Marijuana advocates packed a public hearing Wednesday calling for changes to Washington state's drug laws.
Lawmakers are considering two bills. One would legalize marijuana for those 21 and older, and regulate it like alcohol. Another would decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot for adults.
Proponents argued that the current laws on marijuana are as ineffective as the Prohibition-era laws on alcohol.
“We have not deterred the use of marijuana, nor have we seen a noticeable impact on the availability of marijuana,” Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson told the House Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Committee. “Over the last decade, we have wasted scores of taxpayer dollars on investigation, court proceedings and incarceration.”
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Dickerson, a Seattle Democrat, is sponsoring the legalization bill.
Opponents said any loosening up of the laws would be harmful to children.
“If you believe that it is OK for kids in school to use marijuana and be high, then you should pass either one or both of these,” said Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
Under Dickerson’s bill, marijuana would be sold in Washington state’s 160 state-run liquor stores, and customers, 21 and older, would pay a tax of 15 percent.
The measure would dedicate most of the money raised for substance abuse prevention and treatment, which is facing potential cuts in the state budget as lawmakers seek to patch a $2.6 billion hole. Dickerson said the measure could eventually bring in as much to state coffers as alcohol does, more than $300 million a year.