Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Washington Lawmakers Snuff Out Marijuana Legalization Bill

By Steve Elliott in Toke of the Town

If marijuana is going to be legalized in Washington this year, it will have to be the voters who do it -- because the Legislature won't.

The House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee is expected to vote down bills dealing with legalization and decriminalization of marijuana, reports Jerry Cornfield at the Everett Herald Net.

Rep. Chris Hurst, chairman of the public safety panel, told Cornfield there aren't enough votes to move either bill out of committee.

While amendments to either bill or both could be proposed Wednesday, Hurst said he doesn't believe enough minds will change to alter the outcome.

With five Democrats and three Republicans on the committee -- and two of the Democrats (Hurst and Rep. Al O'Brien, D-Mountalke Terrace) being former cops, with both saying they will oppose the bills -- neither will likely make it out of committee.

Hurst said votes could have been taken last week at the end of a two-hour hearing on the legislation. Sponsors of the bills asked for time to consider possible changes, in response to criticisms raised in the hearing.

Hurst claims he's pushing to get the matter resolved (as in, hurry up and get these bills killed) to give backers of a voter initiative for marijuana legalization "a clear field" on which to wage their battle.

Many observers of the Washington state political scene believe that blame for the marijuana bills are once again dying in the Legislature due may be rightly placed on Speaker of the House Frank Chopp.

According to multiple, well-placed sources (both inside the Legislature and those observing), Chopp, through a lack of political will and leadership, is the legislator most responsible for the death of marijuana decrim in the last session as well.

A reliable inside source, in a position to know, tells Toke of the Town Chopp doesn't want to force a "controversial" marijuana decrim vote by the entire Legislature, because he doesn't want to force fellow Democrats (in the majority) to vote on pot any time before the 2010 elections.

Chopp's leadership style, or lack thereof, has been a growing source of controversy within progressive Democrats for some time now. Over and over, you see Chopp described as "the most powerful politician in the state," but you'd never guess it from his unwillingness to go out on a limb, to take a stand, to have a backbone.

A Washington State Senate bill decriminalizing marijuana is still alive, though no hearings on it have been scheduled as of Tuesday morning.

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