In a year when all eyes in the state legislature are fixated on closing the budget deficit, two bills that would relax pot enforcement are advancing to a hearing on Wednesday—the third day of the legislative session. Indeed, they could help the budget. Stopping marijuana arrests and prosecutions would save millions of dollars each year, to say nothing of the money the state could yield from taxing marijuana like alcohol.
But there's already trouble.
Both bills (which we've written about here and here) are getting their hearing in the public-safety committee chaired by state Rep. Christopher Hurst, rumored to be plotting to quash both bills. He represents the conservative 31st state legislative district around Enumclaw. While technically a Democrat, Hurst's district mate—to give you a sense of the district's color—is Republican Rep. Dan Roach, and the state senator of the district is Roach's mother, infamous Republican Pam "Flowers Speech" Roach. Hurst is also a former cop. Last year, Hurst refused to give the decrim bill a hearing at all—so while the quick advancement to a hearing this year is a sign of progress, Hurst could still try to block both bills. He hasn't returned calls to comment.
To help the bills, State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36), prime sponsor of the senate's version of the decrim bill, has begun sending polling memos to lawmakers that show the conservative 8th Congressional District southeast of Seattle (which encompasses Hurst's district) supports decriminalizing marijuana, apparently in an attempt to sway Hurst and others lawmakers. "Reducing penalties for marijuana possession so there is no criminal record, no jail time, but still a fine was supported by 54 percent of voters," the memo by Alison Peters consulting says. It adds that Democrats in the area support decrim by 60 percent.
Also putting pressure on lawmakers, the ACLU of Washington is timing an impressive forum on reforming marijuana laws at Olympia's Capitol Theater on Tuesday—the day before bills get their first hearing in the state house—hosted by Rick Steves, Rep. Brendan Williams (D-22), Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36), and Rep. Mary Helen Roberts (D-21).