According to Alison Holcomb, 363,000 Americans have used marijuana in the last 30 days. Those who are being arrested for possession are just a fraction of the actual users. She said that now, high school students are smoking more marijuana than they are cigarettes.
Students in Professor Steve Herbert’s Introduction to Law, Societies & Justice course received a visit from Holcomb, a leader for the initiative to legalize marijuana for those over 21 in the state of Washington. Normally the Drug Policy Director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, she is now the campaign director for New Approach Washington, the team behind I-502. During the class, students asked her questions so that they could better understand the law and its implications.
“One of the things that we try to do in LSJ is to help students understand why the architecture of law is really significant, and the drug war is one place where that’s especially obvious,” said Professor Herbert. “What I-502 allows is an opportunity to imagine the marijuana trade differently, as something other than a criminal violation. Who better for the students to engage than the principal architect of the initiative?”
Holcomb covered many aspects of the law that may not be transparent to the average voter. When it came to concerns people might have about being arrested for DUI after smoking, despite not actually being under the influence of marijuana, she emphasized that police would be looking for the active ingredient that affects cognition, not the chemicals that stay in the system for a prolonged period of time.
Because the effects of marijuana on most users are mild, Holcomb believes it should be treated differently from other illegal drugs. “I think it’s a big mistake to treat all drugs the same,” she said. “I think good drug policy treats each drug according to its own risk.”
She also noted the economic benefits of the initiative: less money would go toward punishing people for possession. Instead, the government would be creating a legal market where the demand would go.
“We’re coming at it from the demand side,” Holcomb said.
In addition to benefiting the visible economy, Holcomb also mentioned the affect marijuana legalization would have on the black market: with the pot market out of illegal economic activities, the black market would lose some of its steam.
During her question and answer session, students were rapt and paying attention. The subject matter, it seemed, was something they were interested in.
“I’m pretty sure most of the class was familiar with the basics of the law, so I really thought it was beneficial to be able to ask some in-depth questions about implementation and other aspects,” said Clayton Hess, a student in the LSJ 200 class. “Will I vote for marijuana legalization? Probably not. I think any sort of legalization should come from a national level. However, I think it’s great to have policy discussions like this that educate everybody involved.”
Although I-502 is not a federal law, and would only be covered under Washington state jurisdiction, Holcomb is hoping that the law will “get the dominoes falling” for the rest of the country. With Washington to set the stage, she and her team hope that our state can be an example for other states to follow suit.
“Are we going to have to start a civil war?” one student asked during the class, eliciting laughter.
“They’re definitely going to wait and see what the voters do,” Holcomb replied. While her team’s goal is to start a movement for the country, she said they are trying to complement federal law enforcement, not work against it.
“We agree that good policy would protect you from long term decisions that you might not be aware of, and protect society,” said Holcomb.
After her visit, Holcomb only had good things to say about students’ engagement and active participation.
“It was a really rewarding experience,” Holcomb said in an email. “The students were fantastic.”
This article was composed by Kristine Kim.