NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2022

The feds start following Washington State’s lead on marijuana, ten years after I‑502

The “Octo­ber sur­prise” deliv­ered by Pres­i­dent Biden last week would have been huge­ly con­tro­ver­sial a few years back, and imme­di­ate­ly seized upon by a Demo­c­ra­t­ic president’s right wing oppo­nents as a fan­ning of the nation’s moral decay.

The 46th Pres­i­dent deliv­ered a par­don to all peo­ple with a non-vio­lent con­vic­tion under fed­er­al mar­i­jua­na laws. Pres­i­dent Biden also set in motion a recon­sid­er­a­tion of marijuana’s clas­si­fi­ca­tion under fed­er­al law. Under present pol­i­cy, absurd­ly, it is a Sched­ule 1 offense in the same cat­e­go­ry as hero­in and LSD.

A POLITICO/Morning Con­sult poll found 65% approval for the par­don, with 40% of those sur­veyed in strong sup­port. An even high­er lev­el of approval, 69%, greet­ed the prospec­tive reclas­si­fi­ca­tion of cannabis. More than two thirds of those sur­veyed had heard a lot or some­thing about the exec­u­tive actions.

Once more, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., was catch­ing up with Wash­ing­ton State.

A decade ago, with pas­sage of Ini­tia­tive 502, the Ever­green State became the first U.S. state to legal­ize recre­ation­al use of mar­i­jua­na and the first to autho­rize recre­ation­al mar­i­jua­na sales. Our legal­iza­tion took effect three hours before weed became legal in Colorado.

The state’s vote to legal­ize was not defined as a social rev­o­lu­tion, but rather a mod­est use of intel­li­gence. Strong sup­port came from the med­ical and legal com­mu­ni­ties. The ratio­nale: Exist­ing laws were wide­ly ignored and enforce­ment unfair­ly and inequitably hit hard­est at peo­ple of col­or, while legal­iza­tion would take mon­ey from orga­nized crime and put it in state coffers.

A moment of pride is in order.

Our state has act­ed in a sen­si­ble and humane way, backed by the pub­lic, at a time when such actions were still anath­e­ma to much of the coun­try. Just recall the con­tro­ver­sy, a few years back, when pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bill Clin­ton fessed up to smok­ing mar­i­jua­na (but tried the dodge “I didn’t inhale”).

A clas­sic exam­ple of Wash­ing­ton out front was pas­sage, in 1970, of Ref­er­en­dum 20 which – with con­di­tions – legal­ized abor­tion. The vote pre­ced­ed by three years the Roe vs. Wade deci­sion of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rea­son and empa­thy pre­vailed over closed-mind­ed­ness in the R‑20 vote.

The dri­ve to legal­ize was spurred on by death of women in botched abor­tions, as well as injus­tice and inequal­i­ty. Well-known clin­ics in Seat­tle served well-off women. Some women wish­ing to end preg­nan­cies (e.g. future Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jolene Unsoeld) booked trips to Japan.

Oppo­nents erect­ed bill­boards show­ing a fetus and the slo­gan “Kill Ref­er­en­dum 20, Not Me.” A noto­ri­ous Hal­loween prank saw some­one climb up a Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­trict bill­board and spray paint: “Hap­py Moth­ers Day.”

Wash­ing­ton vot­ed to strength­en pro­tec­tion of abor­tion rights in 1991.

The 2012 elec­tion saw Wash­ing­ton, with Mary­land and Maine, be the first to legal­ize mar­riage equal­i­ty by pop­u­lar vote. Mass­a­chu­setts was the first state where same-sex cou­ples could wed, but by virtue of a state Supreme Court deci­sion. Wash­ing­ton had its pio­neer­ing role, vot­ing in 2009 to legal­ize domes­tic part­ner­ships. Again, it seemed sim­ply the sen­si­ble thing to do.

On the day mar­riage equal­i­ty became legal, day­long wed­dings were per­formed at Seat­tle City Hall before elect­ed lead­ers serv­ing as officiants.

King Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court (now Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court) Judge Mary Yu offi­ci­at­ed at the first wed­ding a minute past mid­night. Seat­tle First Bap­tist Church wel­comed a mass ear­ly evening ceremony.

In 2008, Wash­ing­ton fol­lowed Ore­gon in vot­ing to legal­ize Death with Dig­ni­ty. The chief backer of Ini­tia­tive 1000 was ex-Gov­er­nor Booth Gard­ner, who suf­fered from Parkinson’s Dis­ease. The mea­sure passed by a land­slide with 57.8% of the vote.

What has put Wash­ing­ton in the fore­front of pro­gres­sive social change?

A belief in pri­va­cy, that the gov­ern­ment should butt out of pri­vate deci­sions, is unusu­al­ly strong here. Indeed, it was Yaki­ma-raised U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice William O. Dou­glas who defined a gen­er­al right to pri­va­cy in the 1966 Gris­wold v. Con­necti­cut decision.

For the most part, Wash­ing­ton has been bless­ed­ly free of influ­en­tial reac­tionary peo­ple and insti­tu­tions. No pow­er­ful church­es resist­ing the legal­iza­tion of con­tra­cep­tives. No preach­ers of dis­crim­i­na­tion like Jer­ry Fal­well, Pat Robert­son and Franklin Gra­ham stig­ma­tiz­ing those with whom they disagree.

The Pacif­ic North­west was ear­ly in sup­port of women’s rights. I grew up at a time when Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon and Ida­ho sent four women to Congress.

At an ear­ly Seat­tle anti-Viet­nam War protest, I lis­tened to an aged Jeanette Rankin, the Mon­tana con­gress­woman who vot­ed against U.S. entry into both World War I and II. (Rankin was the sole vote against going to war in 1941.)

As well, we have a younger pop­u­la­tion here.

A big major­i­ty of mil­len­ni­als and Gen­er­a­tion Z have jet­ti­soned homo­pho­bia, long the most endur­ing of social prej­u­dices. Young activists have been a dri­ving force behind Washington’s three suc­cess­ful gun safe­ty ini­tia­tives – par­tic­u­lar­ly after the 2018 mas­sacre at Park­land’s Mar­jo­ry Stone­man Dou­glas High School — passed by vot­ers in the face of inac­tion by Con­gress and the Wash­ing­ton State Legislature.

We’ve led the way, as well, in mak­ing it eas­i­er and more acces­si­ble to vote.

No won­der Wall Street Jour­nal edi­to­ri­al­ists a while ago dubbed us the most dan­ger­ous cor­ner of the country’s “Left Coast.” Where Wash­ing­ton leads, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., fol­lows, as evi­denced by Pres­i­dent Biden’s big announce­ment on mar­i­jua­na pol­i­cy a full ten years after the approval of Ini­tia­tive 502.

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