Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Let Me Count The Ways It Rocks... All 420 Of 'Em

PhotobucketThanks to my friend ZinnPixx

Thanks to my friend GetYour420

WA: 'Old Generation' Kills Pot Legalization Bills; Measure May Let Voters Decide

By Steve Elliott in Toke of the Town

​For the first time ever, the Washington Legislature looked at not one, but two bills to reform marijuana laws in the state. And although both were voted down in committee, advocates say marijuana legalization is still alive, with an initiative campaign trying to get a measure on the ballot in November, reports Matt Phelps of the Kirkland Reporter.

"My motivation was to get the criminals out of the business and stop the harm that the current prohibition is doing," said Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), who cosponsored House Bill 2401 with Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle).

"Many polls in Washington and nationwide show a favorability toward decriminalization," Goodman said.

HB 2401 would have legalized and regulated marijuana in Washington, but it failed to get out of the House Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Committee on a 6-2 vote.

Rep. Roger Goodman: "Some politicians are of the old generation on this"
​"Some politicians are of the old generation on this," Goodman said. "They don't understand the purpose of regulating it."

Goodman's bill would have put marijuana for sale -- with a heavy tax -- in state liquor stores.

According to the lawmaker, legalization would make it easier to control marijuana.

"Why wouldn't you want to get criminals out of business?" asked Goodman.

House Bill 1177, which would have reduced penalties for marijuana possession, known as "decriminalization." It was also voted down in committee, 5-3.

Goodman said that legalizing marijuana could raise as much as $300 million a year for the state.

The issue of legalizing and regulating marijuana in Washington remains alive with the Sensible Washington initiative, which needs more than 241,000 signatures to be on the ballot in November.

"It will be very easy to get those signatures," Goodman said.

Photo: Douglas Hiatt
Activist/attorney Douglas Hiatt: "Volunteers are lining up"
​Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle lawyer and marijuana activist who is sponsoring the legalization initiative, said volunteers are lining up to collect signatures.

Former state representative Toby Nixon, now a commissioner for King County Fire Protection District 41, is one Republican who supports legalization.

"I think it is unfortunate that the state legislature is so clearly behind the opinion of the state," Nixon said. "Most people I talk to share my opinion."

"Very few people I talk to, including strong conservatives, tell me I am flat out wrong," Nixon said. "I think people understand it is a better way to control the problem. But the initiative that is circulating will show us exactly how people feel."

A recent poll on the Kirkland Reporter website showed more than 70 percent of respondents favoring the legalization of pot.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

WA Supremes: No Matter If You're A Marijuana Patient, Cops Can Search And Arrest

By Steve Elliott in Toke of The Town
If you're a legal medical marijuana patient in Washington and you thought your doctor's recommendation protected you from search or arrest, you're wrong. According to a new court ruling, you can be arrested and hauled into court every time an officer smells pot at your home -- even if you are complying with the law.

In a sharply divided decision, the Washington Supreme Court Thursday ruled against a patient arrested for possessing marijuana -- despite the fact that the patient had a doctor's recommendation for medicinal pot.

Incredibly, the court found that police had probable cause to search the patient's home, even after he presented what both he and the police believed to be a valid medical marijuana authorization form under Washington's medical marijuana law.

"Possession of marijuana, even in small amounts, is still a crime in the state of Washington," Justice James Johnson wrote in the lead opinion. "A police officer would have probable cause to believe Fry committed a crime when the officer smelled marijuana emanating from the Frys' residence."

Justice Richard Sanders dissented on that point, saying such an analysis would neuter the state's compassionate use law, passed by voters in 1998, reports Gene Johnson of The Seattle Times. While the law does create a defense against marijuana charges to be used at trial, he said, it also states that qualifying patients "shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege" for using marijuana under the act.

Under the court's ruling, a patient could be searched, arrested and hauled to court every time an officer smells marijuana at his or her home, even if they were complying with the medical marijuana law, Sanders argued.

