Last year, many hopeful drug reform advocates expected California to be the first state to officially overturn the prohibition of marijuana. But after Prop. 19’s failure on the state-wide ballot at the end of 2010, few would have expected the next major push for reform would come from Washington.
Yet, here they are: the Washington legislature is poised to consider House Bill 1550, which would legalize and regulate cannabis, and apply taxes on sales.
The effort was enough to prompt a Seattle city attorney and The Seattle Times editorial board to come out in favor of the measure, urging legislators to make Washington State the first in the union to move for a repeal of prohibition.
The legislation would allow for specific licensing of cannabis farmers, producers and sellers, limiting sales to otherwise age-restricted venues like liquor stores. It would also permit local municipalities to use the electoral process to set restrictions or other determinations on sales of marijuana.
Under the proposed laws, the Department of Agriculture would also regulate farming operations and mandate certain growing techniques in order to maintain potency standards, which would be clearly labeled on product packaging.
The times, they are a-changin’
“In 1998, Washington was one of the earliest to vote for medical marijuana. It was a leap of faith, and the right decision,” the Times opined. “In 2003, Seattle was one of the first places in America to vote to make simple marijuana possession the lowest police priority. That, too, was a leap of faith, and the right decision. A year ago, City Attorney Pete Holmes stopped all prosecutions for simple possession: the right decision.
“It is time for the next step. It is a leap, yes — but not such a big one, now.”
The editorial specifically called out sympathies toward people whose impulse is to avoid marijuana altogether.
“We understand the feeling,” they explained. “We have felt it ourselves. Certainly the life of a parent would be easier if everyone had no choice but to be straight and sober all the time. But an intoxicant-free world is not the one we have, nor is it the one most adults want.
“Marijuana is available now. If your child doesn’t smoke it, maybe it is because your parenting works. But prohibition has not worked.”
The day prior, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes leveled a similar argument in the paper, telling readers that marijuana is much more akin to alcohol than other hard drugs, and that prohibition is “ineffective” at reducing its negative effects on society.
“Instead, I support tightening laws against driving while stoned, preventing the sale of marijuana to minors, and ensuring that anything other than small-scale noncommercial marijuana production takes place in regulated agricultural facilities — and not residential basements,” he wrote.
“It is critical that we get these details right. Ending marijuana prohibition isn’t a panacea, but it’s a necessary step in the right direction, and the specifics of a rational regulatory system for marijuana are important.”
Were marijuana legalized in Washington and made available for retail sales, it could generate over $300 million in new revenues and displace over $25 million in costs to law enforcement, a state analysis said.
The bill was being considered by the Washington State House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. It was seen as unlikely to pass, as the same committee voted down a similar measure last year. All but two or the Democratic members voted against legalization.
The Seattle Times won a Pulitzer prize in 2010 for its coverage of the shooting deaths of four police officers.
Another effort, led by legalization activists at “Sensible Washington,” filed last week for placement on the next statewide ballot. The group said it would begin circulating petitions soon.
Even if Washington legalized marijuana, it would remain against federal law, but it was unclear what action, if any, the Department of Justice might take. President Barack Obama has said he does not favor legalization, but called drug reforms a “legitimate” issue worthy of debate.
This video is from news station KONG HD 5 in Seattle, as snipped by Mox News.
This video is from a public hearing of the Washington legislature’s House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee on Feb. 8, 2011.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons