Newsbrief: Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Dead in Oklahoma 3/26/04

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A bill supported by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety that would have made possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a ticketable offense was defeated in a House committee vote Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Capt. Van Guillotte, legislative liaison for the DPS, told AP the agency wanted the bill passed because arresting people for simple pot possession was a waste of Highway Patrol officers' time. If an arrest is made, it could take two or three hours to transport and book the person, he said, and the cops often just don't bother. "In some cases, the evidence, the marijuana, is just thrown on the side of the road and destroyed, and the person is given a verbal warning and allowed to go on," Guillotte said. Heck, said Guillotte, if the bill had passed there might have been more prosecutions for marijuana possession. "Right now, if the oral warning is given and the product is thrown on the side of the road, nothing is recorded," he said. "This bill never changed the penalties, it only changes the method."

But legislators shied away from anything they thought might be perceived as soft on crime. "I know clearly where we're headed with the bill, but I also understand politics," said Rep. Jim Newport (R-Ponca City). "As soon as the highway patrol campaigns as aggressively for this bill out in my community, the same way I have to campaign when it's perceived by my opponent that I'm soft on crime, then I will vote for the bill," he told the AP.

The bill was defeated 4-2 in the House Criminal Justice Committee, effectively killing it for this session.

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