Bailey returns with a follow-up to his first piece on the efforts to consider marijuana decrim in Washington State.
Wednesdayâ€™s executive session of the state houseâ€™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 heâ€™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 â€œpassionâ€ of last weekâ€™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 couldnâ€™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 marijuanaâ€™s scheduling, maybe last weekâ€™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, isnâ€™t that the essence of how you people change bills you donâ€™t like. Tragically, my ESP failed me at this moment and the representative missed the message. 2401â€™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 hadnâ€™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, (Iâ€™m unsure if she was a co-sponsor of either bill) said that while she liked the bill, because of the amendment she couldnâ€™t support it. Hold the phone, whatâ€™s her problem with money for prevention??
Turns out the amendment she was objecting to was not Goodmanâ€™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 didnâ€™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 â€œcivil infractionâ€ 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 weekâ€™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 thatâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 1177â€™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 stateâ€™s sails of reform, a voter initiative is in the works. It wonâ€™t be on ballots this year (I believe) but with a state-wide poll finding 56% of Washingtonians supporting legalization and/or decrim, you havenâ€™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 â€œContinued Chaosâ€