Washington State Legalization Attempt Update

Bailey returns with a follow-up to his first piece on the efforts to consider marijuana decrim in Washington State.


Wednesday’s executive session of the state house’s Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness committee concluded its deliberation of HB 1177 (marijuana decrim) and HB 2401 (socialized legalization) with a smaller audience, no cameras, and it seems no better understanding of the pitfalls of prohibition than the week before. What follows is a painful to recount of how both bills failed to move forward, and how Washington will continue to go backwards.

First, HB 2401. The committee chair explained to the audience that he’d appreciated last weeks spirited debate His office had been flooded with calls about this bill. He said there were many for the bills, and many against, he might have been exaggerating to make prohibs feel better. His comments were a little scatterbrained; he seemed moved by the “passion” of last week’s speakers, but made no mention of the preponderance of data made available to the committee. He explained that this seemed like an area of law better controlled by the states, but as long as federal law listed pot as schedule 1, going against them was something he couldn’t. He took an oath to uphold the state and U.S. constitution he told us, and he could not in good conscience support a bill that challenged the feds. He probably thinks the feds will honestly re-evaluate marijuana’s scheduling, maybe last week’s 9th grader logic is rubbing off on him.

Another representative reviewed the AMA recommendation for reclassification of marijuana, and their subsequent statement that this was not endorsing legalization as reason to assume marijuana was a dangerous narcotic. Another rep said he was in favor of the bill, and wanted to vote for it, but felt that existing gaps in regulation of sales and growing rules were open ended. So offer an amendment, isn’t that the essence of how you people change bills you don’t like. Tragically, my ESP failed me at this moment and the representative missed the message. 2401’s final vote for passage: 2 Ayes, 5 Nays, and one nay that would have been a Aye had he not been waiting for someone else to amend the bill for him. Interestingly no one offered amendments, not protections for medical patients, not even my wild eyed notion of having people roll their own joints, nada.

Next comes 1177, now I put all my assumption eggs in this basket. Companion senate legislation, support from the King Co. Medical Assoc., and the nifty reminder from Rep. Goodman that states that decriminalized hadn’t seen higher use rates seemed to make this bill passable. However everyone that forgot about the power to amend with 2401 regained control of their faculties for this bill. First a verbal amendment from Goodman, revenue from civil infractions, should fund both prevention and treatment, and not just treatment. Then a shocker, Rep. Goodman had a committee ally, (I’m unsure if she was a co-sponsor of either bill) said that while she liked the bill, because of the amendment she couldn’t support it. Hold the phone, what’s her problem with money for prevention??

Turns out the amendment she was objecting to was not Goodman’s verbal amendment, but one added before the committee met. She claimed this amendment changed the bill and would have continued to allow for the arrest of people with simple pot possession. The hearing then sunk into confusion, the committee members, and everyone else it seemed didn’t know if the new language made simple possession a misdemeanor. A brief recess everyone, (myself included) talked with the committee staff to try and understand what the bill actually said. At first it sounded as if simple marijuana possession would be the only “civil infraction” where police had the power of arrest. Sorta defeats the purpose of a decrim bill right? However it was ultimately agreed by both committee members and staff, that the outlining of arrest powers were for amounts over 40 grams, the original limit for possession imposed by the bill. To be fair, I read over 2401, but not 1177, while I assume the language explicitly left possession over 40g a crime, its possible that these clarifications were absent until the amendment.

A member opposed to the legalization bill supported the decrim measure because he felt that possessions were officially low priorities in Seattle and de facto low priorities in most of the state, that it was appropriate to formalize these practices. As he was also a 21 law enforcement veteran I thought this was a remarkable grab. I was hoping this sensible perspective would seep into the rest of the committee members. These hopes were dashed.

In last week’s account I mentioned a representative so moved by the teen prohib that he would gladly let this the boy make the states entire drug policy. When the rep in question spoke today, he validated my claim with eerie accuracy. The 9th grader was the only speaker that stuck in his mind, and when the representative found a major news article that suggested the sensible wave of marijuana legislation lead to the minor uptick in teen pot use in 2009, well that’s all this legislator needed to know. I personally reminded them last week that teen use declined from 2002-2008, during which time medical marijuana states tripled. But reality has always been second to innuendo when it comes to marijuana laws. Why change now?

