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January 20, 2010 -- Seattle Times (WA)

WA: Pot Bills Go Up In Smoke As House Panel Stops Both

By Lillian Tucker, Seattle Times staff reporter

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive


OLYMPIA -- It is the end of the road for the 2010 pot bills.

On Wednesday, the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee voted against two pieces of legislation, one of which 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.

The legalization bill (HB 2401) was voted down 6-2. For a moment, HB 1177, which would have decriminalized marijuana, looked as though it might have a chance, but it too died, with a final vote of 5-3.

In his opening remarks to the committee, Chairman Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, said he found merit in all of the arguments, pro and con, but that it came down to the question of whether the federal government or the states should be in the business of regulating marijuana. Although he favors state regulation, Hurst said, he could not in good conscience vote for a bill that conflicted with federal law.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, did not agree. "This is a time to challenge the federal government. The only way we are going to do it is to legalize it and see where it goes," she said.

Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, argued that legalization would allow the state to regulate a product that has potential hazardous consequences. "A vote 'yes,' " he told his fellow committee members, "is a vote for control. A vote 'no' is a vote for continued chaos."

The debate between lawmakers was not always black and white. Committee Vice Chairman Al O'Brien, D-Mountlake Terrace, voted against the state-store bill but liked the idea that decriminalization would take pressure off local police departments. Reps. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, and Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, both said they would like to discuss possible changes in marijuana laws further, perhaps in a work session when they would have more time to devote to the topic.

"Don't count me all the way out, but count me out today because this is not the [bill]," said Kirby.

But before voting "no," Kirby said that an issue as monumental as changing the regulation of marijuana should be put to the public for a vote. Next November he might get his wish.

An initiative filed a week ago Monday by the activist group Sensible Washington would legalize all adult marijuana possession, manufacturing and sales under state law.

Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle lawyer who is sponsoring the initiative, said volunteers are lining up to collect the more than 241,000 signatures required to place it on the November ballot.

Don Skakie and Pam Haley, members of Seattle's Cannabis Defense Coalition, were present at Wednesday's vote.

"I feel today's inactions were a lack of political courage and leadership," said Skakie.

"Now it is up to the people to lead," Haley said.

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

Lillian Tucker: 360-236-8266 or

Also visit our "WA State News & Activism" section.

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