Photo: NORML
Alison Holcomb, ACLU: "This ruling is disappointing, as the citizens of Washington have clearly expressed support for the rights of patients who are suffering to use marijuana for medicinal purposes"
​ "This ruling is disappointing, as the citizens of Washington have clearly expressed support for the right of patients who are suffering to use marijuana for medicinal purposes," said Alison Holcomb, ACLU of Washington drug policy director.

"This ruling shows that police may search and arrest a patient even though he has his doctor's authorization for the medical use of marijuana," Holcomb said.

"As interpreted by the court, all Washington's medical marijuana law provides is a defense patients can raise at trial -- after having been subjected to the stress and stigma of arrest and criminal charges," Holcomb said. "Patients acting in good faith on their doctor's advice should not have to fear arrest."

Wednesday's ruling arose from the case of patient Jason Fry, a resident of Stevens County. In December 2004, members of the sheriff's department went to Fry's home with what they called "suspicion" that he was growing marijuana.

Upon their arrival, the deputies smelled marijuana, but were denied entry into the home after Mrs. Fry showed them her husband's medical marijuana authorization form. The officers then obtained a search warrant.

After the search, Fry was arrested and charged for marijuana possession.

A trial court did not allow him to raise the defense that he possessed marijuana under Washington's Medical Use of Marijuana Act. The court capriciously ruled that Fry was not a qualifying patient and found him guilty of possessing marijuana; an appeals court unaccountably upheld the conviction.

Even after Fry was subjected to prosecution, the trial court refused to allow him to raise the medical marijuana defense because his doctor had mistakenly authorized the medical use of marijuana for a condition not listed in the law.

In other words, the patient was punished for the doctor's mistake.

The court unfortunately did not address the issue of whether Fry should have been allowed to present the jury with a defense that he reasonably relied on his physician's authorization for the use of medical marijuana.

The court was highly divided, with only four justices signing the majority opinion. In a concurring opinion, four justices asserted that patients should, in general, be able to present a medical marijuana defense at trial. Justice Sanders wrote a dissenting opinion.

Washington's Medical Use of Marijuana Act was adopted by voter initiative in 1998.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Washington Legislature Says No To Pot, Yes To 'Continued Chaos'

By Steve Elliott in Toke of the Town

Graphic: The Seattle Times

The Legislature in Washington state displayed a trait Wednesday for which they are becoming well known: spinelessness, especially when it comes to marijuana law reform.

Despite the fact that a majority of state voters favor legalizing pot, cowardly politicians in the State House voted down a pair of bills aimed at changing Washington's failed marijuana laws.

House Bill 2401 would have legalized and regulated the adult production, use and distribution of marijuana, in a manner similar to the regulation of alcohol.

The roll call vote on HB 2401, to legalize marijuana, went like this:

Hurst (D) Chair - N
O'Brien (D) Vice Chair - N
Pearson (R) - N
Klippert (R) - N
Appleton (D) - Y
Goodman (D) - Y
Kirby (D) - N
Ross (R) - N

House Bill 1177 was a more limited piece of legislation. It would have reclassified minor marijuana possession cases (less than 40 grams) from a criminal misdemeanor to a fine-only civil infraction. This policy, known as decriminalization, is already the law in more than a dozen states.

The roll call vote on HB 1177, to decriminalize marijuana:

Hurst (D) Chair - N
O'Brien (D) Vice Chair - Y
Pearson (R) - N
Klippert (R) - N
Appleton (D) - Y
Goodman (D) - Y
Kirby (D) - N
Ross (R) - N

The legislative defeats for HB 2401 and HB 1177 came despite nearly two hours of public testimony, nearly all of which was in support of one or both bills.

One light shining brightly in the darkness was Democrat Rep. Roger Goodman, who showed the kind of leadership that seems all too rare in the Washington Legislature these days.

