Washington State Legislators Support Marijuana Decriminalization

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.

0 thoughts

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

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

  8. This is stupid, so the only thing that would change really is that if you hold a certain amount of herb, you’ll be fined.
    I know that’s better than being in jail, but it wouldn’t change the fact that the drug cartels will still gain profit from it.
    You are still risking yourself to find a “dealer” who sells it and pay a monster amount for just half an ounce of mid grades.
    It’s not like you can pick it up at a local dispensary and get what ever kind of strain you want for a fair price (Both medical and recreational) without feeling like you been robbed. Oh and that you can get the stuff whenever you please without going on a wild goose chase just to find a “dealer”.
    Am’I the only who thinks this? If this bill doesn’t have what i listed above, it isn’t anything new to me other than the fact you wouldn’t go to jail for small amounts.
    So can anyone from NORML or any commentators here enlighten me on this bill? I feel this is just only going to still fuel the drug cartels.

  9. I am glad I live in such a compassionate (MMJ) and realistic state. One that makes laws based on facts rather than the fiction that has been so readily spewed for so long. I can honestly say that in other states the laws are starkly different. Now the federal government needs to step up to the plate and do something!

  10. What about Iowa ? Ive sent Bruce Brailey e mails about the 2943 act for responsible use of Marijuana by adults n i got a response of thanks for your input. (Not that we will take this in consideration) WTF

  11. In light of all the scientific FACTS on cannabis not being the terrible drug it said to be, the escalating violence in Mexico and the FACT that drug cartels make most their profit from cannabis, the FACT that our leaders have been lying to us or been lied to them selves, the FACT that our jails and prisons are overflowing due to non-violent posession arressts…. The VERY LEAST our leaders and government could do is to DECRIMINALIZE cannabis possesion nation wide.
    Lets see how that works out ,then move on from there in the direction the outcome dictates.
    This policy of our leaders and Law Enforcement being so rigid they are about to break does no one any good. In FACT, it is turning the general public against them. Where is our compassion for our citizens, where is our common sense, where is justice?
    It is known to the public that prohibition is enabling our enemies (terrorist , cartels ,oppersive regimes alike) to attack our nation, to run our economy into the ground due to military action in other countries.
    TO coninute to support this drug war policy,to me, seems treasonist. Its time to take care of AMERICA for a change. To not do so will eventually ruin this GREAT NATION!

  12. Congratulations peaceful coasters, sounds like both ends are getting the idea! Let’s get some move in the movement in the midwest!

  13. If it is OK to have small amounts of cannabis then why not legalize, tax and regulate it? The only way to put an end to organized crime’s monopoly on cultivation and distribution is to legalize,tax and REGULATE cannabis. We all know that cannabis consumed in moderation does little to no harm and may actually be helpful.

  14. Wonderful shot at the end showing the NORML banners.
    We’d love to move to Oregon NOW, the economy is what’s preventing us from doing so.

  15. I wish I had someone like you in Illinois!!! Great read and good luck with decrim Washington!

  16. We need more state officials and representatives like these guys, way to stand up for the people of washington state. Congrats to all the residents, sounds like you’re well on your way to a more free life with less fears of prosecution.

  17. Yes, legalization. But even legalization could have its limits. Why not legalization without over the counter sales? If you wanted to buy it, you could do so through the mail only. We are already seeing people advertise cannabis on the internet. They call it “legal bud” as if it were something else, but it isn’t. I was pretty shocked to see it, but not shocked to see the black market prices they were charging. It might actually be easier to regulate moving through the mail and sold over the internet. And of coures legalization must mean freedom to grow it yourself and free access to seeds.

  18. SOMEONE TELL THESE 2 TO PUT ON THEIR RUNNIN SHOES AND RUN FOR PRESIDENT AND VP FOR 2012. I am sick and tired of taxes to a President that promised SOOOOOOO fuckin much, even the decriminalization of POT, and so far he has done nothing he said he would, except force bills through congress without the approval of WE THE PEOPLE. I wish that we could impeach. NO MORE TAXES. NO MORE BULLSHIT. NO MORE MAKING CRIMINALS OUT OF MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. @ #27
    if you are talking about Krypto, Dro, Wizard Smoke, or other international oddities herbs then you are wrong. those are not marijuana or “legal bud” as the sell it. it’s neither “uplifting” as they claim or tasty. I’ve tride it before. i got the munchies and my eye felt wierd but i was by NO MEANS lit as if i smoke some good ol mj. matter of fact, i felt nothing and i smoked it 3 years after i quit smoking mj so there was no tolerence conflict.

