Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bill aims to legalize pot, make Washington pioneer state

Story Published: Feb 8, 2011 at 4:14 PM PST

Story Updated: Feb 9, 2011 at 7:08 AM PST

Bill aims to legalize pot, make Wash. pioneer state

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Sponsors of marijuana legalization bill predict Washington will lead the nation in getting rid of the prohibition on pot.

If bill sponsors get their way, Washington residents will be able to go to the state liquor store and legally buy marijuana. The same laws against selling to minors and driving while impaired would apply, however.

At the state capitol on Tuesday, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes joined other officials in calling for the end of that prohibition.

"And I'm here in support of the principal of legalization and regulation of marijuana for adult recreational use," he said.

Also in favor of the bill is a group of current and former law enforcement officers, including former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper.

The officials say they're supporting the bill not because they favor smoking pot, but because the law banning marijuana costs too much to enforce and it fills the jails.

"There is never enough space for the genuinely evil people in society," said former probation officer Matthew McCally.

Opponents say smoking pot is illegal for a reason. They fear kids will have more access, and pot smokers will endanger everyone else by driving impaired.

"Alcohol can be consumed responsibly. For example, you can have a glass of wine, enjoy the glass of wine with dinner and not become immediately impaired. When you smoke marijuana, you become immediately impaired. That's the point of smoking," said Mercer Island Police Chief Ed Holmes.

And even if Washington legalized marijuana, it would still remain a federal crime.

"Any employee in a liquor store who sold marijuana would be arrested and go to prison for five years," said Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw.

Supporters of the bill agree it would take a change in federal law. But they believe, just like with alcohol prohibition, the states can call on Congress for that change; all it takes is one state to lead the way.

"It probably wouldn't be legalized tomorrow. We would be the pioneer state," said Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, who sponsored the bill. "The law would essentially be on hold until it was decided at the federal level."

A committee vote is set for Friday.

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