In the end 1177 was voted down 5 to 3. The legislator who voted against 2401 because it wasn’t amended to his liking also ditched this bill. I can only guess his reason for voting to arrest pot smokers was just as half-witted. It should be noted that 1177’s death in committee will likely finish off whatever momentum the senate version (SB 5615) had for passage. While this vote has taken much of the wind out the state’s sails of reform, a voter initiative is in the works. It won’t be on ballots this year (I believe) but with a state-wide poll finding 56% of Washingtonians supporting legalization and/or decrim, you haven’t heard the last of sensible change from the scenic northwest.


Thanks, Bailey, for the excellent reports.

Paul Armentano has a follow-up on this story as well: Washington: Lawmakers Vote For “Continued Chaos”

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12 Responses to Washington State Legalization Attempt Update

  1. allan420 says:

    way to get yourself out there Bailey. Props, kudos and a hearty Huzzah!

  2. Buc says:

    First, that was a very good and detailed account.

    Second, with regards to the lawmakers, these douchers never cease to amaze me with how vehemently anti-freedom they are. The GOP people always trot out with their small government message and then, boom, they have the government’s back with regards to any issue pertaining to what you do in your private life.

    Then, on the other side, the Democrats just had to elect two ex-cops. Seriously, did they run as Dems just to get voted in? Most Dems would at least support the decrim bill, but they just happen to be from the one profession that is the biggest enemy to civil liberties known to man.

  3. Ned says:

    They fail to see political upside for voting in favor. They are certain their jobs are safer if they vote no. It has NOTHING to do with the merits. It has everything to do with their own life experience and insecurities. If they don’t have firsthand knowledge and experience of the cannabis world and cannabis users and just how absurd prohibition is then they retreat to their default position reflexively. It’s all to foreign and new and unfamiliar. They don’t see where the campaign contributions will be coming from.
    EVERYTHING that gets approved is underpinned by financial and/or political upside
    that is clear and present to the legislators themselves.

  4. DavesNotHere says:

    Thank you Bailey for showing up and reporting this back and to Pete for getting it out there.

    Ned, you are exactly right. Having wasted some of my time in state houses watching the sausage get made, it seems like these hearings are very similar wherever you go. More for show than for substance. The real debate and info sharing and decision making happens in back rooms through lobbyists, in campaign HQs through donors, and even in the trenches with the political machine workers. Political upsides and downsides are what they listen to.

    Buc, if most Dems would support decrim in their districts can a better Dem be found to take one or more of them out? The times they are a changin’, but it requires hard, sleazy, political work to “win”.

    A Drug War Reform Democrat Caucus? A Cannabis version of the NRA (and similar special interest groups) that questions all candidates on this issue, monitors their votes, and grades them and steers political upside their way? Taking one of them out using this issue would be a huge step and would prove there is a political downside to voting like they did. $150,000 and a good candidate willing to knock on doors with tons of volunteers doing the same is the ballpark price.

    How much for a statewide voter initiative to get on the ballot? Probably a better use of $150,000 there, although it will take more than that for it win.

    In any event, this shows progress, which is encouraging, but as usual the politicians are decades behind the progress already made in the real world.

  5. InsanityRules says:

    The committee chair couldn’t support the bill because he took an oath to uphold the U. S. Constitution, and he didn’t want to go against the feds? Is that the same U.S. Constitution that we have here in Pennsylvania? Has the man ever actually read the constitution?

    My Constitution says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    I think that’s pretty unambiguous. Knuckling under to the feds to the detriment of your state and its people is NOT supporting the Constitution – it is insulting the Constitution. These people are spineless idiots. Believing that they are motivated by anything other than fear of being thrown out of office would be a fatal mistake. It’s time to take the gloves off…

  6. kaptinemo says:

    This is why I spell the word ‘State’ with its’ proper capitalization, to remind people of the same intent the Founders did when they would speak of ‘the several States’, not ‘states’.

    They were meant to be sovereign political entities voluntarily engaging in federation, not provinces of an empire.

    A pity more pols don’t make the distinction…

  7. DdC says:

    Ganjawarnews * Ganjawareness 1.21.10

    Two Marijuana Bills Die in Legislative Committee
    It is the end of the road for the 2010 pot bills. Today, the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee voted against two pieces of legislation, one that called for the legalization of marijuana, and would, among other things, make it available for sale — heavily taxed — at state liquor stores. The other would have reduced possession of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil one.

