Washington House Committee Votes Down Marijuana Bills

Efforts to reform Washington state’s marijuana laws were voted down by a House committee Wednesday.

The Public Safety Committee rejected a measure to legalize marijuana for those 21 and older, and another that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot for adults.

Chairman Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, voted against both, saying he couldn’t vote for something that conflicted with federal law.

He said that while there were powerful arguments for why marijuana regulation should be left to the states and not the federal government, “I took an oath of office to uphold the state constitution and the federal constitution.”

“I cannot, in good conscious, pass a law or vote for a law that in my opinion, is against federal law,” Hurst said.

Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Federal Way, said that the fact that marijuana is illegal doesn’t make its use any less prevalent.

“I want to regulate a product that potentially has hazardous consequences,” he said. “A ‘no’ vote on this bill is a vote for prohibition and the illegal markets that it spawns.”

The legalization bill failed on a 6-2 vote, with two other Democrats crossing over and voting with Hurst and Republicans: Reps. Al O’Brien of Mountlake Terrace and Steve Kirby of Tacoma.

Under the legalization bill, marijuana would be sold in Washington state’s 160 state-run liquor stores, and customers who are 21 and older, would pay a tax of 15 percent per gram. The measure would have dedicated most of the money raised for substance abuse prevention and treatment, which is facing potential cuts in the state budget as lawmakers seek to patch a $2.6 billion hole.

“The amount of money that we could realize over legalizing it and regulating it is close to $300 million a year,” said Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, who voted for both measures. “My feeling is that this is the time to challenge the federal government and we should be doing that.”

The decriminalization bill would reclassify adult possession of marijuana from a crime with jail time to a civil infraction with a $100 penalty.

It failed on a 5-3 vote, with Rep. O’Brien crossing back over and voting with Appleton and Goodman to pass it. A decriminalization measure is still alive in the Senate, although a public hearing hasn’t been scheduled for it.

Last week, activists in Washington state filed a ballot initiative that would legalize all adult marijuana possession, manufacturing and sales.

If the initiative qualifies for the ballot, it will ask voters to remove all state criminal penalties for adults who possess, grow and distribute pot – no matter how much. Criminal penalties for juveniles who possess marijuana and for those who provide the drug to minors would remain in place. Driving under the influence of the drug also would still be illegal.

Supporters must gather more than 240,000 signatures by July 2 to qualify for the November ballot.

The marijuana legalization measure is House Bill 2401. The decriminalization bill is House Bill 1177. The Senate decriminalization measure is Senate Bill 5615.

On the Net:

Washington state Legislature: http://www.leg.wa.gov

– Article from The Seattle Times.