Legalization and regulation of marijuana discussed in Washington State
House legislators and citizens gathered together today in Olympia, WA to discuss the legalization and regulation of marijuana in Washington State.
Based on the hearing, legislators and citizens made their opinions quite clear - the people want to see regulation of cannabis in Washington State rather than criminalization of medical and recreational users.
However, there was a lot of concern regarding the relation of these bills to medical marijuana users, and many medical marijuana activists spoke out against the bill(s) or in favor of amendments which protect the medical marijuana patient's rights, since these are not discussed at-length in either of the two bills.
Representative Dave Upthegrove started out the hearing, stating he thinks the bill is an important step for the health and safety of the community by allowing law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes, and by putting money we currently use to jail marijuana-users towards drug treatment which will hopefully make our streets safer in the end. "I think the public is way ahead of us on this", said Rep. Upthegrove.
Representative Mary Lou Dickerson stated that her first motivation was the fiscal situation of Washington State. She listed several budget cuts that she has seen as a result of the debt the state is currently in. Dickerson then said, a statement which brought a disruption to the hearing due to clapping, "[The liquor control board is] estimating that this bill will bring in when it's fully in effect, over 300 million dollars a biennium."
Representative Roger Goodman stated that he believes the word legalization is probably a poor choice for the bills. He stated that we are not "throwing in the towel" by legalizing marijuana, rather that we are putting it out of the hands of children by 'regulating' the drug and makes a clear distinction between the two words. Goodman says that because the market is unregulated, marijuana sales are in the hands of criminals who are making untaxed and unregulated profits in an illegal market.
A key point mentioned during the hearing was the American Medical Association's reconsideration on their stance of medical marijuana. Pointed out by Rep. Dickerson, many members of the hearing were quite surprised to hear this and hadn't known about this news previously. She believes that, if passed, mexican drug cartels and other dangerous organizations responsible for the spread of marijuana and damage to national forests by the cartels growing in forestland will fade away in place of legitimate sales, in much the same way that criminals like Al Capone faded when alcohol prohibition ended.
Although there was overwhelming support for the regulation of marijuana in Washington State, not all of the speakers were for the bills. Several groups relating to substance addiction came on the record stating they think that legalization of marijuana will result in increase use and addiction, and that they oppose the bills. Others opposed the bills for more specific reasons, one person even stating that they were both "the worst bills ever written."
A ninth grader made a statement saying he believes that this bill will only increase drug use in schools and that we should be thinking of the future of our children before rushing to enact any such legislation. This was challenged by Rep. Goodman, Goodman stating that the bill would regulate marijuana and force it to be sold in liquor stores where only those over 21 can get access, and that penalties would result for giving/selling marijuana to 'children' under the age of 21.
One person noted a rather important point - Even though these bills would decriminalize/legalize marijuana, if the drug is in a baggie or the user is carrying a pipe or other smoking device on their person, it could still result in misdemeanor charges and possibly jailtime, and that such an issue needs to be further dealt with.
One cause of controversy during the hearing was that the regulated marijuana would be sold in liquor stores - it was pointed out that selling marijuana and alcohol together in the same location is a bad idea since the combination of the two drugs has been found to result in trouble - and that in other nations marijuana and alcohol are not sold at the same location for this very reason.
Many citizens spoke out their opinions for and against the bills - so many in fact that there were about seven people who did not get their voices heard due to time-constraints.
There will be a vote on the bills at the same time (1:30pm) next week (Wednesday, January 20, 2010) - they have decided to push it to next week to give time for amendments to be made to the bill.
If you would like to view the two-hour hearing, it can be found at http://www.tvw.org/media/MediaPlayer.cfm?evid=2010010080&TYPE=V&bhcp=1