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Despite Setbacks, Effort Continues to Legalize Marijuana in Washington

Two bills seeking to legalize and decriminalize marijuana possession by adults were voted down by the House Public Safety Committee in January, but the effort to legalize marijuana in Washington is not dead. Activists recently filed a ballot initiative to pass the issue along to voters in November.

One of the defeated bills called for the legalization of marijuana use by adults 21 and older and would have allowed Washington's state-run liquor stores to sell it. The revenue from sales - which would have included a 15 percent sales tax - would have funded substance abuse and prevention programs. A separate measure called to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults. Instead of a crime with jail time, marijuana possession would be a civil infraction punished by a fine.

Rep. Chris Hurst, Chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, cited concerns about the illegality of marijuana possession under federal law as a factor in his decision to vote against the bills.

The proposed ballot initiative would ask Washington voters to remove state criminal penalties for all marijuana possession, growing, distribution and sales by adults. Marijuana possession and distribution by juveniles would remain illegal, as would the distribution of marijuana to minors. It would still be illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana. To qualify for the general election ballot, the petition will need over 241,000 signatures by July 2.

These recent moves by legislators and activists come at a time when many are asking questions about the status of marijuana under Washington law. Even though the state allows the use of medical marijuana, those close to the issue say that rather than a free pass, a doctor's authorization of marijuana use is only a right to a defense.

In the recently decided case Washington v. Fry, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a man for possessing more than the maximum amount of marijuana allowed by law and ruled that it was a mistake for him to be given a doctor's authorization for the therapy because he did not have a condition that the law considers debilitating or terminal. The court upheld the right of law enforcement to distinguish between legitimate users, dealers and recreational users. The line between these types of users, however, remains indistinct.

If you have been charged with marijuana possession, distribution or manufacturing, contact a qualified criminal defense attorney experienced in this complicated issue.