The Washington State Bar Association, the body of 33,000 attorneys licensed in the state, endorsed a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would reduce the penalty for marijuana possession—currently up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail—to a $100 infraction. The WSBA's board of governors passed the resolution Saturday morning with nine in favor, two abstaining, and none opposed.

“Looking at the budget crunch, the governor is facing a $1.9 billion shortfall and they are talking about cutting programs,” says WSBA president Salvador Mungia, a civil trial lawyer based in Tacoma. “Hopefully, in this climate, legislators are looking how to best save limited resources.” Mungia adds that the state’s Office of Financial Management calculated the bill would save roughly $16 million in law-enforcement resources, and people should ask, when it comes to arresting pot smokers, how much bang they're getting for their buck. “Rational people would say you are not getting any bang at all,” he says.

The bill, which has been supported by the King County Bar Association and City-Attorney Elect Pete Holmes, was introduced by State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36) this year and remains active in the 2010 session, which begins in January. (Massachusetts voters passed a similar law in 2008.) However, the bill stalled last year without reaching a floor vote.

“Unfortunately it seems like people can’t speak about drug policy in a rational manner and there is too much emotion from certain camps,” Mungia says. “For some reason there is a group of people who realize the dangers of some drugs but can’t seem to distinguish between different types of drugs—and there is a difference between meth and marijuana.”