Two Washington state lawmakers offer pot legalization bill

A pair of legislators in the state of Washington have submitted a marijuana legalization bill much like the one introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D- San Francisco, back in February.

The bill was introduced by state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, with Rep. Roger Goodman as the principal coauthor. The two Democrats represent Seattle-area districts. Four other legislators have also signed onto the bill. Goodman was scheduled to join Ammiano on a conference call with reporters Thursday morning.

While there have been numerous bills to decriminalize marijuana, advocates say these bills represent the first two times a full legalization bill has introduced in a state legislature. Ammiano’s bill, which would not only remove criminal penalties but set up a regulatory and tax structure for pot sales, was the first such bill to get a full committee hearing, according to Stephen Gullwig, California state director with the Drug Policy Alliance.

“This is virgin territory,” Gullwig said.

Goodman has long advocated changes in drug policy, and became something of a hero to legalization advocates during his first election campaign in 2006. His Republican opponent, Jeffery Possinger, used attack ads and mailers in an attempt to label Goodman as soft on drugs. This included the charge that Goodman wanted to be the state’s “director of drug dealing.” But after these ads hit, Goodman’s numbers went up, and he ultimately became the first Democrat to win the suburban district since the 1960s.

The Seattle House was already set to debate a decriminalization bill. But Goodman said his bill is “very different, and much more important.”

“Decriminalization is a step in the right direction,” Goodman said. “We’re still punishing people, but were punishing them less. But meanwhile the illegal market thrives.”

Like the Ammiano bill, the Washington bill will be introduced lacking some necessary specifics until it’s amended. For instance, Goodman said he wants to introduce a clause that would forbid marijuana being sold in any outlet that also sells alcohol. The bill is currently written to bar advertising, and tax proceeds would go to fund drug treatment, rather than being put into the general fund. Goodman said he’s also looking for ways to craft the bill to make it compatible with federal policies, though this probably won’t be possible.

The Ammiano bill has been widely written about, but was also widely viewed as dead-on-arrival. Indeed, it has yet to move in the California Legislature‘s Health or Public Safety committees, the latter of which Ammiano chairs.

Goodman said he thinks his bill may have a better chance—though it will also have to survive a trip through a public safety committee, this one chaired by a law-and-order legislator who doesn’t want to let it out. He said that polls show support for marijuana legalization in Washington is in the high 50s, similar to California.

The bill is also more ambitious than the California legalization initiative sponsored by Oaksterdam University, Gullwig said. That measure was written “defensively” in order to allow it to survive an election campaign in which numerous law enforcement groups will spend big to defeat it.

Gullwig also took aim at the idea that legalized pot will solve either state’s financial woes — something most serious advocates aren’t claiming in the first place.

“Marijuana prohibition is such a colossal failure that it needs to be ended regardless of how much money could be made regulating it,” Gullwig said.

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