This Washington

Burgess, Holmes Testify In Favor of Marijuana Legalization

By Erica C. Barnett March 16, 2011

At the state house ways and means committee this afternoon, city council member Tim Burgess and city attorney Pete Holmes testified in favor of a proposal by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-36) to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana.Dickerson estimates the bill will raise $300 million in tax revenue every two years. The state faces a $4.6 billion revenue shortfall over the next two years.

"Using our police officers and the powers of the criminal justice system to enforce this provision is not rational, and it is not cost  effective," Burgess told the committee. "In 2003, Seattle voters, through an initiative, directed that the simple possession of marijuana be the lowest priority of our police department ... and do you know what? The sky has not fallen. In Seattle, reported major crime continues to fall. ... Continuing our present course is not sustainable."

Holmes estimated that the bill would bring Seattle, which faces its own multi-year shortfall in the tens of millions, an immediate annual cash infusion of $500,000 to $1 million a year, plus "similar" savings to the city's budget for courts and jail. But even without that revenue, Holmes argued, "It still makes sense to end marijuana prohibition. It is a practical failure." Noting that the US, as a society, "long ago agreed" not to prohibit substances that can be dangerous when misused, Holmes said, "alcohol, cigarettes, automobiles and even food can all be dangerous, but we don't ban them, we regulate them."

Don Pierce of the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, arguing against the bill, called proponents' revenue predictions optimistic and their estimates of the number of people arrested, booked, jailed and tried for simple marijuana possession "greatly exaggerated." As a police officer for 25 years, Pierce said, "I can tell you that we didn't spend the kinds of money that you see reported for the enforcement of marijuana. It was a cite and release [situation], not a matter of policy but as a matter of overcrowded jails." Pierce added that the costs of widespread use of tobacco and alcohol to states and the federal government outweigh revenues from cigarette and booze taxes on the order of ten to one.

Finally, Seth Dawson, representing the Washington Association for Substance Abuse Prevention, implored the committee to think about the children. "To us, it's inconceivable that we could legalize marijuana and yet not see children use it more ... and we know that marijuana use by children is harmful," Dawson said.

In fact, as one of the bill's proponents, UC Santa Cruz sociology department chair Craig Reinarman noted, the overall use of marijuana in the Netherlands, the only country where pot is legal, is about half that in the United States, where 41 percent of people report having used pot in their lifetimes, compared to about 23 percent in the Netherlands. The average age at which people in the Netherlands first smoke pot, at 17, is slightly older than the average age of first pot use in the US.
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