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Thursday, December 10, 2009
Bill To Legalize Marijuana Introduced In Washington Legislature
Federal government pot farm at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS. Under Washington state's proposed legalization bill, pot would be grown by state-licensed farmers and sold only through state liquor stores.
Washington state pot advocates who thought they had to choose between a marijuana decrim bill ($100 fine for under 40 grams) and the status quo (including a mandatory night in jail for possessing any amount) just got another choice. A state lawmaker introduced a bill Monday to legalize marijuana in the state.
Under the bill, introduced by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle), marijuana would be legal for persons 21 and older to use and possess, subject to regulations similar to those controlling alcohol.
Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson: Making the Evergreen State a little greener
Dickerson said she doesn't expect the bill the bill to pass. "I'm happy to start the conversation," she told Seattle political site PubliCola. "If more states start talking about [legalizing marijuana] it will get the attention of Congress."
Dickerson wants the legal pot to be grown by Washington farmers and sold in state liquor stores. Revenue from marijuana sales would pay for drug and alcohol treatment programs.
Cannabis revenues will probably be comparable to those for alcohol, Dickerson said, which are at about $330 million yearly in Washington.
Rep. Dickerson has five co-sponsors for the legislation so far: Reps. Scott White, Roger Goodman, Dave Upthegrove, Sherry Appleton and Mary Roberts, all Democrats.
HB 2401 was introduced Monday in advance of the next legislative session in January.
"This bill is a wonderful step forward for health, human rights, and social justice," marijuana researcher Dr. Sunil Aggarwal of Seattle told Toke of the Town. "No one should be criminalized for using marijuana, when far more dangerous drugs such as malt liquor are legally consumed. There should be equal rights for those who choose to consume cannabis."
Patient/activist Vivian McPeak: The conversion to a mainstream commodity is going to be awkward
But longtime marijuana patient/activist and Seattle Hempfest organizer Vivian McPeak expressed mixed feelings about the prospect of legalization. "The conversion from an illicit, underground substance to a mainstream commodity is going to be an awkward transition for many who have been involved with the cannabis culture for some time," he told Toke of the Town.
"It is going to be difficult for many pot scene old timers to let go of the cultural hold so many of us have on our old friend, the herb," McPeak told us.
Is The Perfect The Enemy Of The Good?
With just about any piece of legislation, it's not hard to find areas of concern once you start examining the wording, and HB 2401 is no exception.
One worrisome aspect of the bill is that nobody, with the exception of farmers licensed to sell pot to the state, would be allowed to grow their own. The language of the bill seems to outlaw all personal grows, keeping it illegal to grow, keep or transfer marijuana outside of liquor control board rules and licensing.
Cultivation of any amount for personal use, then, would apparently be prohibited. And the way I read it, your house or property could be seized if you had five or more plants -- which is not how I had pictured "legalization."
Marijuana is safer. Why are we supposed to pretend it isn't?
There's also the quibble, minor though it may seem at this stage of the game, that treating marijuana almost exactly like alcohol errs because the potential for abuse, addiction and accidents are so much greater with booze. No arguing with that -- just ask Mason Tvert over at SAFER; he'll tell you.
"It is very hard for me to embrace the idea of treating cannabis as alcohol, because there is just no comparison between the two substances as far as impairment, health effects, and addiction," McPeak told Toke of the Town.
"Perhaps this is the model we must use to change the dominant paradigm, but I feel we should fight tooth and nail to have cannabis put into its own unique classification," McPeak told us. "Simply compare death rates associated with the two substances and you'll see they do not belong in the same category."
"The bill does remove all current civil and criminal penalties regarding marijuana. And the bill regulates marijuana like we regulate alcohol -- which, it so happens, introduces a myriad of new crimes," one frustrated Seattle activist said.
But there's also the plausible argument that legalization, even of the sort in HB 2401 with its state monopoly on pot, could be a quantum leap over the deeply fucked up situation on the ground now in Washington: Recreational (as in non-medical) users unlucky enough to be arrested are presently subjected to a mandatory night in jail, possible additional jail or prison time, steep fines, and other indignities.
So would it be a deal with the devil to, for now, pretend marijuana is as harmful as alcohol, in order to get the laws to treat marijuana as leniently as it does alcohol? That's the Gordian knot being faced by wary cannabis users in Washington.