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Published: Sunday, December 9, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Legalization didn't solve problems pot presents

Marriage equality and legal pot use took effect the same day. Yes, Washington made history last week with two new laws.
Both validate libertarian get-out-of-my-private-life views. Yet I see them as very different, despite the link of timing.
Seeing happy, committed couples at long last able to marry, I am proud of Washington voters for taking a great step forward in support of equal rights.
To me, though -- even if it makes sense for law enforcement not to focus on marijuana -- legalizing pot is nothing to celebrate.
I'm troubled by the message the new marijuana law sends, and not just to kids. Weed is obviously not as harmful as heroin, opioid painkillers and other drugs. But let's not pretend there's no problem here.
Marijuana Anonymous, which uses the 12-step recovery approach founded by Alcoholics Anonymous, has 11 regular meetings in its Western Washington District 4. An Everett MA group is called "Last Puff."
That group meets 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays in the Padovan Room at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett's Pacific campus, and 7 to 8:15 p.m. Fridays in the hospital's Monte Cristo Room. One member of the group said 15 to 20 people show up for each meeting.
From a Marijuana Anonymous book, titled "Life with Hope," comes this question and answer:
"How can there be marijuana addicts if marijuana is not addicting?"
"We who are marijuana addicts know the answer to this question. Marijuana controls our lives. We lose interest in all else; our dreams go up in smoke."
If you never had a friend or loved one whose life fit that scenario, you are lucky -- and probably pretty rare.
"Marijuana is addictive to 9 percent to 10 percent of users," Dr. Bill Dickinson wrote in his Viewpoints opinion piece published in The Herald Oct. 21.
Dickinson is an addiction specialist with Providence Behavioral Health Services in Everett. Writing about his pot-dependent patients, Dickinson said "I am able to get people off of cocaine and heroin, but they are not able to stop using cannabis."
This isn't a "Reefer Madness" sort of rant. I truly struggled before deciding to vote no on Initiative 502. The law removes criminal penalties for pot users 21 and older. It will allow retail sales of marijuana, with the state collecting taxes.
I would have supported a decriminalization law, which California now has. Rather than legalizing marijuana, the California law that took effect in 2011 reduced possession of less than an ounce from a misdemeanor to an infraction.
The penalty -- and the California law applies to juveniles and adults -- is a $100 fine, like a traffic ticket. Pot users are spared criminal records, but the message is different than in Washington.
Here, voters seemed to say marijuana use is fine -- no harm at all.
Legalization will likely increase pot use. That has happened since hard liquor became available in Washington grocery stores and other shops.
The state Department of Revenue reported Tuesday that in the first four months of privatized sales, from June through September, consumers bought 7.9 percent more liquor than they did during the same period last year.
If and when Washington's pot law goes into effect fully, with retail outlets, weed will not only be more available, but presumably more respectable.
It's not hard to imagine parents, who previously kept a secret stash of weed in their bedroom, feeling free to smoke their drug of choice at home in front of the kids. That's now perfectly legal -- like having a beer on Super Bowl Sunday.
It's a big change. I'm surprised by how many voters supported it.
According to election returns released by Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, 1,724,209 voters favored Initiative 502 for legalized pot, while 1,371,235 opposed it. That's a wider margin than the victory for Referendum 74, the same-sex marriage measure, which won 1,659,915 to 1,431,285.
Think of it: 124,344 more voters supported legal pot than same-sex marriage. Marriage equality validates long-term relationships and creates a stronger safety net for families.
What will legal weed create? We don't know yet. It's history in the making. But I'm wary of calling it progress.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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