  20. There were 43 comments on the times site, 42 in favor, one against. Then they closed the thread. To any politician this has GOT TO BE a clear message.

  21. Looks like Washington State has some pretty smart politicians. I believe that standing in the way of de-crim or legalization is political suicide in this day and age… well, except for Utah.

  22. @ #32
    No, I’ve seen that too. Everyone once in a while I see real ads talking about real cannabis. It could be a rip off, but since you can buy seeds, it wouldn’t suprise me to see people making the attempt at the rest of the plant too. It could be a rip-off.
    I really think that is the way to go for legalization. I think it’s too much to ask to expect over the counter sales.

  23. Check out my new video. Pass it ’round
    Cannabis Prohibition: A Masterpiece in the Art of Brainwashing

  24. Initially, it sounds like someone in Washington State gets it, but then it stops way short of legalizataion. Illegal is still illegal, and as such employers can arbitrarily fire you for testing positive, even if it’s from smoking in your own home on a weekend.
    It needs to be Legalized, pur and simple, made available for adults through licensed vendors and at a reasonable price, not one that is taxed to be higher than what you can get on the streets.
    I just don’t get it, mj is treated like it’s some kind of radioactive crap, and ALWAYS the question of teens and children brought into any arguement. Hell, if I caught my teen smoking a cigarette or drinking alcohol I’d probably have her pretty little ass in a sling, I’d be a little less in an uproar if she were caught smoking marijuana.

  25. We should all do what great Gandhi did in India. Called civil disobedience. All pot smokers across US should show their support and just stay home one day one the same day. Taxi drivers, doctors, attorney, musicians, politicians, police office, yes i said police officers, every single person who supports the cause. Just stay home for one day one the same day. Might sound stupid and might take more that one day but it worked in India.
    People of India were fighting for their freedom and independence and there were casualties and loss of life, but their passion and determination got them to their goal.
    I know we also fighting for our freedom, but are we that passionate or that determined? I know i am and i’m ready just name the date.
    I think MPP or NORML should consider this and organize a civil disobedience day to support legalization of marijuana.

  26. to:Fireweed. Dude i dont know if a lot of parents would agree about your last statement about catching their kid with booze or cigarettes vs. mj but I do applaud you for putting this situation in that perspective. I think coming from a parent it means something, and i wonder how many parents out there who would agree with you. Not sure what i would do if i caught my kid smoking pot, dont have kids 🙂

  27. #39 Freetheweed,
    I don’t want my children to smoke cigarettes. My father died at a young age of 53 from smoking tobacco. I was aready hooked on cigarettes and am still having a hard time quiting tobacco. I also would rather that my children didn’t drink alcohol because its so much more dangerous. Tobacco and Alcohol cause most of the problems. Cannabis is almost benign. I grew up smoking cannabis around a straight laced weatlthy republican family who ostracized me because of it. Yes, I would ten times rather my children do cannabis than alcohol or tobacco. They live with their mother, not me, and I’ve gotten the impression that one teen has been sneaking cigs, the other marijuana and the other drinking. Its time that we advocates put all the propaganda to rest seeing how it is doing so much more damage to our children than cannabis could ever do by steering our children to those more harmful substances in order for the Gov’t and Corps to make their money. The only thing wrong with cannabis is it is illegal. And Cannabis being illegal is an even bigger wrong.

  28. This is going in the right direction, but at far to slow a pace. It should be legal. Period.
    Putting people in cages and allowing job and financial aid discrimination among other things over a non-toxic plant that the governments own testing has demonstrated over and over again to be both therapeutic and medicinal is ludicrous.

