By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — It doesn’t look like lawmakers will be legalizing marijuana this year but voters may still get their chance to lessen the penalties for possessing it.
On Wednesday, a House committee on public safety rejected legislation to allow adults of drinking age to smoke marijuana freely and have the state regulate its use as it does alcohol.
The panel also voted down a proposal to reduce penalties for those adults caught possessing less than 40 grams.
Rep. Al O’Brien, D-Mountlake Terrace, and Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, opposed the legalization bill. O’Brien did back the decriminalization measure.
“Possession of a minor amount is not a big deal,” O’Brien, a former Seattle cop, said before voting for lighter punishment. “We can save our jail space. We can save the time of our law enforcement agencies.”
The votes came one week after the committee held a two-hour public hearing on the legislation.
Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Bonney Lake, chairman of the public safety panel, was prepared to hold a vote last week but granted a request from sponsors of the bills for time to draft changes in response to concerns raised.
Focus now for decriminalization backers is an initiative filed for the November ballot.
The initiative pushed by Sensible Washington would remove criminal penalties for possessing, cultivating and using marijuana. Petitions could be available for circulation by March 1, according to the group’s Web site.
They will need to submit 241,153 valid signatures of Washington voters by July 2 to qualify.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com.
Find information about Sensible Washington and its initiative to legalize marijuana at http://sensiblewashington.org.