By Anthony Martinelli, Communications Director, Sensible Washington
The legislative session is underway in Washington State, meaning the time for heightened political awareness and participation is upon us. For those who support cannabis and drug law reform, there are several proposals in the state that should gain your support. Here's a summary of some of the more impactful measures.
House Bill 2116 would defelonize personal drug possession, when there's no intent to distribute.
Under current Washington State law, the possession of any amount of an illegal substance - other than cannabis - is a felony charge with a potential 5 year prison sentence. For cannabis, despite up to 28 grams being legal, the possession of over 40 grams is also a felony with a potential 5 year sentence.
House Bill 2116 would reduce personal possession charges to a misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of 90 days, as means of ending the human cost (which includes the loss of housing, education and work opportunities, to name a few consequences) of a drug felony, as well as ending the financial burden put on taxpayers who are forced to fund the imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders. According to the state's fiscal note for the proposal, 9,000 felony cases a year would be effected by its passage.
This proposal - which received a public hearing in the House Public Safety Committee on January 14th, and is scheduled for an executive session on January 24th - is sponsored by State Representative Sherry Appleton and several other lawmakers, and is endorsed by multiple organizations including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
In Washington State medical cannabis advocates are focusing full force on protecting the state's medical cannabis law, which has been called into question by the state's Liquor Control Board, and now the state's legislature. Representative Cody recently filed a proposal - House Bill 2149 - which, for good reason,has quickly drawn the ire of advocates and patients, given that it would drastically reduce a patients possession and cultivation limit, force them to join a mandatory patient registry, and shut down all collective gardens.
House Bill 2233, however, is a proposal that all medical cannabis advocates should support. Formulated by Americans for Safe Access in conjunction with Sensible Washington, this measure would finally add defined arrest protection for medical cannabis patients and collectives (no more simple "affirmative defense"). This proposal is sponsored by several representatives including Roger Freeman, Vice Chair of the Early Learning & Human Services, and Jessyn Farrell, Assistant Majority Whip.
This proposal would achieve the goal of not only protecting the current medical cannabis law, but strengthening it in a way that brings forth true legal protection.
House Bill 2322 is an interesting proposal, sponsored by 9 democrats and 1 Republican, which would ban cities from prohibiting recreational cannabis businesses. If a city decides to move forth with a ban anyway, they would lose their portion of state liquor-license funding, roughly $50 million of which is distributed to cities annually.
This measure is designed to stop a potential "legal cannabis freeze" that would occur if most of the cities in the state decide to ban cannabis stores.
If you live in Washington State and you support any of these proposals, please call the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000, and ask lawmakers to support them, and vote in favor if given the opportunity.