2015-16 legislative session opens in Olympia; medical marijuana policy once again at forefront
Washington lawmakers have once again convened in Olympia, and if bill introductions are any indication of what topics are at the forefront of legislators’ minds, it could be a busy year for marijuana policy in the Evergreen State.
Dozens of bills have already been introduced to make changes to the state’s marijuana policies. These bills touch on everything from establishing a marijuana research license to “omnibus” style bills that seek to harmonize the medical marijuana law with the system set up by the passage of I-502. Bills have also been introduced to add PTSD and traumatic brain injury to the list of qualifying conditions for which physicians may write medical marijuana recommendations.
Perhaps the most pressing issue the legislature could take up is to finally decriminalize possession of marijuana for those under 21. Even after passage of I-502, Washingtonians under 21 still face criminal penalties for the simple possession of marijuana. According to the ACLU, nationwide, 62% of marijuana arrests in 2010 were for people who were 24 and younger, and 34% were for teenagers or youth. Email your legislators and urge them to support legislation that makes marijuana possession by individuals under 21 subject to a civil fine, not jail time.
Retail marijuana sales begin in Washington
Despite initial supply issues and the fact that retail stores did not open until July 8, 2014, Washington generated about $15 million dollars in marijuana taxes in 2014. In December alone, sales and excise taxes on marijuana sold to adults 21 and older totaled more than $5 million dollars. Meanwhile, the state continues to save additional money due to a sharp decrease in misdemeanor cases. In 2013, 120 misdemeanor cases were filed compared to 5,531 cases in 2012.
It has now been over two years since a majority of Washington voters decided that it was time to end the failed experiment of marijuana prohibition. The state has enacted common sense regulations to ensure safety and to prevent access by youth and, as indicated above, is now realizing revenue from sales instead of wasting it on enforcement. While there is certainly still work to be done, it is clear that the doom and gloom scenarios anticipated by opponents to reform have not materialized, giving comfort to policy makers across the country who are weighing similar policy changes in their jurisdictions.
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