  29. To: #41 HooterJack. Thank you for an honest response. I started asking this question a lot of my friends who has kids and I seem to be getting a similar response.
    I dont think any parent would want their kids doing any kind of drugs at all, weed, alcohol or cigarettes but it seems that if they had to, everybody would prefer to see their kid with a joint than a bottle. So if our main concern is cigarettes and alcohol why are they still legal? why are our drug policies are so backwards?

  30. #43 CurtsBrew has a good point “This is going in the right direction, but at far to slow a pace. It should be legal. Period.”
    as stated in the Staff Summary of Public Testimony in the Senate Bill Report on SB 5615
    “PRO: It is important to focus on and get back to the
    fundamental principles. The purpose of government is to protect and maintain the rights of individuals. Government should not interfere in individual choices and make something a crime unless it infringes on someone’s life, liberty, or property. Those who possess
    marijuana are not infringing on other people’s rights, yet the government spends great amounts of money on prosecuting this low level crime. In 2007 over $7.6 million was spent on putting over 11,000 people in jail for misdemeanor possession. Law enforcement made
    11,553 arrests that lead to 3,368 convictions and 16,183 days spent in jail pursuant to these convictions.
    Police are unavailable to apprehend the real criminals for committing real crimes because their time is spent chasing after people possessing marijuana. Time should be spent on domestic violence, pedophiles, burglars, and robbers who are truly infringing upon others’
    rights. The costs increase because the persons arrested and convicted of these low level crimes spend the rest of their lives struggling to get jobs and homes and are prohibited from receiving federal student financial aid. These people then become a burden on society for the rest of their lives. Making this crime a civil infraction would greatly reduce the costs attributable to these crimes. This legislation is not soft on crime, nor does it encourage drug
    abuse. Rather, it makes more resources available to address the real crimes and allows for a more efficient, fair, and proportionate use of resources.
    Marijuana should be thought of as a public health issue rather than relying on criminal sanctions. Our goals are to reduce crime and public disorder, improve public health, ensure better protection of children, and make wiser use of public resources. Right now, these are not being accomplished, but this bill is a step in the right direction.
    CON: Long-term studies on patterns of drug usage among young people show that very few young people get started on more serious drugs without having used marijuana first.Therefore, marijuana is a precursor drug. People who use marijuana are more likely to use
    cocaine than those who have never used marijuana. Youth might perceive marijuana usage as a less serious drug if this legislation is passed and feel freer to use it which would lead to more serious drug use.”
    This portion alone in the pro section
    “Government should not interfere in individual choices and make something a crime unless it infringes on someone’s life, liberty, or property. Those who possess
    marijuana are not infringing on other people’s rights”
    states that marijuana consumption should not be illegal period.
    the statement in the con section
    “Long-term studies on patterns of drug usage among young people show that very few
    young people get started on more serious drugs without having used marijuana first.”
    is only true because you are forced to buy through a drug dealer that most the time peddles multiple illegal substances which in turn have the same penalties as harmless pot. Leading the buyer to beleave if i get in just as much trouble why not move up to something harder mabe its just as harmless as pot with a much stronger high (which is of course not true).
    Acctually from my various talks with people, the group that wants canabus to remain illegal, seems to be drug dealers. The drug dealers realize that legalization of weed would cause such a drop in demand that most (not all) dealers would go out of bussiness as weed makes up most new customers and the largest amount of revinue.
    There for I conclude that the greatest weapon in the “War against Drugs” would be federal and state legalization of canabus in all amounts for personal and medical use, and to allow personal cultivation of plants.

  31. In an effort to become more proactive, we can all add this signature to our emails:
    The Netherlands – 1976
    Portugal -2001
    Mexico – 2009
    Argentina – 2009
    USA – ??????

  32. I think this is a positive step. It makes enforcement of marijuana next to nothing. That’s something.

  33. I am stoked to hear that Bill 5615 will be brought up again next year for us here in Washington! This is good news and hopefully will be well received by our government and people. I know I sure support it.
    A message to our people in power:
    Quit busting stoners and concentrate on a crime with a victim! That’s my 2 Cents.

  34. Tax and regulate it and keep track of the tax revenues instead. Use them for treatment programs for those who need it (and want it; -Meth, etc.) Stop branding people with the scarlet “M” and stop with this foolish business of a punitive taxation that does nothing to keep it out of the hands of kids.

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