Monday, February 9, 2009

Washington's Marijuana Decrim Bill: Why It's Good, What's The Hold-Up, And What To Do

The Washington state legislature is looking at a bill which would decriminalize adult marijuana possession in the Evergreen State.

There are many, many reasons that reducing the penalties for marijuana is a good thing. But the biggest and best is:

You don't get put in a cage for pot.

Anyone who underestimates the value of not being in a cage hasn't spent much time in one.

Under current law, possessing as little as one joint is punishable by up to 90 days in jail. In Washington last year, 11,553 people were arrested on marijuana possession charges.

As reported by Dominic Holden in The Stranger, sponsors and advocates behind the bill intend to emphasize the bill’s savings. Representative Brendan Williams (D-22, Olympia), one of the bill's co-sponsors, said he plans to “frame it in terms of the tradeoff in the budget discussion … and set a square alternative."

Williams says conservative legislators could be attracted to the cost-saving argument for decriminalization more than ever. “Do you choose to provide health care for x number of children or fund criminalizing marijuana possession?” he asked. For example, Williams cites a cost analysis of pot busts taken from Washington State Institute for Public Policy data that shows, based on the number of arrests in 2007, Washington would save $7.5 million by passing the law.

No Republicans have co-sponsored either the House or the Senate versions of the marijuana decrim bill.

Chart: The Stranger

Alison Holcomb, director of the ACLU of Washington’s Drug Policy Project, said public opinion is on the bill’s side. A recent poll shows 81 percent of Washington voters believe pot laws aren’t working. “I think that the bill is an improvement Washington voters are ready to see,” she says. Massachusetts voters passed a nearly identical measure in November by a 30-point margin—and the lack of pot-induced hysteria in Massachusetts may provide evidence that the hackneyed reefer-madness claims about marijuana reforms are unfounded.

Alison Holcomb of the ACLU

"Thirteen other states have already [decriminalized marijuana]"—including Massachusetts, where a measure similar to the one in the Washington State legislature passed a public vote in November by a 30-point margin—"and we haven't seen any of those other states struggle with [the] problem" of federal prosecution, Holcomb said.

California has made possession of marijuana a civil infraction, and, like Washington, it also sits on an international border and has a coastline patrolled by federal agents.

The Facts

SB 5615 would change pot possession of 40 grams or less from a misdemeanor to a $100 civil infraction. The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on SB 5615 Tuesday, February 10 at 10 a.m. in Hearing Room 1 of the J.A. Cherberg Building on the Capitol campus in Olympia, WA.

This is a companion bill to HB 1177:

Rep. Chris Hurst doesn't want marijuana -- and he doesn't want you to have it, either

The House version of the bill, HB 1177, is being held up in the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee by the committee chairman, this asshat, Rep. Chris Hurst:

Reality Catcher suggests you call his office and let him know what you think about that. (For best results, I further suggest you don't call Rep. Hurst or his assistants "asshats." Do as I say, not as I do.)

Telephone (360) 786-7866

Or if you're one of his constituents, you can send him a message online:

Email Rep. Chris Hurst

In addition, if you are a resident of Washington, you can use this online form provided by the Washington ACLU to contact your state legislators:

Take Action: Marijuana Reclassification Bill


JudeB said...

Reality_Catcher, you are the bomb!

Christie O'Brien said...

Yes he is ;)