Washington State Legislators Support Marijuana Decriminalization

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director August 23, 2009

    Hempfest’s massive crowds last weekend spurred Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells and former state Rep. Toby Nixon to pen a bipartisan letter in the Seattle Times on the need for Washington State to join the other 13 states that have ‘decriminalized’ possession of cannabis–as well as the state’s largest population center, King County (Seattle), which effectively decriminalized possession by popular vote in 2003. Checkout this CNN iReport about this year’s Hempfest here (and kudos for the closing shot on the wrap).


    Time for Washington state to decriminalize marijuana

    By Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Toby Nixon
    Special to The Times

    Once again, the Seattle Hempfest drew tens of thousands to parks along the waterfront this weekend. In its mission statement, the all-volunteer organization that produces the event says, “The public is better served when citizens and public officials work cooperatively in order to successfully accomplish common goals.”

    We agree. That is why we, as a Democratic state senator and former Republican state representative, support state Senate Bill 5615. This bill would reclassify adult possession of marijuana from a crime carrying a mandatory day in jail to a civil infraction imposing a $100 penalty payable by mail. The bill was voted out of committee with a bipartisan “do pass” recommendation and will be considered by legislators in 2010.

    The bill makes a lot of sense, especially in this time of severely strapped budgets. Our state Office of Financial Management reported annual savings of $16 million and $1 million in new revenue if SB 5615 passes. Of that $1 million, $590,000 would be earmarked for the Washington State Criminal Justice Treatment Account to increase support of our underfunded drug-treatment and drug-prevention services.

    The idea of decriminalizing marijuana is far from new. In 1970, Congress created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. A bipartisan body with 13 members — nine appointed by President Nixon and four by Congress — the commission was tasked with conducting a yearlong, authoritative study of marijuana. When the commission issued its report, “Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding,” in1972, it surprised many by recommending decriminalization:

    Possession of marijuana in private for personal use would no longer be an offense; and distribution of small amounts of marijuana for no remuneration or insignificant remuneration not involving profit would no longer be an offense.

    Twelve states took action and decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s. Nevada decriminalized in 2001, and Massachusetts did so in 2008. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, states where marijuana possession is decriminalized represent more than 35 percent of our nation’s population.

    These states have not seen a corresponding increase in use. Nor have the 14 states that have adopted legal protections for patients whose doctors recommend the medical use of marijuana. Nor the several cities and counties that have adopted “lowest law enforcement priority” ordinances like Seattle’s Initiative 75, which made adult marijuana use the city’s lowest law enforcement priority in 2003.

    On the flip side of the coin, escalating law enforcement against marijuana users has not achieved its intended goals. From 1991 to 2007, marijuana arrests nationwide tripled from 287,900 to a record 872,720, comprising 47 percent of all drug arrests combined. Of those, 89 percent were for possession only. Nevertheless, according to a study released earlier this year by two University of Washington faculty members:

    • The price of marijuana has dropped;

    • Its average potency has increased;

    • It has become more readily available; and

    • Use rates have often increased during times of escalating enforcement.

    We now have decades of proof that treating marijuana use as a crime is a failed strategy. It continues to damage the credibility of our public health officials and compromise our public safety. At a fundamental level, it has eroded our respect for the law and what it means to be charged with a criminal offense: 40 percent of Americans have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. It cannot be that 40 percent of Americans truly are criminals.

    We hope that the citizens of this state will work with us to help pass SB 5615, the right step for Washington to take toward a more effective, less costly and fairer approach to marijuana use.

    State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Seattle, left, chairs the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee. Toby Nixon was state representative for the 45th legislative district, 2002-2006, and served as vice-chair of the House Republican Caucus and ranking member of the House Committee on State Government Operations and Accountability.

    55 responses to “Washington State Legislators Support Marijuana Decriminalization”

    1. Ga Sunshine says:

      Amen. I am moving!

