points. It will burn, but you also understand that there’s an azeotrope so not all of the alcohol will evaporate. And then you’ve got a shitload of water to soak up the released heat. It won’t be a conflagration on the scale of an equivalent amount of grease is all I’m saying.

                  1. Brett L, I was replying to sarcasmic.

            2. I actually should have known this, having tried to light 80proof spirits before.

              Think before posting? Neva.

      4. No, a home distiller can get the permits; there’s no prohibition on living quarters being attached to a distillery. It’s just that it’s so costly as to be unaffordable unless you turn it into a business. Like making & shooting fireworks in some states, the laws and expenses are geared toward its being a business, even if there’s no requirement that one actually attempt to do it for profit.

        1. I suppose there is a marginal difference between “cannot get” and “rules so odious, no one wants to get”. But the net result is pretty much the same.

        2. Note to above: “attached”, not “connected”. That is, they don’t allow a passage or doorway between the distillery and the dwelling, but they can have a common wall.

        3. Actually I see that in NY, there is a requirement in the case of distillery permits in all classes that does seem to legally restrict it from some hobby uses: the requirement that nobody be given more than 3 “samples” a day — and sample size is limited to 1/4 fl. oz. That would seem to be a problem with sharing with friends, unless there’s a technical meaning of “sample” that does not include such sharing.

          1. I guess it means you have to record it as a sale and pay a tax per volume.

          2. At the founding of the country farmers routinely turned surplus grain into whiskey because it doesn’t spoil and can be used in trade.

            So one of the first things our liberty loving rules did was tax distilled spirits.

            They’ve been ruthless ever since.

            You get caught even with a hobby distillery and they’ll do their best to completely ruin your life.

      5. I know there’s some confusion if homebrewing eisbocks are legal, considering that the point is intentionally freezing off the water to condense the alcohol content.

    4. You can get a micro-distillation license, but you agree to allow the BATFE full and unfettered access at their request to the entire premises upon which you are distilling. You also have to log every ounce you distill and how it is disposed of. I’ll pass.

      1. If any fed knows who you are and doesn’t like you, he can already trump up some kind charges. So why would anyone give a crap about laws against distilling your own hooch? You are already a de facto peasant subject to arbitrary imprisonment. There is a certain freedom in admitting that.

        Don’t tell many people (preferably no one). Don’t make a whole shitload. Don’t try to make money off it. But one batch of brandy or moonshine shouldn’t really be a problem.

      2. Brett said he’d pass on the license, not necessarily on distilling.

        When it comes to things regulated by BATFE and the like, you’re much more likely to come to the att’n of local authorities than the feds, and even if you do, the feds are not interested enough in most cases.

        1. The Fed courts here in AZ are so backlogged with immigration cases that have no fear of the Feds in regards to my still. My fear is that some idiot neighbor will see me running it and think it’s a meth lab and call the locals. Last thing I need is a flash bang coming over the fence when I’ve got a gallon of 180 proof ethanol.

      3. That premises cant be your home either.

        TTB wont give licenses for a residential location.

        Some people HAVE been able to get licenses for an outbuilding on a residential property, but it generally is a farm situation, and not your shed in your backyard.

    5. T,

      yep, see below. I posted before reading your comments.

  5. Although he supports adult recreational marijuana use, Rocky Mountain Remedies co-owner Kevin Fisher said legalizing pot for all Colorado adults could jeopardize the business model he and other state dispensary owners have worked hard to create.

    We seek economic rents! Competition frightens us!


    1. I’m sincerely hoping that Kevin Fisher gets a nice visit from the DEA.

      Fuck him and his rent-seeking buddies.

    2. I think he’s saying that if it is legalized for recreational use, the federal government will be even less likely to recognize the legitimacy of MMJ-specialized sellers. Federal enforcement seems more likely – but then MMJ is technically also illegal at the Federal level and the government can enforce at their discretion, unfortunately – so not seeing much difference. Still, it’s not necessarily rent-seeking to say “I don’t want to go to federal prison.”

      1. No, I think just the opposite. The more people permitted to do it by the state, the less likely a particular one of them will be the subject of a federal enforcement action.

        1. And I think he realizes that and is just seeking rent.

  6. These initiatives are good, solid initiatives, and the fact that the medicalization industry is against it is proof that this is exactly the direction we need to go with marijuana.

    1. also dont froget the mormons & liquor industry also opposes…odd juxtaposition there fosho

  7. “Of course there are some bad apples that only care about profit…”

    I didn’t realize that for-profit medical marijuana providers were expected to be motivated by “higher” (pardon the pun) motives than caring about profit.

    1. They aren’t. But they are also not expected to use the power of the state to limit competition to their business.

      1. The medical marijuana industry, like any other industry, looks out for its own self-interest as a whole. They may talk about concerns about legalization initiatives not going far enough or provoking a federal response, but for the vast majority of them, it’s obvious their true motive is to maximize profits by keeping marijuana in their highly profitable regulatory framework.

    2. I do expect them to not become rent-seekers.

      1. Actually, I fully “expected” it, I just hope for better.

  8. This. Is. Awesome.

    Think about it, on a cursory glance, everyone thinks there’s two sides to every issue (i.e. pro choice/life, guns/no guns, rail/highways, privitize/nationalize, etc.) So, if the two sides suddenly become medical/legal, then, where does that put the drug warriors? Great success.

    1. So, if the two sides suddenly become medical/legal, then, where does that put the drug warriors?

      medical, since the state’s control of medicine will allow the warriors to keep their jobs.

      1. No, legal, because they have more lawyers than doctors.

  9. This is just the tip of the misinformation agenda of the medical providers. I502 in no way affects medically legal grow sites. Medical patients can still grow as many plants as they have been for their needs. This article and the providers/patients against I502 like to spin it as if they will have to give up their current home grows and buy from a liquor control board certified grower/vender. That is completely wrong.

    1. I’ve seen this sort of thing in other health-related reform issues.

  10. Medical marijuana was seen as a foot-in-the-door angle for eventual complete legalization. Did anyone back in the 90s predict that there would be resistance to full legalization from medical marijuana providers? Looks like the foot has gotten quite comfortable in the door and doesn’t want to let the rest of the body in.

  11. IIRC, New Jersey requires a home brewers license.

    1. Also, you cant distill at home at all.

      So Im not sure saying these arent exactly like alcohol is true, as the regs on home alcohol production run the entire spectrum.

  12. This is why I will vote to revoke prop 215 in CA if given the chance. The medical cannabis folks are just apparachiks in the drug war. Legal for all, or legal for none.

    The prop 19 fight was a huge eye opener for me.

  13. The user community needs to vote with their dollars, and dump suppliers who oppose full legalization. This is already starting to happen in California, where one patient after another is seeing their suppliers destroyed both by local and federal enforcement, with the state’s medical marijuana law not protecting anybody.

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