    Ron Paul: Secretive CIA in ‘Drug Business’
    US House Rep. Ron Paul says the CIA has has in effect carried out a “coup” against the US government, and the intelligence agency needs to be “taken out.”

  8. Duncan says:

    I just heard a wonderful idea. Earmark a % of the ‘sin tax’ toward increased law enforcement budgets. Viola! The cops will think it a great idea. Please don’t explain how money is fungible though.

    InsanityRules, I don’t see the Washington legislators ‘knuckling under’ to the Feds. I see them using Fed law as a bogus excuse. When MD amended it’s medical cannabis law in 2003, that was a case of knuckling under. The law would have been much more protective of patients had the MD lawmakers not allowed themselves to be strong armed.

    We’re sure going to see exactly how the Feds are thinking with the upcoming implementation of I-59 in DC, since the entire deal is at their pleasure. If we can make it happen here, we can make it happen everywhere.

  9. Bailey says:

    I agree that no votes on these bills were political and not ignorance or love of federal government. The real question is what will change their votes?

    Beat them in the campaign. This pre-supposes that a different legislator would vote more friendly than the incumbent. Converting a lawmaker is more difficult and more beneficial. Turning a current legislator into a friend gains their seniority and insight. How do we make it more politically popular to support drug reform? We’ve made progress nationally, but with pols we’re missing key blocks of support.
    First, parents groups. Evere heard of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse? http://www.mamas.org We need this group and every other coalition of parents who will stand up at PTA meeting and say they want rational drug laws to protect their families.

    Next, Republicans and Democrats. I know lots of great libertarians and people of many political parties, but every Congressperson, Senator, or Presidential contender I’ve ever met was a Republican, or a Democrat. The only thing less likely than drug regulation is third party take over of the political establishment. Sorry to sound like a political realist. We can change the system or bitch about how we hate the pols, not both simultaneously.

    Other pointers for turning prohib pols into legalizing lawmakers?

  10. DavesNotHere says:

    “Beat them in the campaign. This pre-supposes that a different legislator would vote more friendly than the incumbent.”

    Yes, that is the entire point of this strategy. Beat them with a candidate you already know and can pre-suppose will be friendly. There is little point to taking them out for the fun of it with someone just as bad.

    “Converting a lawmaker is more difficult and more beneficial.”

    Its also just about impossible to do and takes many decades to do.

    For the record I believe we do have a couple independent/3rd party US Senators right now if you want to check. Circa the 1830s this was heard, “The only thing less likely than ending slavery is third party take over of the political establishment”. Enter the Republican (3rd) Party. Not at all likely, but you can never rule that out especially in these times when fewer people identify themselves as partisan Rs or Ds than since we began keeping track. This isn’t the same country as it was in the 1990s pre-internet. The people’s will can change on a dime. And a 3rd party doesn’t have to take over the political establishment, or even win many elections, in order to achieve their goals. Prohibition Party proves that avenue can be effective. Partisan Rs and Ds are the only ones protecting their religion – errr party – with the notion anyone not in their religion – errr party – should be cast out and ignored. Every day more Americans are rejecting association with the Rs and Ds.

    “We can change the system or bitch about how we hate the pols, not both simultaneously.”

    I’m a complex enough individual to do both.

    “Other pointers for turning prohib pols into legalizing lawmakers?”

    Ask the civil rights movement and the women suffrage movement and the alcohol prohibition movement how they got success. You’ll find all kinds of answers. The most common answer you will find, however, is that the bad politicians had to be run out of office.

    Sorry to sound like a political realist, but replacing politicians is what historically works the best while trying to change their minds hasn’t been as successful. Bypassing them with a referendum is easier, but if you want to win you have to play to win. Politics ain’t beanbag.

    Buy them off or beat them. That’s how they work. They don’t listen to evidence or studies or logic, they listen to how it affects their re-election chances.

    If you really want to change the current politicians minds, go out and find a candidate to run against the Chair of that committee and beat him. WA stupid primary system is supposed to make that easier. That will wake them up. And if not him, one of the other no votes. And they’d have to use this issue in the campaign also.

    There is no magic bullet to get them to change their minds. The extremely hard work has to be done to win. You can either do the hard work for them and buy them off, or you can do the hard work to beat them. That is political reality.

    Cops don’t need you hard work for re-election, the unions have them covered already, so good luck. Unions are more important to get on our side than parents groups.

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