Marijuana: Washington State Decriminalization and Legalization Bills Killed in Committee

A pair of marijuana reform bills before the Washington state legislature were voted down by a House committee Wednesday. HB 2401 would have legalized marijuana possession for people 21 or older, and HB 1177 would have decriminalized the possession of up to 40 grams.
Washington State House, Olympia
Both bills got a public hearing before the Assembly Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee last week. But despite impressive testimony, a public opinion poll showing majority support for legalization, and the announcement by reform activists that they would put a legalization initiative on the ballot this fall, the same committee voted 6-2 against legalization and 5-3 against decriminalization.

The legalization bill would have seen marijuana sold through state liquor stores and taxed at 15%, with most revenues going for drug prevention and treatment. Those programs are facing potential cuts as the state grapples with a $2.6 billion budget shortfall. The decriminalization bill would have moved simple possession from a misdemeanor with a mandatory minimum one-day jail sentence to an infraction.

The four committee Republicans voted en bloc against both measures. Two committee Democrats joined with the GOP to vote against legalization, while one Democrat voted against decriminalization.

Committee Chairman Chris Hurst (D-Enumclaw), who joined with the GOP on both votes, said he could not vote for something that conflicted with federal law. "I took an oath of office to uphold the state constitution and the federal constitution," he said. "I cannot, in good conscience, pass a law or vote for a law that in my opinion is against federal law."

"The amount of money that we could realize over legalizing it and regulating it is close to $300 million a year," said Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo), who voted for both measures. "My feeling is that this is the time to challenge the federal government and we should be doing that."

Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), the former head of the King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project and a cosponsor of the legalization bill, said marijuana use is already widespread and that regulating it is better than not. "I want to regulate a product that potentially has hazardous consequences," he said. "A 'no' vote on this bill is a vote for prohibition and the illegal markets that it spawns."

While a decriminalization bill is still alive in the state Senate, Wednesday's Assembly committee vote effectively kills marijuana reform in the state legislature this year. If activists have their way, by next year it will be too late. Five well-known reform activists, including Hempfest head Vivian McPeak, announced last week they had filed a ballot initiative to remove all penalties for adults who grow, possess, and sale any quantity of marijuana. They need to get 240,000 valid signatures by July 2 to qualify for the November ballot.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Mr Hurst! Did you not know

Mr Hurst! Did you not know that it is unconstitutional to prohibit alcohol? Same thing applies to, the safer, cannabis, does it not?

That is, until you have some politician figure out to use the commerce clause to get a, racially created, bill against black people, Orientals, and Mexicans passed! This is what happened in the passage of the marijuana tax stamp act.

Racism is not acceptable in our new world. Neither, is fascism acceptable! Hemp makes more paper than you get out of the comparative number of trees. Hemp is a weed and grows almost anywhere you want to throw it. The paper industry has some involvement with he creation of the law as well. But, corporate/ government entanglement is fascism by the definitions I have read. I think the way the law was implemented should make it be considered un-Constitutional and an affront to every US citizens it defames. If they want to prohibit drugs, they should do it through the Constitutional system and not play, demoralizing, racial, political, games with it.

Now I don't have to review

Now I don't have to review HB 2401 again to see if it contains some fatal flaws my first reading seemed to reveal. I'll still write in support of HB 1177 just to be heard.

The initiative wasn't available to read when I last looked but sounds like it should be very straightforward and even better than CA's 1972 initiative which I don't think removed penalties for sale. If it is what it sounds like I'll be volunteering to gather signatures.

I do not see this failure of those measures as a problem

Both bills were seriously flawed. The citizen initiative is the best of the three; and now it will get more votes than it would have had the legislature passed either of those bills. I plan to collect signatures for the initiative, too.

I'm pro-choice on EVERYTHING!

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