Lynnwood legislator aims to ease marijuana laws

OLYMPIA — Rep. Mary Helen Roberts wants to get the state tuned in and turned on about the need for new dope laws.

Possessing a little marijuana should be decriminalized for sure and maybe even legalized, contends the Lynnwood Democrat.

“What harm would it do anybody if I grew a plant in a pot on my back deck,” Roberts said this week.

Today, the woman some lawmakers teasingly call the Pot Queen will share her views in a podcast — or is that a potcast? — hoping to ignite a dialogue on changing how the state deals with marijuana users.

“We are not even having the conversation,” she said. “It is going on but not everyone is engaged. This budget crisis is engaging more of us.”

She calculates millions of dollars can be saved and communities made safer if cops spend less time cracking down on marijuana smokers and more on capturing violent offenders.

And cash-depleted coffers of the state and counties might get a little boost from “Mary Jane” with properly crafted policies.

Legislation introduced in the House and the Senate in January sought to do that.

The bills made possession by adults of up to 40 grams — less than 1.5 ounces — of marijuana an infraction rather than a misdemeanor. Those cited would face a $100 fine with the money going into health care funds.

The House bill never got a hearing, while the Senate version didn’t get a vote.

Sen. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle, a sponsor of the Senate measure, said the state could save up to $7 million a year by not investigating and prosecuting thousands of possession cases.

“We need to be smart about how we spend those resources and recognize what pot is and what it isn’t,” he said, applauding Roberts for her planned podcast.

Roberts, 61, said she inhaled while working in Olympia with a state commission dealing with women’s issues in the 1970s. So, too, did many of the staffers from the legislative and executive branches of government she hung out with.

“It was a weekend, casual drug. None of us moved on to harder things and none of us wound up in jail,” she said, noting she stopped smoking long before becoming a mother.

She picked up the Pot Queen nickname in January when an e-mail she wrote to the author of the House bill became public. Today, some colleagues pass by her desk mimicking the enjoyment of a joint.

“Why aren’t we making possession of a small amount legal,” she wrote to Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines. “I think the public is ready for this. I know I am.”

Rick Steves of Edmonds is past ready.

For a decade, the travel writer, whose work appears in The Herald, has talked of the need for marijuana law reforms. Thursday he sent a letter to lawmakers iterating support for the ideas behind the legislation.

Part of his message was that backing decriminalization does not make one pro-drugs.

“It’s not an issue of being soft on drugs or hard on drugs. It’s a smart on drugs on policy,” he said in an interview.

“Eighty million Americans have tried it, including a president who enjoyed it,” he said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623, jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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