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Women’s rights organization endorses Washington's marijuana-legalization initiative

Legal Voice, a Seattle-based women’s rights legal organization, announced Tuesday that it is endorsing Initiative 502, the ballot measure that would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana use in Washington state.

Officials with the organization said current drug laws have made women the fastest growing segment of the state's prison population.

“Passage of I‐502 will help women by addressing marijuana use as a public health matter,” said Lisa M. Stone, executive director of Legal Voice.

"Our current laws harm families by putting women behind bars for using drugs, instead of providing much‐needed treatment for women with drug problems. This approach has not made our communities safer; rather, it has increased the number of women who are separated from their children and in some cases must give birth in inhumane conditions. And the impact of current drug policies falls on poor women and women of color disproportionately,” Stone said.

In making its endorsement, Legal Voice pointed to research that shows the number of women in prison increased 84 percent from 1995 to 2005, largely as a result of changes to drug policy.

State and federal drug laws have led to a dramatic increase in the number of incarcerated women over the past 25 years, the organization said.

Nationwide, an estimated 85 percent of women who are incarcerated are mothers and more than half have children under 18. Legal Voice officials also said that while drug use by women actually declined from 1986‐1996, the number of women incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses increased by 888 percent during that time, compared to a rise of 129 percent for non‐drug related offenses.

Legal Voice also notes that only one in five women with a history of substance abuse receives treatment for substance abuse while in state prison, and the percentage is even lower — one in eight — in federal prison.

I-502 will appear on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot. The initiative has also been endorsed by State Rep. Sherry Appleton of the 23rd Legislative District.

If I-502 is approved by voters, marijuana would be legal for adults 21 and over, and marijuana growers and processors would be licensed and taxed.

I-502 supporters said 80 percent of a new marijuana excise tax would be dedicated to health care, prevention, research and education. The balance of the excise tax, and all retail sales tax, would go to the state's general fund and local budgets.

 

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