The main reason Alex Newhouse got involved in the marijuana legalization effort was because a useful and environmentally sound crop, hemp, is banned under drug laws despite not having any of the psychoactive chemicals of other varieties of the plant.
"It's an absolute sin our farmers cannot profit from the crop," said Newhouse. "You can't get high from hemp."
At the moment, other countries that allow hemp production, including China, have a major advantage over the United States, which must import raw hemp for use in a variety of products.
Newhouse, a Sunnyside native who now lives in Yakima, also recognized other problems with the prohibition of marijuana.
"There's a personal liberty issue," he said. "Marijuana doesn't kill people, it doesn't cause cancer."
As a result, Newhouse has worked on Initiative 502, which has now acquired more than 350,000 signatures, enough to be certain to reach the 241,153 valid petition signatures required to put the initiative on the ballot.
I-502, unlike previous efforts to decriminalize marijuana in the state, regulates the drug heavily. It would require the state Liquor Control Board to regulate and license stores selling marijuana and farmers producing the plant.
The initiative would also tax marijuana with some of the income earmarked for programs to prevent children from using the drug. And it would set a legal limit of THC in the bloodstream for drivers.
Newhouse joined the current effort because he supports sensible regulation in place of the current policy.
"Over 104 million Americans over 12 have tried or currently use marijuana," said Newhouse, a statistic supported by the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy.
He explained the prohibition on marijuana doesn't make sense considering its mild effects compared to tobacco or alcohol. The disconnect between the severity of marijuana laws versus the reality of marijuana use only serves to undermine the legal system, according to Newhouse.
"Our country is at war with its own people," said Newhouse. "The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population. More people are in U.S. prisons for drug violations than there are people incarcerated in Western Europe. Half of all drug arrests in the United States are for cannabis, and a vast majority of those are for possession alone."
Newhouse has worked to gather signatures and spoken at various events in support of the initiative. He thinks the balance of regulations in the initiative may err slightly on the side of caution, but will be for the best.
"I had to decide what I was willing to accept in an initiative and what was a deal breaker," he said. "For example, a person under 21 using marijuana is a deal breaker unless it's for medical reasons. And many, including myself, want everyone on the road to be stone-cold sober."
When asked what the federal implications of I-502 would be, Newhouse said it would put pressure to change the federal laws. "The feds are not going to go down without a fight," he said. But the regulations with this initiative give it a better chance of having a positive effect on the overall argument about marijuana decriminalization.
I-502 will not affect the current Washington medical marijuana laws at all, he added.
For more information about the initiative, visit http://newapproachwa.org.