"A 'no' vote... is a vote for prohibition and the illegal markets that it spawns," Goodman said. "A 'yes' vote is a vote for control... A 'no' vote is a vote for continued chaos."​

Thumbnail image for Screen shot 2009-11-30 at 4.08.55 PM.png
Photo: NORML
NORML's Paul Armentano: "They say that the will of politicians often lags behind the sentiment of the public. Nowhere is this adage more clear
than when it comes to marijuana
law reform."
Courtesy of Paul Armentano, deputy director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), here are some of the lame excuses legislators gave for voting "no" to marijuana reforms.

Democrat Chris Hurst, committee chair, claimed that as a state lawmaker he is sworn to uphold both state and federal law. Ex-cop Hurst claimed that both proposals would be in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act. (As pointed out by Armentano, neighboring Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana, in 1973, and has never run afoul of federal law. Additionally, the governments of New Mexico, Rhode Island, Maine and now New Jersey have licensed, or will soon license, the production and distribution of medical marijuana without incident.)

"As a law enforcement officer... on countless occasions I've seen the negative effects of marijuana on people's lives," Republican Brad Klippert said. I would imagine he has, as a law enforcement officer busting people for pot. That's a negative effect of the marijuana laws, though, Brad, not of marijuana itself. (And as Armentano points out, Klippert's "logic" could also be used to outlaw alcohol, tobacco, and fatty foods.)

Republican Kirk Pearson claimed that just by talking about the bills, they were encouraging teens to try marijuana (who knew the Legislature had such influence?). "I don't want to do anything today that would make drug use seem safer to teenagers," Pearson said. (Oh, like telling the truth about marijuana? That wouldn't do, now would it? Additionally, as Armentano points out, by Pearson's own logic he should just shut the hell up.)

Democrat Steve Kirby claimed he really, truly does support the reforms, in theory, but then, weirdly and inexplicably, claimed that such changes in policy "require a vote of the public," not action by the Legislature. (As Armentano reasonably points out, marijuana prohibition was not enacted by a vote of the public.)

Ultimately, though, that public vote on marijuana may take place this November in Washington. NORML Legal Committee member, activist/lawyer Douglas Hiatt of Seattle has filed a voter initiative to legalize cannabis in the state.

If Sensible Washington's petition signature drive is successful, Washingtonians will get a chance to vote on legalization on the November 2010 ballot. A recent statewide poll shows that if the election were held today, pot would be legalized, with 56 percent of the vote.

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.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Poll: 56 Percent Favor Marijuana Legalization In Washington

By Steve Elliott in Toke of the Town
Photo: alapoet
Signage at the Seattle Marijuana March, Washington. A solid majority of Washingtonians support legalization, according to a new poll.

A solid majority, 56 percent, of Washingtonians believe legalizing marijuana is a "good idea," according to a new poll.

The poll of 500 adults in the state, conducted for Seattle TV station KING 5 by SurveyUSA, asked respondents: "State lawmakers are considering making marijuana possession legal. Do you think legalizing marijuana is a good idea? Or a bad idea?"

Thirty-six percent of respondents described legalizing pot as a "bad idea," while eight percent weren't sure. The poll had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

Almost two-thirds of men, 64 percent, favored legalization, while only 48 percent of women thought it was a good idea.

Support was broad and deep across all age groups from 18 to 64. Only among those 65 or older did support drop to 32 percent, with 64 percent of the 65+ respondents describing legalization as a bad idea.

"Sensible Washington is pleased by these kinds of numbers which indicate a strong willingness among Washingtonians to reform marijuana laws in this state," the group behind a new marijuana legalization voter initiative said in a press release.

"And that's just what Sensible Washington is aiming to do with its proposed ballot initiative, filed on January 11, 2009, which would remove all criminal penalties from adult use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana in the State of Washington," the group said.

"Another indicator of just how much attitudes around marijuana have changed in this state in recent years is that a major media outlet such as KING-TV would even spend its own money on having SurveyUSA conduct a poll," Sensible Washington said.

Donations to the Sensible Washington ballot initiative can be made here. Questions about the group and its forthcoming campaign may be emailed to You can also add Sensible Washington on Facebook.