    2. oh yea, here we go baby!… Next Stop, Boston Freedom Rally!!! BFR is gonna be a big celebration since massachusetts decriminalized this year! It’s happening, slowly but surely…. next stop, legalization

    3. General-Jake says:

      It may take to long for my impatient ass but legalization is coming. I just wishes i could hit the fast forward button and leglize the whole country in like a month.

    4. J boogie says:

      Mandatory day in jail WTF? (added by Mobile using Mippin)

    5. maybe i read this wrong, but how does this help our cause? so you don’t serve jail time, big deal, i live in NY which by the way has some of the most draconian MJ laws in the 50 states and have been picked up twice in my life for a gram and only recieved apperence tickets and fines of no more then $150.00 so for minor MJ offencis jail time isn’t really an issue anyway. but to take jail time off the table( once again not an issue in the first place) in place of a mandatory $100 mail in fine, are we not advocating MORE harrasment for our local police? How many time do local govt’s instruct their dept chiefs to step up patrols of speeders or saftybelts when it gets late in the fiscal year and budgets run thin and the local gov’t needs revenue. Now they are going to go on marijuana user ticket spree’s figuring $100 a pop for tickets will bring in nice revenue for whatever payroll or commodites the local gov’t need for that moment. This also brings up the fact that most of us live in rural area’s and word travels fast. So and so drinks alot, so and so yells at their kids, now so and so is a MJ user and the local cops will know who does what and target those people in their towns. I don’t see this a s a victory but a way for gov’t in general to raise on the spot revenue from user’s because the TOTAL LEGALIZATION front is a multi headed monster that the BIG GOVT wont budge on and the local politicians that directly relate to us have no balls to force they higher ups to change. I really, really ,REALLY see this as just a stop gap and can only prolong what we are trying to accomplish as a movement.

    6. Mike says:

      The fight to free the use of any herb, especially when relieving pain is concerned, should never be a matter of states rights or the federal government. This comes down to the inherent right to live as free of pain as possible and use any substance necessary to meet that goal, without infringing on someone else’s rights. The simple act of using an herb in ones own home to relieve pain should never be infringed on, no matter what state you live in. An arbitrary line in the sand drawn by the same government that thoughtlessly imposed the prohibition of this plant should be ignored by anyone fighting for this cause for we are one in the same. Mother nature will never recognize these state lines as she will never recognize the prohibition imposed by this or any government. She will support the growth of this plant be it in California or Alabama with no thought to man, states or government only the freedom of this plant as any other to grow. We the people living in this free society should take a lesson from Mother Nature and combine our efforts to put down the ternary of this or any government that tries to shove these type laws down our troughs. Wrong is wrong no matter where you live and as a member of this fight we should join hands and fight together, least the government WILL put it down. The true power of any movement comes with numbers, everyone fighting for the same goal as one voice. Until we join our voices and move as one this fight will not be won, true freedom is something that has to be fought for and I for one am ready for this fight. The wheels of government and its courts will trample anyone that stands alone. Stand with me brothers and sisters and put an end to this cruel imposition set by the greedy and the ignorant for the evil we resist is man and only man can set it right.

    7. David says:

      Washington state is looking better and better every year. I’m sick of Wisconsin. There’s no progress here and I’ve been thinking of moving out west for some time now.

      Everyone in Washington should write State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and thank her for putting together this editorial.

      Band together! Bi-partisanship is where it’s at!

    8. Andrew 3 says:

      This is great news.

    9. HooterJack, Activist {[(TX-GD)]} says:

      If everyone were to leave a non medical non decriminalized state for one that is medical and decrim, then who will be left to fight the unjust laws in the states they are leaving? Instead of moving to heaven, it would be much better to decrim or legalize marijuana and approve medical right where you are. It would be easy for me to move to California or one of the other states, however, I would feel like I were abandoning all the sick and suffering who might not have the option to move. Stay and Fight!

    10. Norman Lepoff, M.D. ret. says:

      It should be legalized! Does a person get a $100 fine for a pack of cigarettes or a can of beer? No!