By Jeremiah Vandermeer, Cannabis Culture - Wednesday, March 16 2011
CANNABIS CULTURE - Marijuana activists, politicians, and former law enforcement officials spoke at the Washington State Legislature today in support of Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson's House Bill 1550, which would legalize cannabis and make it available for retail purchase in state-run liquor stores.
Cannabis Culture's Executive Director Jodie Emery was invited to speak to the House Ways and Means Committee along side other distinguished panelists including Seattle City Attorney Peter S. Holmes, Former United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington John McKay, Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess, and Former WA State Senator George Rohrbacher.
HB 1550 would allow the sales of marijuana at state-run liquor stores, and also allow Washington State Residents personal gardens of up to 50 square feet in size. The bill would legalize domestic hemp production, allowing WA residents to obtain a grower’s license for $5,000. Residents would also be able to obtain commercial cannabis licenses for the same price, but the product must be sold directly to the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, who introduced the bill, started the session off with a short history of cannabis and hemp, and spoke about the potential economic benefits of legalizing, taxing, and regulating the sales of cannabis in Washington State.
"In these trying times, do you think that $440 million in new revenue would be of interest?" she asked committee members. "I hope so. ... I don't think prohibition has worked. We need something new, and that something is to legalize, to regulate, and to tax cannabis. Now let me be clear, I don't support legalization because I want to see more people use cannabis, I support it because I know an incredible amount of people actually do use it. Why shouldn't the state reap the benefits from that use, rather than drug cartels or criminals. Not only will the state generate profits, it will also decrease costs, because the state spends about 25 million a year to arrest, to incarcerate, and to provide for the prosecution of people who simply have possession."
Seattle's elected City Attorney Peter S. Holmes, who recently criticized cannabis prohibition in a Seattle Times editorial, told the committee that the War on Marijuana has failed.
"The only clear result members of this committee should be aware of as far as marijuana prohibition has been is to create a highly profitable market for the product itself and to relinquish its control to criminals," he said. "I'm here to speak unequivocally in support of ending this prohibition in favor of a rational and regulated manner."
John McKay, the former U.S. attorney for Western Washington and the man who worked to put Canadian activist Marc Emery behind bars for selling marijuana seeds, has done a complete 180-degree turn away from the Drug-Warrior rhetoric he used in this 60 Minutes broadcast about the Emery case, and is now a staunch supporter of drug law reform.
"I want to address … the threat imposed by the black market of marijuana," he said. "I believe that it is a dangerous law enforcement threat and it exists because of our failed policies on marijuana – in particular, our failed attempt to prohibit marijuana. Marijuana prohibition has failed at the federal level, it's failed at the state level, its failed at the local level."
Seattle city councilmember Tim Burgess said he supported the legislation because he wants to "see a more rational, predictable, and cost-effective response to drug use and crime in our communities. Continuing to prohibit adult possession and use of small amounts of cannabis and then using our police officers and the powers of the criminal justice system to enforce this prohibition is not rational and it is not cost effective."
Cannabis activist Jodie Emery, wife of imprisoned seed-seller Marc Emery, talked to the committee about her successful pot-related business, CCHQ, and about the hardships of losing her husband to a possible five-year prison term because of the Drug War.
"I think it is obvious to say that if your loved one is taken away and imprisoned, it leaves an enormous void in your life," she said. "I struggle with loneliness, I struggle without him being there, I worry about his safety, and that has caused a lot of harm to me and to all of his family and loved ones – and he has hurt nobody. He is just one of hundreds of thousands of people across America who have lost family members and friends."
King County public defender Phillip Tavel and Chair of the Sociology Dept. at the University of California - Santa Cruz Dr. Craig Reinarman also spoke in support of the legislation.
The bill was not without its detractors, however.
Don Pierce of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and police chiefs and Seth Dawson of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse Prevention spoke against the bill, telling the committee that legalizing pot lead to an increase use and would hurt children.
The hearing's most impassioned plea to end the War on Marijuana in Washington came from former Probation officer and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition member Matt McCally.
"The prohibitionists have had the run of play for the last 40 years," he said. "This year is the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon first using the phrase war on drugs. And in those 40 years the prohibitionists have spent more than $1 trillion, they have shredded the US Constitution ... have packed our courts ... and they have packed our prisons. It is far beyond any of our peers in Western Europe, it is far beyond any of our peers in east Asia is now approaching the state of servitude we saw only in Communist Russia and Nazi Germany. And you would ask me to trade specifics with people who are in favor of this policy? Not at all not for a moment. It's up to them to prove that they've been able through their fascist policies to keep marijuana out of the hands of our children and they have not done it."
Concluding the hearing, former State Senator and medical marijuana patient George Rohrbacher spoke about his use of cannabis as pain reliever and the industrial use of hemp, and Heather Villanueva of the SEIU 775 gave the support of 40,000 long-term health care workers who see the bill as an alternative to massive budget cuts to state health care.
Watch the entire legalization hearing on Pot-TV.