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Marijuana: Washington State House Committee Holds Hearing on Decrim, Legalization Bills -- Public Support Strong, Initiative Coming

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #616)
Drug War Issues

It's been a busy week for marijuana in Washington state. Activists announced the filing of a legalization initiative Monday, the House held hearings on a pair of marijuana decriminalization and legalization bills Wednesday, and a statewide poll released Tuesday showed majority support for legalization.

At the statehouse, the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee was the scene of the hearings on a pair of bills, HB 1177 and HB 2401. The former would decriminalize marijuana possession; the latter would legalize marijuana possession, cultivation and sales, and regulate it like alcohol.

Proponents argued that marijuana prohibition has been as ineffective as alcohol Prohibition. "We have not deterred the use of marijuana, nor have we seen a noticeable impact on the availability of marijuana," legalization bill sponsor Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle) told the committee. "Over the last decade, we have wasted scores of taxpayer dollars on investigation, court proceedings and incarceration."

Under Dickerson's bill, marijuana would be sold in Washington's 160 state-run liquor stores and would be taxed at 15% of the retail price. Funds raised by taxing marijuana would be mainly earmarked for drug abuse prevention and treatment. Dickerson said her measure could raise up to $300 million a year for the state.

The decriminalization bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-Des Moines), would make adult possession of marijuana a civil infraction with a $100 penalty. Under current state law, it is a misdemeanor punishable by a mandatory minimum one-day sentence and up to 90 days in jail.

"It's not about fighting for our right to party," said Upthegrove. "My interest is to minimize drug addiction."

Of course, the police were not happy. "If you believe that it is okay for kids in school to use marijuana and be high, then you should pass either one or both of these," said Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

"I for one would prefer not to have another substance that's going to allow an impaired individual, in a legal fashion, during the hunting season, for example, using a fire arm" or operating a boat or driving, said John Didion, president of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

But a former Republican state senator, Bill Finkbeiner, testified that it was time to consider changing the marijuana laws. "There's a very real cost to having our police, our courts and our jails have to deal with a problem that's a victimless crime," Finkbeiner said. "Public opinion is evolving on this issue."

A poll released this week suggested Finkbeiner was onto something. The KING5-TV/SurveyUSA poll of 500 Washingtonians reported that 56% thought legalization was a good idea and 54% approved the idea of selling marijuana through state-run liquor stores.

The committee also heard from Ric Smith of Sensible Washington, the group that filed the initiative Monday. He told the solons not to worry about legalizing marijuana -- the voters would take care of it in November. "We're going to take it out of your hands," he said. "Just wait for our initiative. It will take care of everything."

The initiative, sponsored by attorneys Douglass Hiatt and Jeffrey Steinborn, as well as Smith, Hempfest head Vivian McPeak and Philip Waine Dawdy, would remove all state criminal penalties for adults who possess, cultivate, and sell marijuana -- no matter the quantity. Supporters must gather 241,000 valid signatures by July 2 to qualify it for the November ballot.

Meanwhile, the House committee will vote on the decrim and legalization bills next week.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Jean Boyd (not verified)

It is easy to understand why the drug war warriors do not want a legalization discussion. When police and legislators argue for continued prohibition they look like lunatics with alterior motives. Didion's remark about hunting brings to mind an incident involving the X-Vice President. Hmmmm....I will spare us all and not mention his name. Maybe hunters will smoke pot and realize that they did not really want to kill a beautiful wild animal anyway.

Fri, 01/15/2010 - 7:57pm Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

I'll be seeking out the initiative petition to sign. The initiative is far better than either bill, The bill that would have it sold in State liquor stores is behind the times, the State is already discussing getting out of the liquor selling business (something it should have done LONG, long ago). The decrim bill is just stupid, won't affect the black market in any way. So, YES to the initiative!

I'm pro-choice on EVERYTHING!

Sat, 01/16/2010 - 12:34am Permalink
Seattle82m (not verified)

I'm 28 years old right now and I tried marijuana for the first time when I was 25. The reason why I didn't try it earlier is not because it is illegal, but because it is unhealthy. Well, that's what I thought at least. I did a lot of research, and realized that I was wrong. Marijuana might not be vitamins, but it is not worse than alcohol and it is far, far better than cigarettes.
What upsets me is that I was so against it before! I really was and it is because of my parents ( who never smoked) and some other adults who made me believe it was bad. People that are against it , are the people that never tried it, are religious, and are against alcohol too.

So everyone, do some research, maybe hang out with someone that smokes, and see for yourself that it is just a mild drug.

I hope I will get a chance to place my signature on the petition.

Thu, 01/21/2010 - 3:34am Permalink
The Athenian (not verified)

The first lesson I ever had burned into me by my family is that you cannot LISTEN with your mouth. You must use your ears and eyes to LISTEN.... hence, would we rather be concerned about children at a "potential risk" to get high on marijuana or high on methamphetamine? Legalization of marijuana alleviates the legal system of an extremely large sum of money wasted on simple marijuana convictions and the same goes for treatment centers, thus, you have more funds freed to allocate against the harder drugs which are 100x the plaguing effect on our society in general. Have I mentioned the fact that the state can even benefit from private ownership stores which sell legalized marijuana by charging the same tax on them? Drug Seizures, Washington State Patrol Drug Control Assistance Unit, 2006: Marijuana plants 26,693 plants - Processed marijuana 20 pounds (that's not even enough to supply every person in this state with 1 gram) ....... Heroin 1,655 grams - Methamphetamine 2,992 grams (that's enough to get a minimum of over 40% of the state's population addicted.... ADDICTED).... Does anyone have a question?

Fri, 03/19/2010 - 4:35pm Permalink

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