Treat marijuana like alcohol? Initiative will test voter tolerance

Jun 22, 2011

It isn’t against the law to sip a martini. So why should you face jail time for lighting up a joint? Supporters of the latest initiative to legalize marijuana say both activities should be treated the same.

Liquor in Washington is heavily regulated. And that’s what the group New Approach Washington wants the state to do with pot.

Supporter Mark Johnson says it makes more sense to tax marijuana than outlaw it.

“In 2005, the amount of marijuana seized in Washington was valued at $270 million dollars. It edged cherries as our 8th most valuable cash crop,” he said.

In addition, he says, if people are able to buy pot legally they won’t be helping support violent criminal elements associated with illegal drugs.

Johnson is the past-president of the Washington State Bar Association. He’s just one of several high profile  legal and public health names associated with this new initiative.

Bob Wood, formerly with Seattle-King County Public Health, said:

“From a medical stand  point, I think there’s no question that marijuana really fits into the same category as  alcohol and tobacco."

Still, he admits there are a lot of problems associated with alcohol and tobacco addiction. And it’s possible legalizing pot will create more addicts.

"We're attempting to address these potential harms and, at the same time, try to figure out by monitoring behavior over a period of time whether we're really generating more problems than we're solving," he said.

Wood says one thing the Initiative filed in Olympia on Wednesday does is put some of the money generated from taxing marijuana into addiction prevention and education.

The measure will go to the legislature in January if the group gets 241,153  signatures by the end of the year. If the legislature takes no action, the proposal will go before voters in the November 2012 election.

A separate group, Sensible Washington, is trying to get a different marijuana initiative, I-1149, on the ballot in November of this year.