On Monday, the Seattle City Council passed a slate of legislative priorities for the 2010 session in a Olympia. Among them, the council unanimously backed sane, fiscally responsible pot laws. They want the legislature to "reclassify possession of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction," referring to a bill that would reduce the penalty for possession pot to a $100 citation. Currently stoners face up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
But not everyone is so clear-headed. There was a meeting yesterday—I missed it because I've been on vacation for a week (I've missed you, Slog)—with local bloggers and State Attorney General Rob McKenna. McKenna laid out his ideas about pot. Chris Grygiel at Seattlepi.com has McKenna's quote from the meeting:
Like most of my colleagues in law enforcement, like my father who was in law enforcement, I'm not a big fan of making marijuana available without a prescription. It is legal today if you have a prescription. That's fine, the voters approved that law and people who are really sick with cancer, for example, or glaucoma seem to derive real benefit from the medical or medicinal use of marijuana. But making it available generally without a prescription I don't support. I think as anyone in law enforcement can tell you it makes it very difficult to enforce the law beyond that. Most proposals are not to decriminalize it altogether, but it makes small amounts legal. And it makes it very hard for them to enforce the laws beyond the boundaries of legality. And I think it makes it harder for us to make the case for other illegal substances. And I think you'll see an increase in use, and given the potency of marijuana, I don't think that's a good thing, personally. The Legislature will grapple with it.
What damage will befall the state if we decriminalize pot? I called McKenna's spokesman, Dan Sytman, who said he'll get back to me by the end of the day. In the meantime, McKenna simply says that we'll "see an increase of use"—but so what? And is that even true? When England downgraded the penalty for pot—essentially decriminalizing it from 2004 to 2008—pot use dropped. "British Crime Survey statistics showed that the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds using cannabis slumped from 28% a decade ago to 21% now, with its declining popularity accelerating after the decision to downgrade the drug to class C was announced in January 2004," reported the Guardian. For another oversees comparison, the Netherlands sells pot in shops right off the sidewalk but pot use among the Dutch is about half that of Americans. And here in the US, a baker's dozen states have decriminalized pot to about a $500 fine and zero jail time (they are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon). "If you look at those states, there is no pattern based on what the laws are," says Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. Those states, according to federal surveys, don't show trends of higher use: Washington State's pot use rate is higher than Nevada's, which decriminalized pot possession in 2002, and ours is the the same as pot-lovin' California, which decriminalized possession in 1975.
So what's the deal with McKenna's heard-it-a-thousand-times excuse to perpetuate the stupidest law in modern American memory? "It's a myth that they keep putting out, and one that people tend to accept because it makes intuitive sense," Mirken says, "but there's really not a lot of data to back it up."
Look, McKenna's entitled as the AG to blindly defend an absurd expensive law. He's among the ranks of law enforcement. But he shouldn't make a stupid law even stupider by regurgitating some stupid canard.